After an ancient terror is awakened, the Japanese and American governments cover up the incident under the facade of a reactor meltdown, which sees scientist Joe Brody lose his wife and Ford Brody lose his mother. Fifteen years later, Joe is still searching for the elusive truth, whilst his son Ford has joined the army and moved to San Francisco to start a new life with his wife Elle and son Sam. When their worst fears are confirmed with the emergence of not one but two gargantuan creatures which feed on radiation and threaten to wreak havoc upon humanity, it is not the armed forces that mankind must turn to, but Godzilla, the king of all monsters.
Giant monsters have a long and storied history at the forefront of cinema, from as early as The Lost World Kong in 1925, to ultra-noisy Pacific Rim, which annihilated everyone’s hearing last year. By far the most iconic of all gargantuan movie monsters came from Japan however, in the form of a giant lizard by the name of Godzilla. Officially debuting in 1954, the beast from the east has so far appeared in a staggering 31 titles, including showdowns against dinosaurs, robots and thanks to Roland Emmerich, everyone’s patience. Whilst America has been held responsible for bringing the iconic franchise into disrepute thanks to the shambolic remake in 1998, Gareth Edwards has certainly proven the west is more than capable of delivering thoughtful blockbusters.
What differentiates Godzilla from the usual summer schlock, is its focus on the human condition. For a film which sells itself purely on the resultant spectacle of a giant radioactive lizard playing hopscotch in downtown San Francisco, the amount of context and plot development really is a welcome surprise. It does take over an hour for the eponymous monster to show up, but Edwards utilises a startlingly effective tactic of rewarding our patience with some truly jaw-dropping action sequence, which makes immersing ourself within the story all the more satisfying.
Although all the smashing and crashing is largely restricted to the final third, the relatively minimal yet chaotic action sequences are beyond incredible. Edwards knows exactly what his audience wants and is more than happy to give it to them, showcasing a number of immaculate set pieces including a visually striking halo jump and flawlessly edited showdown between the kaijus. The tasteful cinematic chaos is never too overwhelming thanks to the clever audio stylistics, which are still deafening to a point, but always relent for you to catch your breath. It is a huge achievement for Edwards, who demonstrates he has the potential to not only make great films, but handle big budgets, big casts and big concepts. Keep an eye on him.
Similarly to recently released action flop Need for Speed, there will be more than a few people checking out Godzilla to see the cast of Breaking Bad do their thing on the big screen. Whilst Aaron Paul barely made it off the starting line earlier this year, Bryan Cranston shows he has the acting chops to play a range of roles with thunderous emotional resonance. He may be a little melodramatic at times, but he sets the standard high for Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, who also put in some strong performances. Although one of the issues raised by the film is how humanity deals with the sins of its fathers, it does feel a little odd to see Taylor-Johnson as a parent of a five-year old child, given his relatively young age. It is a casting mishap which can be overlooked thanks to his strong performance, however his youthful face tells another story, which subtracts a great deal of realism from his character. Ken Watanabe also provides some great support as the Japanese counterpart of Bryan Cranston and his utterance of the Godzilla’s name is one of most understated and spine tingling moments of the film.
In contrast to the iconic original, Edwards’ effort moves away from the realms of post-war nuclear paranoia, choosing instead to focus on the technological and environmental ignorance of humanity. The film paints a striking picture of what the world inherited by our children could look like given the generations of abuse it has suffered thanks to our negligence, with the widespread destruction inflicted by the monsters a powerful metaphor for our treatment of the planet. Godzilla acts almost like a retrospect of giant monster movies, combining the subtext of 1950s sci-fi with the thrills of 1970s horror and the creature effects of post-1990 blockbusters.
Its action may speak louder than its slightly ham-fisted words, but Godzilla is a sure-fire sign that summer is here, setting the bar very high for its blockbusting competition. Although there will be inevitable complaints about the drama to destruction ratio, two hours of a giant lizard destroying America did not make for entertaining viewing in 1998, a mistake which Edwards skillfully avoids in 2014. It is far from a smooth ride, but Godzilla is always entertaining and persistence with the humanistic drama is renumerated twice over with what will probably be the best action sequences of the year. Its most sympathetic character may be the namesake reptilian colossus, but Cranston and Taylor-Johnson are also capable of occasionally inspiring pathos, making this Godzilla a far superior counterpart to its atrocious American predecessor. A worthy throwback to the stellar and sobering Japanese original, which characterises Godzilla in a similar light to the latter half of the Shōwa era, whilst capturing the scale of the Millennium series.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Verdict: The Good
If You Liked This: Gojira (1954), The Host (2006), Cloverfield (2008).
What did you think of Godzilla? An early contender for best film of the summer blockbuster? Have your say and leave a comment below!
Image credit: Collider.