Director: Gareth Edwards
Main Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen
Genre: Action, Science Fiction, Thriller
Running Time: 123 minutes
Release Date: 15 May 2014
Stephen A Russell for the lowdownunder says: “Back in 1954, the original Godzilla (Gojira) movie, directed by Ishiro Honda, saw an atomic explosion awaken the majestically scaly kraken from the ocean’s depths, subsequently laying waste to Tokyo Bay. Following the devastation, the beast retreated, returning intermittently across the next six decades, several reboots and an animated series, to tackle all manor of kaiju, from a three-headed dragon from outer space, to an enormous moth/lobster/spider etc. and even a juiced-up King Kong. And then he faced down Matthew Broderick, but the least said about that Roland Emmerich-directed farce the better.
Fittingly, Gareth Edwards, the man behind the flawed but incredibly beautiful Monsters (2010) was charged with bringing the big G-man back for this sixtieth anniversary outing. Flicking the reset switch all over again, there is, nonetheless, a deep affection for all that’s gone before running through this incarnation, penned by Max Borenstein (Swordswallowers and Thin Men). In this iteration, mankind first became aware of the primordial creatures back in, you guessed it, 1954. The opening credits are an Easter egg-laden paradise choc full of glimpses of errant kaiju.
The original Gojira was a surprisingly bleak affair warning of the dangers of a nuclear future, at least in its original Japanese cut, and there’s certainly an element of that at play here, though the nuclear origin is neatly turned on its head. This time out the test blasts so common in that period are explained away as an attempt to kill the beasts, rather than as unintended wake-up calls. Regardless, they still feed on the glowing green ooze, as humanity discovers to its chagrin.
An admirable scope is achieved by opening the film in the Philippines in 1999, where the first heavyweight acting pros rock up in scientist duo Dr. Serizawa (Ken Wantanabe, Inception) and Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine). They discover enormous skeletal remains and two egg pods in a collapsed mine; one of the pods has hatched, the other is dormant. Then it’s off to a nuclear facility in Janjira, Japan, where Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston plays another distressed boffin desperately trying to warn the site bosses about unusual seismic readings. The incomparable Juliet Binoche appears as his wife and colleague.
These roles aren’t given quite the heft you would imagine, and in all honesty, Cranston is a bit of a weak link here, uncharacteristically OTT and wrecking the scenery like an errant kaiju. The majority of the movie falls on the seriously steroid-buff shoulders of former Kick-Ass weed Aaron Taylor-Johnson. He certainly looks the part of All-American Hero™, though the squeaky voice lets him down a tad.
But we’re not here for the feeble humans, are we? Edwards wisely teases out the arrival of the big guns, and yes, plural. There’s a palpable sense of menacing tension as the scientists/army/navy foolishly fail to spot the warning signs of their impending doom and then panics with no bloody clue what to do with the towering demons once they arrive and start laying waste to everything between Hawaii and San Francisco, via a stop-over in Vegas.
And by Gojira, the destruction is magnificent. Edwards shot Monsters armed on the hop in Central America, recruiting non-professional actors as he went and created the awe-inspiring special effects on his own laptop. The entire project cost around half a mill. This time out he had something in the region of $160 million to play with, and he’s spent his pennies wisely.
This has to be one of the most outstanding uses of computer graphics out there. The depth of detail is astounding. When a Godzilla-induced tsunami tears through downtown Honolulu, you can see people panicking though gauze curtains in the top floors of a motel as the waters rage beneath, in an eerie echo of the Boxing Day disaster.
Like Taylor-Johnson, Godzilla himself has been hitting the gym, or perhaps the burger bar, as he’s noticeably piled on the beef here, with a serious growth spurt skywards too. The scale is perfect, allowing for a genuinely terrifying 9/11-style annihilation of San Fran and yet still enabling him to duck behind towers, teasing with fleeting glimpses of the giant in action. The destruction is reined in just enough so as not to descend into a soulless Transformers-like mess of undecipherable carnage. When Godzilla finally throws down with his pseudo-brethren, it’s shock and awe all the way. And yes, there’s even a cheeky reference to Edwards’ memorable monster-loving scene from his feature debut.
As with King Kong, the intermittent destroyer/saviour of man is imbued with just enough empathy to have you wondering who the real monstrosities of the piece are. Though the serious tone of the original has been largely restored, there are just enough sly jokes here, particularly those aimed at rewarding the loyal Godzilla fans, with the name tag on a tank containing a certain furry winged insect priceless. Outstanding city blockbusting fun.”
Entertainment Weekly says: “Godzilla actually shows us its monsters without a scrim of rain and a cloak of darkness. And the thrill of the film is getting the chance to fetishize their sheer size and physicality…In its handful of moments like these, Godzilla almost makes you feel like a kid again.”
Huffington Post says: “We’re not bombarded with excessive CGI here. Godzilla isn’t oversold, although for some, his lack of screentime won’t be satisfying enough. However, the balance between the family-focused story line and intense action sequences is bound to please others.”
See it: In 3D, on the big screen. Or don’t see it at all.
Kids? If they’re good with monsters, yes.