Slow pacing and subtlety aren’t normally associated with huge-budget, seat shaking giant monster films, but Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla brings a new age of monster movies crashing into our cinemas. Godzilla is a loud, brash and yet smart movie that stays true to the roots of Ishirō Honda’s 1954 original, while also delivering enough thrills and tension to please both casual and fanatic viewers alike. It may not be perfect, but the director of indie-hit Monsters has managed to bring real smarts to a genre that after such bright but boring hits like Pacific Rim seemed like a lost cause. When, after huge amounts of slow reveal and build up, Godzilla’s foot finally stomps down on the ground, I didn’t just feel my seat shake, but the genre too.
Following the story from a necessarily human point of view, Godzilla follows Ford Brody, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who has to go and release his father from a Japanese jail after another one of his attempts to uncover his conspiracy theory goes awry. His wife and Ford’s mother was killed in a nuclear plant accident, and the father, played superbly by Bryan Cranston, believes that the Government are covering up the truth as to what really caused his wife’s death. The best emotion we experience from the human characters are undoubtedly from Bryan Cranston, who puts his finest acting into gear as he is haunted by the tragedy of his wife’s death, and the lies that have been fed to him about it. The rest of the cast does a solid enough job, with Aaron Taylor-Johnson doing the best he can with a pretty simplistic and stereotypical ‘cold soldier’ character development. Ken Watanabe, playing a scientist who is obsessed with the old reports of Godzilla and the struggle to once again find him is probably the weakest of all the cast, standing around and looking either befuddled or in total awe of what will soon be shown to the audience. Although the writing isn’t terrible, the characters too often fall into stereotypes, and this can diminish the emotion and impact of the events somewhat. Then again, Edwards is probably aware that although the development of the human characters is very important, a sense of dread and fear incorporated into the audience is equally vital for the film, and the movie nails this tone time and time again.
The opening pace is extremely slow, with the story of both Ford Brody and Joe Brody being explored pretty vigorously, while also giving us tantalising hints of what is to come; teasing the audience with glimpses of the main monster himself. As each brief sighting is revealed, the tension grows enormously, and one particular glimpse with red flares shooting up his scaly belly is absolutely jaw-dropping. When the camera finally pans up, revealing the big man in all his glory, and he lets out that famous roar, you feel like it has been worth the wait. Gasps were audible around me, the whole cinema shook with the deafening noise of Godzilla’s cry; it really is a spectacle to rival any other in this year’s cinema. Although Edwards’ is concerned with the human element, at the crux of his movie is the pure spectacle involved in the latter stages, and this delivers better than any other monster movie is recent times. This is coupled with the redesign of the classic Godzilla foe ‘MUTO’, who serves as the main antagonist for the human race, while Godzilla himself is presented as a misunderstood hero figure. Although this has served as a theme throughout all of the Godzilla movies (besides the unspeakable 1998 reboot), it sometimes feels like Edwards is trying too hard to present Godzilla as a good guy, and certain moments at the end seem rather contrived and forced onto the audience. This point and the problem of some undeveloped human characters are noticeable flaws, but overall minor faults in a movie that lives up to the iconic legend of Godzilla and subtly reinvents him for a modern audience. Its valid efforts to create an emotional story are very much appreciated, but the real thrill of the movie comes in its incredible final scenes, where chaos and anarchic spectacle are kings of the screen. Sometimes, Godzilla isn’t as clever as it wants to be, but when a film can be this much fun, that doesn’t matter as much as it should.
A brief reveal of Godzilla himself, with military soldiers shooting red flares in the sky to illuminate his enormous chest is an unquestionably beautiful moment, giving a real sense of the monster’s size and power. Clever direction from this only leads to the tension rising, which eventually makes the big reveal all the more exciting.
Although Edwards tries his hardest Although Edwards does try his hardest to create three-dimensional, interesting characters, too many of them fall flat in the process of developing them, and this is a problem that leads to a lot of the emotion being diminished, in favour of big budget action scenes. The ambition is there to create a more meaningful set of characters effected by this crisis, but the movie just can’t find that extra spark which would have turned it from great into spectacular.
Godzilla is a great new entry into the classic franchise, and one that perhaps signals a new age for a smarter, subtler wave of monster movies. As long as Gareth Edwards stays around the genre has a chance; his smart pacing and memorable tributes harking back to the original film make Godzilla worthy of stomping all over its box-office rivals. Some may be put off by its slow pace and its hesitancy at showing the title star too early, but if you stick with it you’ll find a monster movie that will pound your ears and occasionally even install genuine fear into you. If this is the future of big, loud monster movies, I want to be a part of it.