Godzilla (ゴジラ)has been around for 60 years, first appearing in the 1954 Japanese film which bears his name. Since then he has appeared in many Toho films productions as well as numerous comics, video games, TV shows and that rather terrible Roland Emmerich film from 1998. He is a daikaju (大怪獣)- or large strange creature. An almost mythical being which installs fear, but does he mean harm? My review of the 2014 Gareth Edwards Godzilla after the jump.
In 1995 a mining site collapsed in the Philippines and soon after an earthquake rocks an area of Japan, causing a nuclear meltdown. Physicist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) who was working at the plant at the time becomes obsessed at finding out what really happened that day. 15 years later has to be bailed out of custody in Japan by his Navy Lieutenant son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Joe had trespassed in the no-go zone, trying to recover his data from that time. This data becomes a vital tool for Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) who are also researching the real cause of the aforementioned “natural disasters”. How useful this data is soon becomes clear when the seismic activity increases, signalling a new event is upon them.
Let’s talk about Godzilla the monster. The creature design is fantastic – big, menacing and unmistakably a creature with its own thought processes. There are moments in this film when you catch a close-up glimpse and you can see the cogs turning. He has been waiting in the depths of the ocean for a reason to come out and he has finally been given it. His roar is phenomenal and reverberates through both the world on-screen and the cinema – there isn’t anything quite like it. Pure primordial power. The tense, initial teasing out of his reveal and the climatic battle scenes are fantastic and make the film worth seeing on the big screen.
Edwards and his team have nailed the look, sound and mythology of the magnificent creature. The cinematography is fantastic with each shot containing impressive depth. Epic battles, citizens fleeing, army attacking and cityscapes are often in one frame without it feeling crowded. Desplat’s score is suitably intense in the right moments, but ridiculously corny at other times. It’s a mixed effort from the veteran composer.
Unfortunately the look of the film and the creature development seems to have come at the expense of everything else. The human characters are sorely lacking depth, charisma and any real personality. Ken Watanabe is a walking wise Japanese cliché, with every sentence he utters appearing to be the most profound thing ever said. His delivery of the creature’s name,”Godzila” is his one shining moment. Elizabeth Olsen serves to look concerned, frightened and give us the citizen Joe’s point of view; while David Strathairn sleeps his way through his battle commands. Cranston gives the best human performance, convincing with his obsessiveness and frustration.
I cannot fathom why Aaron Taylor-Johnson was cast in the role of the hero character. Taylor-Johnson lacks the charisma and gravitas to carry such a weighty role and as a result it’s really hard to believe in his character at all. This kid a Navy Lieutenant with copious amounts of courage and nerves of steel? I don’t believe it for a second. To be fair it’s also to do with the lazy writing which unconvincingly places him at the scene of EVERY SINGLE piece of action. I can only imagine what a protagonist with depth, played by an actor with gumption would have added to the film.
Once Godzilla is finally revealed and it becomes apparent where the film is heading I found myself becoming rather disinterested. There is only so much that an impressive creature can do if what surrounds it is monotone. See Godzilla for the visuals but don’t expect much from the hapless humans.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Gareth Edwards
Writer(s): Max Borenstein (screenplay), Dave Callaham (story)
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins
Runtime: 123 minutes
Release date(s): Australia and New Zealand: May 15 2014; USA: May 16 2014