Saturday, 24 May 2014

[This is a non-spoiler review – if you’ve seen the film already, I’ve posted a longer, rantier,spoilerific version here.]

I treated myself to a post-big-university-deadline screening of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla yesterday. The one-word version of my review follows: GRAAARGH.

That’s both an impression of the titular lizard, who is fucking cool, and a roar of frustration at the crap storyline surrounding the human characters.

Here’s the longer review:

I love Gareth Edwards’ Monsters. I really do. It’s a fantastic sci-fi film, a very personal, intimate romance, against the backdrop of an alien-infested South America. And Edwards literally did all the VFX in his bedroom. With this superb debut in mind, I was thrilled that the director had been picked up to take on the cinematic icon that is Godzilla. Surely his take on the scaly kaiju would be way superior to Roland Emmerich’s 1998 disaster.

Indeed, in many ways, it is.

Edwards clearly has a great reverence for the original Godzilla tale, a reflection of the Japanese post-war fear of nuclear power, and this is reflected heavily in his film. There’s a great credits sequence harking back to this era, using real footage of nuclear tests and a bit of CGI to craft this Godzilla’s backstory. Then we’re in 1999, where an accident at a Japanese nuclear plant lets a MUTO (equally-giant enemies for Godzilla to wallop) out into the world. Zip to the present day, and the MUTOs are heading towards America – but Godzilla’s on their trail.

The way the action plays out is, in many ways, blockbuster filmmaking done right. So many films give the game away by revealing the monster too early, but Edwards builds up tension Jaws-style by really making Godzilla’s presence felt long before we see him – a company established to search for him, a dog running away from a tidal wave he’s inadvertently caused – and then revealing him piece by piece – a foot stomping across a city street, a spine sticking from the sea. By the time we finally see the massive bastard in full, we know he means business – and he doesn’t disappoint; the action sequences are thrilling, with an awesomely cinematic sense of scale and danger.

That’s not to reduce Godzilla to a device for action – he is himself a great character, and there’s something very sad about him which the animators have really got right – he’s the last of his race, the guardian of humanity, and he genuinely seems to care about us – but he’s just too damn big and clumsy and can’t help squashing people. Sniff.

The problem with the film, however, is the human characters, whose personal stories need to be engaging in order to justify the scale of the action.

There’s a good attempt at a father-son bonding story between obsessive conspiracy theorist Walter White (not actually the character’s name but meh) and his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). But as the film goes on, this is left by the wayside and it becomes clear that Taylor-Johnson’s character doesn’t have the depth to keep us interested, and nor does his wife (Elizabeth Olsen), who’s given a very stereotypical and sketchily-plotted role that mainly consists of worrying if her husband’s alright.

So, on a character level, the film falls apart as it progresses. Nevertheless, it does have a lot of very exciting, well-paced action, giant monsters bashing the shit out of each other, and that bit with the dog. It’s a big improvement on Emmerich’s version, and I can’t wait to see what Gareth Edwards does next, whether that be a return to the world of kaiju or something in a galaxy far, far away…


Post a Comment