Blu-ray Review – Godzilla (2014)

aaron-taylor-johnson-godzilla

I think we can add this Godzilla to the ever-growing list of “films with misleading trailers”. The theatrical trailer seems to advertise a sombre remake of 1954’s original, starring Bryan Cranston and complete with nuclear horror catharsis and dark tone. However, the film I just watched is a modern version of the later ‘Zilla films where he’s humanity’s protector against a bigger threat and starring that guy from Kick-Ass. This is not a bad thing by any stretch, I just feel kinda lied to. Still, it is what it is and I have various things to say about it.

Fifteen years after an ‘incident’ at a Japanese nuclear power plant that claimed a number of lives, including his wife’s, physicist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) joins forces with his soldier son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to uncover what really happened that day, determined that the government’s “earthquake” explanation is covering up something a lot bigger. The pair are soon embroiled in a tale of secrets upon secrets that could ultimately mean the dethroning of humans as the dominant species on the planet. Also Godzilla (playing himself) is in it.

Internet reaction has been divided on this one because, well, it’s the internet. One particular hot topic for both camps is the fact that Godzilla doesn’t show up until a good hour into the film. Personally, I have no problem with it. I’m all about the slow burn and teasing reveals. The film feels like it’s deliberately messing with you at times, by denying us an epic monster brawl at least twice. There’s one scene in particular where Godzilla squares off against a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), in amongst an airport on fire. It’s an amazing bit and every single sign is pointing to monster carnage. However instead of getting the smackdown we want, we then cut to a live broadcast of the fight being watched by Ford’s son at home, managing to only catch a few glimpses of them going toe-to-toe. The feeling of being denied is palpable. Back when I saw it at the cinema, the audible pained reaction to the second time we’re shut out of a monster rumble was genuinely funny. I was frustrated too, but told myself it would pay off. It’s in sharp contrast to the ADD filmmaking we’re normally stuck with and I respect it for that. Director Gareth Edwards is wearing his Spielberg influence on his sleeve and pulling the same trick both Jaws and Jurassic Park did. In one way, it works as intended, but in another way it highlights what’s wrong with the film.

The human characters are bland. Only Cran the Man is really noteworthy here, doing some stellar work and making his conspiracy nut character relatable and sympathetic. Being the only character I liked, naturally the film’s done with him fairly early on and we’re lumped with Ford Brody, the most generic whitebread character imaginable. It’s irritating as once the focus is off Cranston, the film’s hero switches to Godzilla. You may raise an eyebrow, but watch how many classic “hero” shots there are of him. He’s a slighter scalier John Wayne moseying in to clean up a dirty town. However, at least in John Wayne films Wayne sticks around for most of the runtime. Godzilla is a floating presence. I get what they’re going for, but it leaves us with Blandford Brodyson or whatever the hell his name is. His sole motivation is to get back to his family, a driving force that has only been used in a fucktillion other disaster movies. I wouldn’t mind so much, but Aaron Taylor-Johnson is completely flat. The usually excellent Elizabeth Olsen is relegated to “underwritten wife character waiting for the big strong man to sort things out” and it’s dumb. Ken Watanabe’s character seems to be the one saddled with the “respectful empath to Godzilla” role, with no real explanation as to why he knows these things about the creature. There are some interesting ideas behind what he says, especially his theory about Godzilla resetting the natural balance, but there’s no evidence or proof to back up what he says. He just says it all mystic like and people make massive life-threatening decisions on what he thinks Big G will do next.

When we do finally get the hyped monster action it’s fantastic. The scale and scope of everything is perfect. You’re really made aware that these are gargantuan creatures. I don’t know how it’s been managed, but the CGI heavy fights have a real old-school charm to them and almost have man-in-a-suit physics, especially when they fall into buildings. Some of the shots are truly awe-inspiring and reminded me just why I love films in the first place. There are several moments that had me wanting to leap up from my chair and applaud. I got a huge kick out of Godzilla doing this cool thing or that badass bit and it made up for some of the film’s missteps in getting to that point. I can’t see many people having a problem with Zilla this time round. He looks awesome and he’s got some personality to him. There’s even a bit where it’s clear he’s frustrated and it’s genuinely endearing. The HALO jump featured heavily in the marketing is also jaw-dropping. Thanks to all the teasing, the finale feels like a proper finale, not just a longer version of what’s come before. It earned its ending and the final 20 minutes or so are the best.

The script is the problem. It’s a stitched together patchwork with conflicting voices and ideas. It has no real clue how humans actually talk and coasts along with Nolan/Goyeresque functional dialogue that has artificial gravitas and meaning. Screenplay scribe Max Borenstein relies on coincidence and happenstance to get Ford from place to place, meaning that Ford is super passive for most of the film. Interesting ideas are brought up but fade quickly. This is one of the only times where I’ve felt the director was trying to add his own flair to proceedings and was shackled by the shoddy writing. It feels like the film is too smart for some of the dumb clichés the story falls back on. Godzilla shares a lot of DNA with Edwards’ previous film Monsters. For starters,there’s an overarching motivation to get from Point A to Point B through a thick monster shitstorm. Again, like Monsters, the focus isn’t actually on whatever the title is and zeroes in on the human aspect. Where the films differ, however, is that you actually care about the people in Monsters. It meant that the monster element was the icing on the cake, rather than being relied on to prop up a slightly creaky film.

Godzilla isn’t bad. In fact, it can be great at times. The whole thing’s just strangely lopsided. The monster stuff is awesome in the purest sense of the word and there are some decent bits scattered through to keep you bumping along. Rewatching it, the stuff I liked before got better, but I was refrustrated by some of the odd writing decisions. It’s still an easy recommendation and definitely worth checking out. The campaign for King Ghidorah to appear in Godzilla 2 begins now!

[rating=3]
Ben Browne

Genre:sci-fi, thriller, action Distributor:Warner Bros Rating: 12 BD/DVD Release Date: 27th October 2014 (UK) Director: Gareth Edwards Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe Buy:Godzilla [Blu-ray] [2014] [Region Free]

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