Thursday, 15 May 2014

REVIEW: Godzilla

As far as summer blockbusters go, the hype factor for Gareth Edwards’ remake of daikaiju classic, Godzilla (in 3D!) has gone stratospheric – especially after the trailer teased audiences with Heisenberg narration, monster-glimpses and red-smoked HALO jumps. Having already succeeded nicely in the ‘monster’ genre, with the micro-budgeted and appropriately titled Monsters, Edwards has been given a budget approximately a bajillion times bigger, along with a roll-call of Hollywood A-listers to help him out – Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Juliet Binoche, Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn, Sally Hawkins and Elizabeth Olsen. Sadly, once again Hollywood proves that big-budget action sequences, unlimited CGI possibilities and a pricey ensemble of acting talent don’t necessarily better what can be done with three-hundred grand, a bedroom editing suite and a few struggling actors.

For this incarnation of Godzilla, Edwards and team have certainly done their job, as the goliath reptilian beast is a marvellous achievement, perhaps not fully appreciated after Guillermo del Toro achieved perfect monsters in last year’s Pacific Rim. Nevertheless, the creation of the monster itself is no easy task, and simultaneously manages to evoke awe and believability as it emerges from the deep and tramples through cities. Sadly though, Godzilla is practically upstaged by the introduction of two other beasts, which I won’t discuss to avoid spoilers, and a convoluted and frequently confusing plotline which sees Godzilla’s role as antagonist up for serious debate. His introduction doesn’t pack the punch it should have, and his lack of screen-time will make you wonder who the real star is, as Edwards hasn’t exactly followed the basic structure of the original, which was conceived as a social commentary (namely) on nuclear power and its implications, but instead offers up a film far closer in plot to Pacific Rim (but without the tongue lodged in cheek). The focus on monster vs monster mayhem, even though brilliant to watch, upstages the humanity in the plot, meaning the human element may as well be completely forgotten, (which given the acting on show, is easily done).

As with any ‘alien’ or ‘monster’ production, the human element or empathy is imperative in keeping our attention on the film, and more importantly, plot at hand. However, the talent on display is so eye-achingly dull, it really wouldn’t have been such a tragedy if the main protagonists had all been mauled in the name of entertainment. This is what made Edward’s previous effort Monsters so engaging – the human element and qualities were never at any moment sacrificed for the monster ones; the characters (mainly the two leads) were never less than engaging and believable. Here, Taylor-Johnson plays Ford Brody (who comes up with these arsehole names?!), a macho soldier who becomes embroiled at the sharp end of the forces’ efforts to stop these reptilian beasts, and Bryan Cranston is in irate-Heisenberg mode as Ford's nuclear-engineer father, whose apocalyptic predictions and supposedly mad ravings about a conspiracy cover-up are the only engaging parts of dialogue in the whole film. Everyone else may as well have had a footnote instead of a credit, especially the utterly useless and always superfluous use of cutesy tussle-haired children to really emphasise the point that America needs a hero to save all these photogenic kids (urrgh!).  Olsen, Watanabe, Binoche, Hawkins and Strathairn are so underused they may as well have stood on each other’s’ shoulders and got inside a scaly monster costume.

Depth of character and questionable dramatics aside, Godzilla does offer up some beautiful cinematography, and I would be a heretic if I didn't point out Edwards' masterful film-making, showcased perfectly during the soldiers' HALO sky-dive, as the red flare smoke trails from their ankles against the apocalyptic backdrop of towering black clouds and a wasted city skyline. There is another scene which sees a group of soldiers trudging through the Hawaiian  jungle in search of their target, and the birds-eye view of the torch beams against the dense dark green surroundings remind us that Edward's has a keen eye for cinematic imagery, and the subsequent action in said jungle is exhilarating. All his prowess and style builds to a perfect climactic battle, with a monster bashing scene devoid of the usual muddled camerawork and sub-par CGI, so we can see exactly what is going on.

Despite a sore lack of an interesting character, and perhaps a slightly too self-aware solemnity to the production, Godzilla delivers the eye-candy and ballsy set pieces to keep the audience entertained throughout its two-hour running time, but sadly, the black void created by its lack of humanity, empathy or pathos, means this monster movie won’t keep everyone fully engaged until the final showdown. Edwards has made a sterling effort to reinvent an already well-worn premise, and thankfully eradicates the atrocious memories of Roland Emmerich’s 1998 effort, but by refusing to cater to any fun whatsoever, Godzilla is sadly not as enjoyable as it should have been. [3/5]

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