Godzilla is from the director Gareth Edwards, a Brit whose first film, Monsters, truly put him on the map, as it daringly played with the genre, and incorporated a plausible human love story, and the difference between that film and this may be summed up as follows: whereas Monsters was a clever and inventive film made for relatively little money ($500,000), this is a quite stupid film made for a lot of money ($160 million). Oh dear. It sounds like I’m wearing my disapproving hat again, although I don’t always. For example, I take it off for special occasions, and sometimes even in bed. (Sometimes yes, sometimes no; depends.)
‘The world’s most revered monster is reborn,’ say Warner Bros, who may well be hearing from King Kong’s lawyers anytime soon. (‘Our client would like it known he is the most revered…’). It’s the reboot of a franchise, and whether a sequel, prequel, origins story or straightforward remake, these franchises all rely on the reassurance offered by familiarity. You know where you are and what you are going to be getting, more or less, so if you know this is what you like, you will like this. It is spectacular. The staging and CGI are spectacular. Godzilla, once Godzilla appears (an hour in), is spectacular, with scaly-skin and a dorsal-finned spine to die for. There are aeroplanes falling out of the sky and bridges collapsing and monsters looming over cities and then stamping on them. But it’s still more of the same, with the same tropes and, in this instance, the human characters are so bland and dull and by-numbers you may well find yourself rooting for the monster. At least it has personality. And vim.
Our plucky hero, who will, of course, eventually succeed where the entire American military fails, is Ford Brody, as played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who is wooden throughout, possibly through no fault of his own as his role requires little beyond handsomely staring into the middle-distance while appearing troubled, and being nice to children. Much acting talent is thrown away, including Ken Watanabe as a scientist with only one expression (anguished) and Sally Hawkins as the scientist who actually has to say: ‘What is that?’
Tropes being tropes, this begins with one of those prologues as chrysalis-like pods are found attached to an enormous skeleton deep in a quarry in the Philippines. Next, it’s to Japan, to Ford as a small boy growing up there with his parents, who both work at the local nuclear plant. His father is played by Bryan Cranston in an insane wig, while his mother is played by Juliette Binoche looking sheepish. His father is worried about weird things happening to radiation levels, but no one will take him seriously, so eventually the plant goes up and the city is levelled. This, by the way, connects rather nicely with the original 1957 Japanese film, where Godzilla represented anxiety around nuclear issues.
But we then cut to 15 years later, by which time Ford is an army bomb-disposal expert (handy) living in San Francisco with a young son and a wife (Elizabeth Olsen), who is beautiful and a nurse which presumably means, when jeopardy comes into play, any loss will be more painful than if, say, she’d been plain and an office cleaner. Ford has just returned from a military tour but must immediately fly to Tokyo, to attend to his father, who is still obsessed with the calamity of 15 years earlier, and has newspaper cuttings about nuclear leaks and nuclear cover-ups all over the walls of his apartment. Once, just once, I would like to see a movie in which the character obsessed with a particular subject buys a ring binder and hole punch. It’s a small dream, but a dream nonetheless.
I can’t go into all the ins and outs of the plot here, and how there is more than one monster, some of which look like animated versions of the Philippe Starck lemon squeezer that doesn’t work. (It squirts the juice straight into your eye.) I tried, but it took up too much space, and also I figured that, if you are interested, you’ll go see it anyway and if you are not, who cares? So I’ll just tell you that this Godzilla is a serious, po-faced business, lacking any humour whatsoever, and also comes with a simplistic environmental message concerning man v. nature, and what we’ve done to nature, even though man is nature too.
The history of film is as much a history of technology, so advancements mean this Godzilla is bigger and thrashier and more dorsal-finned than ever before, and some of the scenes — tsunami waters crushing a city; Godzilla slinking into the ocean — are truly magnificent, but it’s all visual bombast at the expense of storytelling or anyone to actually believe in. Still, if it is what you like, then you will like this, and I don’t say that disapprovingly. Hang on. Just checked. Thought I’d taken my disapproving hat off but, no, I had it on all along.
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