Movie Review: Godzilla

GOJIRA!!!

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Starring:
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston
Director:
Gareth Edwards (In the Shadow of the Moon, Monsters)
Rating: M
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I feel it’s worth mentioning for the sake of this review that I don’t really have any sort of connection to Godzilla in any of his various incarnations over the last half century or so – I didn’t even see the 1998 movie despite being a fresh-faced nine year old with plenty of similar interests at the time. My limited knowledge of the king of the monsters and his kaiju buddies comes from other forms of referential media, starting with that Season 2 South Park episode where Barbara Streisand reveals her true form and goes on a rampage. My exposure to this new Gareth Edwards take on the Godzilla mythos is limited to one trailer I saw last month in the cinema.

That being said, the 2014 Godzilla is pretty damn cool, and with some rebalances it could well have been one of my favourite movies of this year. It’s a shame that the film’s human elements aren’t more engaging.

That aforementioned trailer focuses heavily on Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston‘s scientist character Joe Brody (Is there a more American-sounding name than that?), and for good reason, because not only is he the most immediately marketable actor on the cast list, he also gives by far the most engaging performance in the movie. He chews up the scenery with the same entertainingly destructive force as the titular monster, but his balls-to-the-wall screaming comes with a layer of pathos he expresses just as well. The thing is, he’s hardly in the movie, and that sucks.

The actual lead role is taken by Aaron Taylor-Johnson of Kick-Ass fame, who plays some military guy with a blatantly obvious Chekhov’s Skill, a stoic determination to yank screen time away from Godzilla and not a great deal of characterisation. He is joined by the hugely hyped talent Elizabeth Olsen as his hospital-employed wife (Yes, Marvel fans, that means Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are already in another movie together), but the role largely adds up to a few close-ups of her worried face and some running. There are more supporting characters present, of course, the most prominent of which is Ken Watanabe‘s Dr Serizawa a.k.a the only person in the main cast who seems to know anything about Godzilla, and he is enjoyable to watch despite a brow that insists on staying furrowed in every single shot. The film seems hell-bent on pushing him to the side every time he says something to further the plot slightly, so we can get back to watching the American navy do their thing. That seems like an odd choice of direction to me, because there is absolutely nothing here on the armed forces side of things that we haven’t already seen done – and done better – in other blockbusters.

But enough about the human stuff, because if you go to see a Godzilla movie you go to see, well, Godzilla. And maybe some monsters for him to fight. Seeing the icon rise from a plume of smoke to face an attacker is goosebump-inducing stuff, and again, this is coming from a relative novice on the subject. I am told that the monsters he fights in the film are new creations, but their angular design certainly nails the Japanese toy-ready aesthetic the artists were likely going for, their eerie cries sound unique enough to be memorable and I’m a fan of the way the movie treats them in general. There is noticeably less onscreen “giant thing vs giant thing” fighting going on in Godzilla than there was in last year’s Pacific Rim (Come on, the comparisons were inevitable), and the relevant action variety is consequently less compelling, but the scenes that do greet audience eyes and ears are suitably awesome. Godzilla’s last violent act of the movie is so spectacular that my cinema session applauded, and it’s almost worth sitting through all the build-up for that moment alone.

Godzilla’s face isn’t actually seen until more than halfway through the movie, which is probably a good move by Edwards and his team because it arguably increases his stature and impact on the movie as a whole. But whenever Cranston or Watanabe aren’t in frame, which is far too often, the film drags along, making the wait for the film’s final act occasionally unbearable. Then during the final battle, for some reason, the action keeps cutting away from the monsters to the American military again! If I haven’t mentioned the plot in this review it’s because it barely warrants a mention – at least after the intense first fifteen minutes or so are over, but I don’t want to spoil them. Godzilla is Godzilla’s movie, despite his relatively minor screen time, and I hope he is surrounded by a more robust human story when the sequel comes out.

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
The monsters, Cranston and Watanabe are a heap of fun to watch (and hear)
Bad:
Heavy focus on the least interesting human characters
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3.5 VsG !

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