Film Review: Godzilla (Gareth Edwards, 2014) ★★★

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It's fifteen years since an "incident" at a Japanese power plant has been swept under the rug and, nuclear physicist, Joe Brody (Cranston), is still searching for answers. Joining forces with his now soldier son, Ford (Taylor-Johnson), he revisits the devastated town to uncover the truth but with earth-shattering consequences and an outcome that will threaten the globe.

We all know the standard monster movie narrative; scenes of helicopters and army men at large as a 150 foot monster storms through the streets, destroying skyscrapers and using double decker buses as roller-skates. And, of course, who could forget the 1998 over-hyped, B-movie classic featuring Matthew Broderick and half of the Simpsons cast but the real Godzilla goes back a little further. The original 1954 film Gojira, directed by Ishirō Honda, was not the monster movie we know today, but was Japan's response to the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The monster itself acts as a statement metaphor for the devastating acts of violence, man against man in the form of a nuclear attack. The original tells the story of a prehistoric monster, resurrected by repeated nuclear tests in the Pacific, who ravages Japan and reignites the horrors of nuclear devastation to the very nation that experienced it first hand. 

Now, it is clear that Gareth Edwards has done his research, as any good director would. The title sequence opens with a promising start with stylised shots of prehistoric findings, archive footage of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and hints of monsters lurking in the waters. From the outset, the titles boast Christopher Nolan expectations (complete with Hans Zimmer-esk soundtrack) and noble intentions with depth and monster cracking action. Edwards first made his debut as a first time film-maker with the 2010 indie-classic, Monsters, which gave us full-on monster creature rutting and enticing scenes of stunning visual effects. It is a shame then that Godzilla fails to fulfil its promises and what we are left with, instead, is B-Movie undertones. 

Like many blockbusters with way too much money pumped in to them, after a fantastic thirty minutes, the narrative must slow down to fit in as much perplexed science talks, character development and family tragedy as possible. In doing so, the film makes attempts to make reference to the original classic, noting Hiroshima and nuclear disasters, imaging that historic nuclear attacks were attempts at killing Godzilla.

 As for the characters, while we are given time to breathe them in, they emerge a forgettable bunch. Cranston delivers a brilliant performance within the first forty-odd minutes which proves too hard to follow for military bomb specialist, Ford. Despite seeing him as Kick Ass, Taylor-Johnson, fails to fulfil his role of  action man and comes off somewhat uncharismatic. Beside him is a under-utilised Elizabeth Olsen as his nurse and mother wife who spends majority of her scenes panicking at the other end of the phone or watching news updates on the TV. And of course, it wouldn't be complete without a scientist (or two and preferably Japanese), enter Ken Watanabe as a noble Japanese scientist who saw it all coming as man toyed with nature and Sally Hawkins is his exposition-clarifying assistant.

  The characters act merely as bystanders as Godzilla is to emerge the true star of the movie or so we've seen before. Yet, this is not the case in this circumstance as the lizard king fails to register as the star of his self-titled flick. Not only is his entrance slightly thrown away, seen during the titles, and brushed over as he is introduced but Edwards focussed primarily on the other unidentified terrestrial objects that threaten both ours and Godzilla's existence presenting a mutual enemy thus making Godzilla an allies (Another moving twist) But even so, the malevolent moth-like creatures that battle us and the beast seem to get more screen time and distract from the actual narrative of the film.

The film concludes posing a final question, Godzilla: Friend of foe? This felt a little forced as though to fit in a final thought and a Dark Knight-style finish; that Godzilla is some kind of prehistoric dinosaur that we deserve but don't need right now. The problem being that there was no continuity to this depth and it goes somewhat wasted on it's audience. It can be said, however, that audiences are pushed in favour of Godzilla from the get go by his design. He is not presented as a scary and terrifying monster, but a heroic, round faced, 350 ft dinosaur in comparison to the sickly-looking moth parasites he is up against. By default, we root for his success and feel empathy for the monster we have created. 

Whilst Edwards has presented a somewhat lost portrayal of a classic Monster story (a case of trying to fit too much in to one film) what we see is an inkling of great things to come. Overall, Godzilla should be taken at face value and there is nothing wrong with enjoying a good old-fashioned action-for-the-sake-of-action film. The visual effects and C.G.I are remarkable and feature jaw-droppingly good scenes of all round awesomeness. Whilst I do not feel I was given all I was promised and there is not enough Cranston for my liking, that is not to say it was not enjoyable or worthy of seeing in the slightest. I was even lucky enough to see it in all it's glory at the BFI IMAX, only to further the experience even more. I look forward to the future of Gareth Edwards film-making and give Godzilla a Sophie star rating of 3 out of 5 and ask, who's going to clean all that mess up? 

I'd love to hear what you guys thought of the film too, share and comment :)




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