Waiting for Godzilla

Godzilla (2014)

I think we can add Godzilla 2K14 to the ever-growing list of “films with misleading trailers”. The theatrical trailer seems to advertise a sombre remake of 1954’s original, starring Bryan Cranston and complete with nuclear horror catharsis and dark tone. However, the film I just saw is a modern version of the later ‘Zilla films where he’s humanity’s protector against a bigger threat, complete with a slightly goofier tone and starring that guy from Kick-Ass. This is not a bad thing by any stretch, I just feel kinda lied to. Still, it is what it is and I have various things to say about it.

“The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around. Let them fight.”

Fifteen years after an ‘incident’ at a Japanese nuclear power plant that claimed a number of lives, including his wife’s, physicist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) joins forces with his soldier son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to uncover what really happened that day, determined that the government’s “earthquake” explanation is covering up something a lot bigger. The pair are soon embroiled in a tale of secrets upon secrets that could ultimately mean the dethroning of humans as the dominant species on the planet. Also Godzilla (playing himself) is in it.

Internet reaction has been divided on this one because, well, it’s the internet. I’ve seen it hailed as the new Jurassic Park and shat on as the new Phantom Menace. One particular hot topic for both camps is the fact that Godzilla doesn’t show up until a good hour into the film. Personally, I have no problem with it. I’m all about the slow burn and teasing reveals. The film feels like it’s deliberately fucking with you at times, by denying us an epic monster brawl at least twice. There’s one scene in particular where Godzilla squares off against a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), in amongst an airport on fire. It’s an amazing bit and every single sign is pointing to monster carnage. However instead of getting the smackdown we want, we then cut to a live broadcast of the fight being watched by Ford’s son at home, managing to only catch a few glimpses of them going toe-to-toe. The audible reaction this got in the screening was genuinely funny. I was frustrated too, but told myself it would pay off. It’s in sharp contrast to the ADD filmmaking we’re normally stuck with and I respect it for that.  In my review of it, I called The Raid 2 a cocktease, but Godzilla makes Raid 2 look like the school slut. Director Gareth Edwards is wearing his Spielberg influence on his sleeve and pulling the same trick both Jaws and Jurassic Park did. In one way, it works as intended, but in another way it highlights what’s wrong with the film.

The human characters are fucking boring. Only Cran the Man is really noteworthy here, doing some stellar work and making his conspiracy nut character relatable and sympathetic. Being the only character I liked, naturally the film’s done with him fairly early on and we’re lumped with Ford Brody, the most generic whitebread character imaginable. His motivation is to get back to his family, a driving force that has only been used in a fucktillion other disaster movies. I wouldn’t mind so much, but Aaron Taylor-Johnson is completely flat. The usually excellent Elizabeth Olsen is relegated to “underwritten wife character waiting for the big strong man to sort things out” and it’s dumb. Ken Watanabe’s character seems to be the one saddled with the respectful empath to Godzilla role, with no real explanation as to why he knows these things about the creature. Spielberg got away with the teasing the big reveal stuff because we cared about the characters. Here, the wait feels doubly long because there’s no emotional connection to the leads. I didn’t give a fuck about Ford Brody and that’s really a shame. I get that Godzilla films aren’t about the humans, but they could have given us something more compelling than this.

When we do finally get the hyped monster action it’s fantastic. The scale and scope of everything is perfect. You’re really made aware that these are gargantuan creatures. I don’t know how it’s been managed, but the CGI heavy fights have a real old-school charm to them and almost have man-in-a-suit physics, especially when they fall into buildings. Some of the shots are truly awe-inspiring and reminded me just why I love films in the first place. There are several moments that had me wanting to leap up from my chair and applaud. The joyous laughter when Godzilla did this cool thing or for that little moment was infectious. I can’t see many people having a problem with Zilla this time round. He looks awesome and he’s got some personality to him. There’s even a bit where it’s clear he’s frustrated and it’s genuinely endearing. The HALO jump featured heavily in the marketing is also jaw-dropping. Thanks to all the teasing, the finale feels like a proper finale, not just a longer version of what’s come before. It earned its ending and the final 20 minutes or so are the best.

The script is the problem. It’s a stitched together patchwork with conflicting voices and ideas. It has no real clue how humans actually talk and coasts along with Nolan/Goyeresque functional dialogue that has artificial gravitas and meaning.  There are some interesting concepts, such as the origin of the MUTOs and the notion that all the nuclear testing in the Pacific back in the ’50s wasn’t exactly to test, but rather an attempt to kill something. This is one of the only times where I’ve felt the director was trying to add his own flair to proceedings and was shackled by the shoddy writing. There’s a moment which reminded me of Monsters, Edwards’ previous film, and I asked myself why Godzilla didn’t have the same charm to it. Monsters wasn’t about the creatures, it was about the people. It’s a shame Godzilla didn’t sing from the same hymn book.

“You’re not fooling anybody when you say that what happened was a ‘natural disaster’. You’re lying! It was not an earthquake, it wasn’t a typhoon! Because what’s really happening is that you’re hiding something out there! And it is going to send us back to the Stone Age! God help us all.”

Godzilla isn’t bad. It’s just strangely lopsided. I found it to be somewhat of a disappointment. I wanted to love this film. I was all ready to carve its name on my chest, but alas. The monster stuff is awesome in the purest sense of the word and there are some decent bits scattered through to keep you bumping along, but you’re well within your rights to give up after the first hour when it becomes clear it’s just a holding pattern featuring some boring twats.

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