Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Director: Gareth Edwards
Let’s eschew the usual introductory exposition and drive right into the nitty gritty shall we? After all, this is a Godzilla film; an iconic and beloved character that remains the most recognisable monster of all monster movies ever created. It is the pride of Japanese cinema and recognised the world over, and that of course makes it all the more concerning when it falls into American hands. The big question of course, is—like so many of their remakes and reboots—did they manage to create a monumental fuck-up that forgets the original for big flashy explosions and bland CGI-laden action? Actually, no. Despite all my misgivings and concerns going in, it managed to exceed all expectations and do the franchise proud. Which is something I never thought I’d actually say.
People may remember the original in the light of all the copycat clones and jokes made at his expense—from Rugrats’ “Reptar” to Robot Chicken’s synchronised Godzilla ice skating—and certainly for the grandiose battles with miniature cities, but too readily forgotten is the sociopolitical context in which it emerged. Still fresh from the horror of the nuclear warheads dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the original came with a hefty message about the dangers of nuclear weapons, and this element is certainly prevalent here. The American response to how to kill the beast awoken by nuclear fallout ironically to send in a bigger bomb almost shows their attitude in a satirical light, fought every step of the way by the Japanese scientist tasked with actually figuring out what’s going on.
If there was a difficulty to be had in all of this, it would be trying to link this concern for nuclear power into a modern setting. Back then it was new and terrifying; a test of mankind dabbling in forces that could well spell it’s own doom. It was heavy material that—spoiler from the original ‘56 film—ended in Godzilla being taken down by an experimental weapon originally intended for noble purposes and the scientist responsible for it’s creation ending his own life out of the fear of it ending up in the wrong hands. It was melodramatic but it felt fitting. The melodrama may have persevered, with all the scenes of the military and scientists in the war room making the obvious pseudo-scientific reveals, but it never quite manages to create that same sense of urgency.
The effects were excellent, as seems to be the major strength in Hollywood of late, and more than just in the recreation of our monolithic beast but too in the manner it only shows you glimpses of the glorious carnage to come; Godzilla’s form rippling under the water, fog and darkness obscuring your view, teasing you for the showdown to come. Too, he felt monstrous, contently ignoring everything we have to throw at him with us scurrying like insects to avoid the falling debris caused by their mere movement. On the flip side, this also, sadly, makes much of what our protagonist is doing feel rather redundant. That his role in the film is to constantly take us towards the action and nothing else robs it of any real impact; the futility of our resisting so pertinent that had he died in the opening hour the film would barely have had to budge. The plot rapidly transforms into something that felt genuinely original into something more traditional around the mid-point, jarring you from the character-driven plot into “big baddy go boom boom”. It might not live up to the unexpected success of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” or provide a match for the emotion in Joon-Ho Bong’s “The Host”, but it remains a solid film that does nothing but honour it’s origins.