Re-launching and re-imagining Godzilla, if you’ll forgive the pun, was always going to be a monster task.
Gojira to the Japanese and the King of the Monsters to the rest of us Godzilla is not only one of the most iconic and recongisable movie creatures of all time but has featured in 28 movies from Toho Co. since Ishiro Honda’s 1954 film which tapped into the post-WWII fears of nuclear power and radiation as nature revolted in giant lizard form and attempted to destroy mankind.
Worryingly we have been here before as Hollywood attempted to bring the beast to the West in Roland Emmerich’s terrible 1998 version which received awful reviews and negative reception resulting in the quick abandonment of any plans for a franchise.
In fact the 90’s American remake became such a joke Toho licensed the official monster design renaming him Zilla and having him royally smacked down by the real Godzilla in the amazing 2004 movie Godzilla: Final Wars.
With all that in mind its hard to believe that Hollywood will get it right this time however after a host of false starts the studios finally put a man at the helm who has the credentials and vision to breath new atomic life into Godzilla, director Gareth Edwards.
Working as writer, director, cinematographer and visual effects artist Edward’s marvelous Monsters proved what he could do on a shoestring budget in terms of impressive and imaginative science fiction.
It also displayed his sensitivity and emotional depth when it came to characters and story-line something distinctly lacking in not only Emmerich’s attempt but also some of the middle period Godzilla films where the characters are as rubber as the monster suits.
Opening in 1999 this film centers on Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston who plays Joe Brody, a nuclear physicist and engineer who has discovered strange seismic readings that seem to be increasing as if almost moving towards his Tokyo nuclear plant. When disaster strikes the plant is destroyed along with his wife who sacrifices herself to save others leaving Brody and his young son as devastated as the city.
15 years later and Brody’s boy has grown into a man, explosives expert Lieutenant Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson from Kick Ass) who lives in San Francisco with his own son and wife Elle (Silent Houses’ Elizabeth Olsen). His father however remains in Japan obsessed with discovering what killed his wife and when he is arrested trespassing in the contamination zone around his old plant Ford must fly over and bail him out.
Although angry at his Dad he ends up accompanying him to their family home to recover research that Joe claims proves that the same catastrophe the government covered up before is about to happen again. Captured by the army they are taken to the site of the original horrifying event where they soon realise that Joe was right and something monstrous is coming that will change the world forever.
What follows is a transcontinental journey of epic proportions packed full of peril on a super scale as the might of the military face a global threat they cannot possibly fathom. Cities are destroyed, thousands are killed but in the end Godzilla stands tall.
At 350 feet tall (186 foot taller than the original) size matters and the 2014 design of Godzilla emphasizes fully that he is indeed a God walking the Earth and bringing with him the full force of nature’s revenge. What increases the impact of the film is how real it seems with the chaos and disaster scenes from tsunami’s to airport explosions placed firmly in our physical world even if they are being caused by a mythical monster.
Visually stunning right from its creative title scene some of the shots are like animated works of art and the imagery is powerful and haunting throughout firmly cementing Edward’s reputation as a director as good at handling style as he is at story. Much more respectful to the original in design than the 98 version the effects and creature creation are flawless and although the 3D seems somewhat pointless the special effects in Godzilla are some of the best seen on screen.
Like Monsters however Edward’s Godzilla is primarily about people and in the same way Ang Lee controversially interpreted the Hulk, a high percentage of the film involves human’s talking from Cranston’s crazed ranting’s to Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins scientific musings on the monsters origins to Taylor-Johnson and Olsen’s emotion packed phone calls as he tries to get home to her and his boy.
In many ways this firm focus on characters is both the best and most frustrating thing about Edward’s version of Godzilla. The bottom line is all we really want to see as an audience is non-stop monster brawls and mass destruction, something that the original Godzilla movies delivered in full, all be it at the sacrifice of believability, tension or any sense of terror (just YouTube Godzilla’s Falcon Kick for an example!)
At first this active evading of full-on action is increasingly vexing as we are teased and tantalized with all too brief moments of amazing excitement and horror. Ultimately though Edward’s knows best and his avoidance of excessive special effects fight scenes found in other Hollywood blockbusters, which only ultimately encourages ennui, is refreshing. The brief Godzilla glimpses not only build the anticipation but allow us to feel we have truly earned the awe inspiring ending which is initiated by Watanabe’s wise and apt words “Let them fight!”
Fear not Godzilla’s frantic and fantastic finale delivers everything anyone could want from the film paying the audience back for their patience in an all-out marathon monster battle on a massive scale.
Taking such a well-loved and world renowned character with such a long legacy and reinventing its origin for a modern audience while still paying reverence to what has gone before is a difficult task. But once the dust has settled Gareth Edwards Godzilla most definitely proves itself as a roaring success.