Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Juliette Binoche, and Sally Hawkins
Review Written By: Michael Dalton (Prime Minister)
Godzilla was a film that I had high expectations for. With the aforementioned Edwards behind the camera, Giacchino (Up) on the score, and the likes of Bryan Cranston in the cast, this was a film that had serious quality both in front of and behind the camera. The film starts with a wonderfully atmospheric and mysterious opening title sequence, which takes us through the history of Godzilla. With freeze frames of this sequence revealing many witty easter eggs hidden within. This is followed by an incident at a nuclear power plant in Japan that rather eerily, and some would argue offensively, conjures up memories and images of recent real-life disaster. However it is an effective and character-based opening, rooted in Godzilla’s thematic history with nuclear paranoia, suggesting that an emotional and thoughtful summer blockbuster will follow.
Unfortunately Bryan Cranston is not this film’s protagonist however, with his son played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson taking over such duties. With a wife played by the beautiful and brilliant Elizabeth Olsen, we are given a very clichéd set-up. One in which this soldier’s return home is cut short by first his father’s illegal antics and then the release of a big monster. Resulting in a perilous quest to reunite with his wife and young son. This rather criminally reduces Elizabeth Olsen to looking concerned at TV screens for the majority of the film. Whilst Bryan Cranston has no screen-time past the first half an hour, and I don’t know if Sally Hawkins' character is even given a name. This is Oscar nominated talent that is completely under-utilized. Gareth Edwards wastes his cast more than his titular creature wastes cities.
The script also leaves a lot to be desired. As is noted characters aren’t developed beyond archetypes. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is your stereotypical young, buff, white male lead. Elizabeth Olsen is the wife and Ken Watanabe is the exposition. Meanwhile the film struggles with the relationship between the silliness of its content and the seriousness of its tone. The film has some quite frankly ridiculous lines and ideas, yet it is always, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, played with a straight face. However this tonal issue is arguably Edwards only real misstep, as he is the true star of this film.
Godzilla’s content is not particularly original or daring, yet the way in which this content is delivered certainly is. Godzilla is the most beautiful blockbuster in quite a long time, with Gareth Edwards being a director with a clear and unique vision, which makes the film an absolute feast for the eyes and worthy of a trip to the cinema. For a while the film exercises relative restraint, with Edwards cutting away from the action just as it is about to begin. This is a move that I understand will lead to much frustration, and I can see why some would label the film dull and underwhelming. However in the third act Edwards more than delivers, with the film putting the conclusion of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim to shame. There are cheer and applause worthy moments in the final movements, with Edwards more than providing the spectacle you’d want and expect from a Godzilla film.
The HALO jump sequence, which formed the basis of the film’s teaser trailer, is a breathtaking sequence, with shots from it almost being hauntingly beautiful paintings. Whilst Edwards constantly finds new and interesting perspectives on the action, keeping it coherent and meaningful at the same time. The film is also thematically interesting, with it very much portraying the idea of man’s powerlessness in the face of nature, and our arrogance in thinking we have an important and influential role. With some taking this thematic thread as a way in which to explain away the poor work done on the character front. This is not a film about human beings, this is a film about nature and its immense power. What this film does with the character of Godzilla is very interesting even if it has been done in the character’s history in less pretentious offerings. However in many ways it makes it valid to proclaim Godzilla the best superhero film of 2014.
Ultimately despite its issues on a script and tonal level, I found Godzilla thematically interesting and technically impressive. All the set pieces were tense, beautiful, and awesome. Even if it was clichéd on the character front it did take its time developing them and was relatively restrained for its first two acts. Yet when the spectacle came it more than delivered. I was thoroughly engrossed throughout and appreciative of Gareth Edwards' work and his vision for this film. When the film reached its very final shot (Perhaps the best final shot of the year) I was actually quite blown away with what I’d just seen.