Godzilla (dir. Gareth Edwards, 2014) – Humanity stands defenseless against monsters on a nuclear diet, rampaging through the city.
Hey, remember the disaster
movie back in 1998? Me neither. Gareth Edward’s reboot of 1954 Gojira succeeds in unearthly visual pandemonium, but could do with some Earth-bound connection.
Monster movies – Pacific Rim, Mothra, Cloverfield – imperatively survive off scale. Director Gareth Edwards broke that very rule with his reflective debut feature Monsters and was rewarded with acclaim. His follow-up Godzilla is an entirely different beast. His take on the revered kaiju turns it up from jazz to eleven, flaunting successive huge action sequences that involve not one but three giant monsters.
As each 300-foot nuclear behemoth rises from the ocean, their bellows of rage tremble under skin. Shredding through buildings and trampling on puny humans, every inch of damage makes an impact. The sound design is seamless and the visuals, astounding.
As a result, Godzilla stands out on stilts from the crowd of visually-accomplished blockbusters in Hollywood today. Characterisation however take a back seat to the aesthetic awe. An initial focus on the family tragedy veers expectations towards a more evocative and humanistic movie. Thus, disappointment ensues when it steers towards a destructive monster mash.
Key characters suffer the lack of complexity, amounting to bland archetypes of a typical disaster film. The strikingly underused cast begins with Bryan Cranston, who is less of a lead than we are led to believe. His Joe Brody is the inevitable man of science whose good intentions are mistaken for mad theories.
In their escape from the resulting mayhem, his military son Ford (Aaron Johnson) and wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) receive no better treatment as dully written archetypes with filler dialogue, the latter barely getting any screen time. Their empty personalities and trite motivations fail to skid past instinctual survival.
Therein lies no gripping story of moral decay à la Frank Darabont’s The Mist, while familial adversities are less affecting than Bong Joon-ho’s The Host. How they wish for a single line from Ken Watanabe’s dramatic passages about the revered force of nature, just so they can be remembered for a little something.
Devoid of jocund fun, Godzilla immerses in dark realism but lacks the depth to sustain credibility. Even against dystopian landscapes of rampant carnage, low stakes deeply frustrate, when danger only reaches as far as background characters. With a resolution that equate their actions to an exercise in futility, man’s follies seem of little consequence.
Only serving to thread the action, the sparse human plot leaves very little to invest in emotionally and hence loosens the thriller by a few knots. But there is no doubt that Godzilla is an otherwise thoroughly intense and immense entertainment, glorious in its visual majesty.