Wednesday 21 May 2014

Review: Godzilla

Year: 2014
Director: Gareth Edwards
Screenplay: Max Borenstein
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston

Synopsis is here

I found myself grappling with my thoughts on this latest rendition Godzilla since my viewing last Friday. I had more than enough time to piece a review together since then, but I wanted to figure out if my thoughts of the film would develop into something more than just "fine". As a big fan of Edwards last feature; Monsters (2010), I had some high hopes for whatever project would come the young director's way and while a $100millon plus blockbuster was possibly not what I was thinking, but I was more than willing to see what he would do with Japan's iconic, atomic beast.

Edward's Godzilla feels less like Roland Emmerich's flat 1998 adaptation of the material, yet it struggles to bring across the gloomy, tragic tone of the 1954 original. The film stumbles somewhere along the middle of both. Doing its best to project the huge amount of money spent on it and fumbling a plot that has a refreshing change of pace in comparison with other blockbusters, in terms of structure and themes, yet no interesting human characters to engage with. Edward's film excels when Godzilla makes its appearances in the film, but most of the films downtime is spent with people that hold no real interest. Edwards clearly likes to display the idea that when such creatures appear on earth, we are of little significance, and I enjoy how his displays this in such moments as the glorious skydiving set piece. If we are to spend so much time with its human characters, however, I would not mind some emotional connection.

The 1954 original film cleverly used the Japan as a collective source of character, utilizing isolating moments of terror and despair and unifying them as an emotionally connective tissue. There is no main character because Japan is the main character. 2014's Godzilla decides to lump its heavy weight upon Aaron Taylor Johnson, whose board shoulders aren't strong enough to carry it. Johnson plays the role barrel chested but cardboard faced. Other actors I expected more from (Olsen, Binoche, and Hawkins) are either bland info-dumping mouth pieces are unfortunately shoved into either dull homely or info-dump characters. This is the second film to place a female character within a uniform of a nurse and believe that's enough to sell the idea of the character (see also The Amazing Spiderman 2). Bryan Cranston tries hard to inject the kind of energy we expect from such a film, as yet another pent-up father figure, while Ken Watanabe is allowed inform us of the nature of the beast, yet the amount of screen time they are given to place any gravitas, is limited. A strong international cast is wasted, while we wait for what we actually came for.

Edward does deliver when it comes to the film's scale. The film generally feels large. We witness helicopters appear as mere specks on landscapes of foliage. Watching landscape shots of soldiers against the sheer size of the mutated monster only amplifies the feelings of insignificance of the human species as the rampage of the creatures takes place. Edwards also nods back to his first feature (as well the Godzilla franchise) with a solid sense of wit. Meanwhile cinematographer Seamus McGarvey's beautifully ashen cinematography and Alexandre Desplat winking score sets the right tone.

Godzilla 2014 tries hard to juggle a few pies in the air and only manages to a few of them up. Edward's film is making a summer blockbuster with very particular B-movie-like undertones. But while the original film smartly captures a country's pain with a sense of melancholy, Godzilla fumbles its human story with unengaging characters. The film really hits its stride when it all kicks off, but I would happily be calling the film great if the film's quieter moments had anything approaching the subtly affecting Mexican vigil scene found in Monsters. Godzilla is best viewed for its splashes of spectacle only.