Here it is. The final Godzilla film of The Film Dump’s Godzilla season. I may have had to miss 3 of the earlier films, due to nightmarish prices, but I’d say 27 Godzilla reviews in a row is just about enough. Looking forward to covering something a bit more arty next, whatever that ends up being. Will definitely have to be something a bit special methinks. Anywho, click the link below for my review of Gareth Edward’s 2014 take on Godzilla.
The new Godzilla film has one goal in mind. Building up to a huge monster battle finale. That is it. The story follows Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ford Brody… that’s a name made up of two first and last names… huh… anyway, he heads to Japan to meet up with his father, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), who has recently been arrested for entering a quarantine zone around a collapsed nuclear plant. Early in the film we see Joe going to work with his wife in 1999 at that same plant worried that some strange seismic activity could cause a major safety problem. Sure enough it did and his wife, Sandra (Juliet Binoche), is caught in the disaster and dies. Now in 2014 Ford thinks his father’s obsession with the plant is insane but he agrees to help him go in one more time. They discover that the remains of the plant are housing a giant cocoon watched over by a secret research group called Monarch led by Dr Serizawa (Ken Watanabe). The cocoon hatches, a giant monster is set loose and this compels a beast that had appeared in the pacific 60 years previously to awaken.
The depiction of that monster (pssst, it’s Godzilla) is variation on the traditional. Instead of a monster created by nukes, he’s an ancient creature that was awoken by, or more precisely the radiation caused by them, in 1954. The idea is that he was a species of animal that lived off the natural radiation of the world thousands of years ago that, as that radiation depleted, went further under the ocean to find what was needed. Man’s use of the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, along with the testing in the pacific had brought him to the surface for a light snack. We learn that a lot of those tests in the pacific were actually attempts to kill Godzilla. The new monsters, referred to as MUTOs are ancient creatures also. Early on we see the empty cocoon of one found in the Philippines. This creature burrowed under the Nuclear power station Joe Brody was working at in 1999 and put itself back into a cocoon there, emitting EMP blasts, which in turn caused the seismic activity Joe was concerned with. When this creature hatches and begins looking for radioactive sources to feed on Godzilla too is awoken and heads out to hunt them down.
It’s a shift on the usual take, meaning Godzilla is no longer are creation, but his presence on the surface is our fault. Making him even more of a force of nature out to equalise the balance. This metaphor is pushed very literally when his first appearance is accompanied by a tsunami. The whole sequence leading to his first reveal is a gradual build of glimpses interspersed with the damage cause just by the tidal wave he has unleashed. You see spines, a tail and his side dimly light by flares. Eventually you get the money shot. A full look at Godzilla as the camera pans up to his face just in time for a powerful roar. And then the film cuts away. This happens a number of times and I get the feeling it will be a point of contention for those that don’t quite get what Gareth Edwards is doing here.
What is essentially happening is a extended cock tease for the finale. He doesn’t want you to witness a monster on monster fight until then. He wants you to always be wanting more. To anticipate the coming battle so that, when it does come about, you’re as hyped as you can be for it. Luckily the final battle delivers in a big way. Whilst the story does still focus on what the human characters are up to it’s never too long before we’re back watching the monsters knocking the snot out of each other. This isn’t just monsters biting and slapping each other either. They’re used to their fullest and Godzilla displays some very human fighting traits. When the time comes for him to finally use the atomic breath for the first time it’s in the middle of a tense moment for Ford and there’s just enough build up for you to realise what’s about to happen, and man does it deliver. It’s one of a number of highlight moments as the monsters clash. Where the film leaves things also goes further to cement that this is actually Godzilla we’re seeing. Not some random lizard, but the King of the Monsters.
If there is an issue that deserves being singled out as a demerit it’s the weakness of the character Ford. Essentially he is good father who is in the navy as a bomb disposal expert. That’s it. He thinks his father is crazy, so there’s that. Really though, he is the blankest of blank canvases to carry us through the film’s events. He exists to serve the narrative and scenario more than he does to drive any aspect of the plot. Ken Watanabe provides pure exposition for the entirety of the film, his character merely defined by the need for there to be someone to say words about Godzilla and the MUTOs. Cranston gives his usual strong performance, dominating scenes as he does. It’s a shame he’s only around for the film’s first act, but really, there wouldn’t have been a role for him to play in the story after that point. His life was consumed with finding the truth behind his wife’s death and once that is discovered he has no purpose. Elizabeth Olsen plays Ford’s wife Elle who’s main goal is, along with their son Sam, being a goal for Ford to eventually get back to. Aaron needs someone to kiss at the end of the film and Godzilla ain’t the smooching type. Fun fact, their kiss is only the second ever in a Godzilla film.
There really isn’t too much to criticise elsewhere in the film. There’s a few slow patches, the Brody family seem magnetically attracted to disasters, that’s about it really. The film’s cinematography is excellent at a number of times. At others it’s just doing what it needs to. Edwards real talent is in playing with the mood of the scene by utilising a little artistic license when it comes to obscuring visual elements or mixing out certain sounds so a key one can really hit home. The score, by Alexandre Desplat, is unlike anything I’ve heard from him before. It’s extremely grand in a very classical way. The Ifukube Godzilla theme isn’t present but the spirit of it is with all its big brass moments and rising sounds. Use of Requiem For Soprano (etc etc), well known as that creepy music from 2001: A Space Odyssey, manages to do what it does so well at a key moment leading into the third act by setting you on edge for what is about to come. Again, it’s building the anticipation but the mental call back you’ll make to Kubrick’s classic will inform you of the unnerving nature of the existence of these monsters.
All in all this is a very successful take on Godzilla that manages to not just wipe away the bad taste of the Roland Emerich film but full on atomic blasts the shit out of it. This is a monstrous (ha!) film that doesn’t forget that using restrain can do wonders for the desire to see more. So many action films just throw everything out there all at once. Godzilla takes the time to drip feed you until it’s ready for you to see everything it has. For some, this may mean it slows down a number of times. That’s their problem though. There’s plenty of scenes giving you various monster moments with the two MUTO creatures surrounding the scenes where Godzilla takes centre stage along the way. So yeah, this film is really very good. I anticipate more.