Published on May 19th, 2014 | by Brad


Godzilla – A Film Review

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With the crashing roar of a resin-coated leather glove being slid down a double-bass, Godzilla tore back into cinemas this week, setting the box office alight with the largest opening day of the year, putting it well on course to knock Captain America off the top of the box-office charts for 2014 so far. Word of mouth has been a little mixed, but for my money, Gareth Edwards’ second feature is a roaring success, and one that I’ll be back at the cinema to see a second time very soon.

Right from the off, there’s a sense that this is going to be a bit special. Reworked stock footage of the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests from the 50s with glimpses of giant beasties in the background, and the credits pop up, with little bits of text seen briefly and then redacted. I really want to read what they said, they all looked fun. If I’ve a gripe, it’s to do with the billing of one of the stars, but I’ll say no more than that.

The film proper begins in 1999, in The Philippines. A collapse at a mine brings scientists Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins to investigate, on behalf of the mysterious Project Monarch. They discover something impressive and worrying. Meanwhile, at the Janjira Nuclear Plant in Japan, chief scientist Bryan Cranston and his engineer wife Juliette Binoche are investigating seismic readings in the area when tragedy strikes. These early scenes drip with mood and menace, whilst giving a very effective introduction to the principle players.

We cut forward again to the present day, and meet Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Navy lieutenant Ford Brody, son of Cranston and Binoche. He returns home to San Francisco, to his wife, Elizabeth Olsen, and their son, when he receives word that his father has been arrested for trespassing in the quarantined zone where his home was before the disaster 15 years prior. He has become obsessed with finding out the truth of what happened that day, not remotely satisfied with the idea that it was a natural disaster. They’re taken by the Monarch scientists, and things kick off from there.

An early criticism of this movie has been that it’s quite slow, and spends a lot of time with our human characters. Hell, Godzilla himself doesn’t show up until about an hour in. To be honest, I had absolutely no issue with that. If you’ve ever seen a classic Godzilla movie, that’s usually the way it goes, and if you’ve seen director Gareth Edwards’ previous film, Monsters, then you’ll definitely know what to expect. As is, the human cast are great, Cranston in particular wringing every last drop of grief and fury he can out of his character.

With all that time spent on the build-up, though, the money shots do need to deliver. Fortunately, they do in spades. A lot of time is spent with new enemy monster the MUTO (Massive Unexplained Terrestrial Organism), which looks like a true abomination of nature. Kind of a cross between a spider and a praying mantis, with bat-wings. The first half is kind of just watching it cut its swathe of destruction, from the Philippines to Japan, then heading towards the USA. At which point, our hero arrives.

The introduction of Godzilla is one of the best moments in any film you’ll see this year. The CGI and motion-capture work is astonishing, some of the best you’ll ever see. Andy Serkis and his Imaginarium Studio acted as consultants on the motion-capture, and you can tell. These are living creatures, with personalities of their own, and through his body language and facial expressions, you are left in no doubt what Godzilla is about. His size is truly astonishing, as he towers over the San Francisco skyline. He’s a truly remarkable beast.

Godzilla is everything you could possibly want from a big-budget, American Godzilla movie. It’s true to the spirit of the Japanese classics, whilst being every inch an American monster disaster film. It takes its time, building the world and the characters before letting the monsters tear it apart. If you’re going into this expecting destruction and titanic battles from the off, I fear you may be a touch disappointed. If you want that movie, you should have supported Pacific Rim last year. This is structured more like a Spielberg classic, something in the vein of Jaws, or Jurassic Park. Hell, there’s a sequence with some pens rolling across a desk that immediately calls to mind the “ripples in the glass of water” moment. This is a character piece, and a mood piece, that takes the time to set the stage, and build the tension, before unleashing all hell in the final act. And the final act is superb. At its roots, dating back 60 years, Godzilla is a nuclear cautionary tale, and the devastation in San Francisco looks like the nuclear apocalypse. Godzilla’s battle with MUTO is amazing.

Godzilla marks his sixtieth anniversary in some style, with one of the best films in the history of the franchise. The cast are fantastic, imbuing stock characters with real life and heart. The effects are amazing, the action sequences superb, and some of the most stunning images you’ll see on a cinema screen this year. I was fortunate enough to see this in IMAX, and I can’t recommend seeing it in that format highly enough. When Godzilla first roars, you could feel your seat shaking. Nothing quite like it. There has been some talk of a sequel, and its massive opening weekend would suggest that one is in the offing. Personally, I tope Toho release the rights to King Ghidora. They’ve done great stuff with a terrestrial foe, but show me a three-headed, no-armed, two-tailed winged dragon from outer space. Help make that a possibility, and do yourself a favour to boot, and go and see Godzilla on the biggest screen you can find. Magnificent film.

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