Natalie Stendall’s Film Review: Godzilla is back

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The original King Of Monsters has inspired a whole genre of giant lizard movies. In the last decade alone, producer J.J Abrams has given us the shaky-cam Cloverfield, while Pacific Rim teamed Kaiju’s against immense, human-powered robots.

This proliferation of giant lizard flicks might leave audiences wondering if there’s even room for Godzilla in his own crowded genre, whether Godzilla has been bled dry and whether, in fact, he has now been replaced by Transformers and Marvel villains as the Kings of cityscape carnage.

But Godzilla fans should fret no more. The colossal lizard is back to gloriously grab his crown after Roland Emmerich’s disappointing 1998 effort.

Godzilla laps up the leading role in this exhilarating movie of which he is unmistakably the star.

The disposable nature of his supporting human characters, the most charismatic of which are swiftly killed off in the film’s first act, adds up to a lot of wasted talent.

Juliet Binoche barely lasts five minutes when a seismic event tears down a nuclear facility and her conspiracy theorist husband, Joe (Bryan Cranston), who attributes the disaster to anything other than a simple earthquake, doesn’t last much longer.

This leaves military son Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who has more than a whiff of team Team America about him as he contributes to the US mission, and his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) who does little more than wait in the wings, to fill the human void.

These forgettable characters are Godzilla’s biggest flaw and most notable metaphor. Spielberg classics Jaws and Jurassic Park are living proof that it’s possible to write monster movies whose complex, three dimensional characters make their movies all the better.

Yet the insignificance of the Brody family and Godzilla’s so-called experts (a horrifically underused Ken Watanbe and Sally Hawkins) remind us that, at the whim of nature, we are all disposable.

Nature is Godzilla’s covert final character, often lurking somewhere out of view, but quietly whispering Jurassic Park’s sentiment that ‘Life finds a way’.

It’s odd that this theme should remain so elusive in spite of Edward’s often blunt efforts to draw it out.

Cranston’s home, locked in the nuclear disaster’s sealed area, crumbles just fifteen years on.

The roof is missing and foliage grows up through the floors, while a Happy Birthday sign, presumably held up by a few simple drawing pins, remains in tact.

Scenic nit-picking aside, it quickly becomes clear that military ideas to combat this monstrous disaster are at best lacking and at worst suicidal. Godzilla is in control here and we are at his mercy.

Director Gareth Edwards’ (Monsters) exploration of his themes might by sketchy, but he excels in exquisite tension building.

It’s surprising that this relatively new director’s first big budget flick should already put the efforts of established blockbuster tradesmen so resolutely in the shade.

Edwards’ Godzilla is a spectacle and on an IMAX screen, giant lizards have never been so big. Godzilla resembles the monster of the 1950s - chunky, clumsy and thick skinned - and fans of the original will revel in Edwards’ subtle recreation of classic shots.

The final showdown is nothing short of epic, simultaneously fresh and nostalgic, while holding its grip in eye popping visuals.

Yet it’s in Edwards’ camera work that the director transfixes us most. Edwards’ demonstrates a flare for framing inside shots looking out - through windows, doors and binoculars - putting us right in the action.

Much in the vein of Spielberg and his T-Rex in the rear-view mirror, Edwards’ gives us a glimpse of the terror from a bystanders perspective - a tail swishing here, a giant foot there, a rapid glimpse of monster rage from a passing plane and a gigantic, scaly silhouette highlighted by tiny, flickering flares.

The intensity builds gradually, embracing the element of surprise but giving us plenty of monster activity from the very beginning.

Despite its almost incessant action, Edwards’ Godzilla remains seated in present concerns and its initial nuclear disaster wreaks of most recent nuclear event, Fukushima.

This re-telling of the Godzilla origin story has a serious tone with mere flashes of satire - a televised warning against road travel is immediately followed by images of road based chaos - and evokes the original’s political concern with nuclear power.

Yet its difficult to imagine Edwards’ version having an equivalent impact on audience consciousness. The opening credits are the first hint at Edwards’ slightly unsteady footing here.

Backed by images of prehistoric life and redacted texts, Godzilla claws at external sources of gravitas that Edwards’ should have been confident to generate from within. His film’s plot, characters and pressing issues never quite step out of the King’s colossal shadow.

In this immense spectacle of monster carnage Godzilla’s return ultimately suffers minor injuries as a result of the lizard’s own incredible, visual success.

Certificate: 12A

Running Time: 123 minutes

Verdict: 4/5