Rather than comparisons to the widely panned debacle that was Roland Emmerich’s 1998 effort of the same name, Gareth Evan’s version of this Toho classic bears more similarity and is a logical step up from his previous film (and directorial debut) Monsters.
In Monsters, the creatures in question were only properly seen in the final scenes of the film (likely due to budgetary constraints) and as a result, much of the focus was on the human element of the story, and the deliberate holding back of the reveal of the creatures fostered a palpable tension throughout.
Godzilla follows a very similar pattern - although the difference here is that the budget is a lot bigger and you do actually get to see the monsters a fair bit more. However it’s true that the human element is still the main focus throughout, whether it be Bryan Cranston (acting his heart out) as a broken man seeking answers, or his son (Aaron Taylor Johnson) trying to contribute to the military’s efforts in dealing with the crisis whilst simultaneously trying to get back home to his wife (a criminally under-utilised Elizabeth Olsen).
Similarly, Godzilla takes its sweet time in showing its beasties, the titular character himself not being fully revealed until a good hour into the film’s running time. Even when they are fully shown and an epic faceoff is imminent, the scene tantalisingly cuts away to footage from a TV report or have a door close to obscure the view. Far too often we only see the aftermath of the destruction and not the destruction itself. It's a brave decision that supports mystery and the gradual build-up of tension, but is likely to frustrate viewers that demand to see some more bang for their buck.
Evan’s restraint and a more scientific and realistic take on the material should be applauded, but occasionally is at odd with what is, at its core, material that is about as B-movie as you can get. For fans, however, there are plenty of homages to classic Toho Godzilla, and the slow release of fan service moments (the creature reveal itself, a neat subversion of the creature’s atomic origins, the tail whip, the atomic breath) are all masterfully handled and will likely illicit cheers from those in the know.
The production values are also impressive. The CG is excellent, not just for the creatures’ (who have a terrific sense of weightiness to their movements) but also for the ‘disaster’ sequences – scenes involving a tidal wave and another where jet fighters literally rain down from the sky, are chilling to behold. A terrific sense of scale is maintained throughout, with plenty of overhead flying shots showing people scurry about like ants, or views of the creatures from the protagonist’s point of view (the thrilling if somewhat unnecessary HALO sequence).
The sound design and music are also standout features – the deafening roars and pounding score are invaluable in building up the atmosphere. And yet there is a continual nagging feel that something is missing. The cast is great on paper, but certain characters feel wasted. Aaron Taylor-Johnson has little development throughout, Ken Watanabe feels like the token Japanese member of the cast who job is simply to maintain the same expression throughout the movie, Sally Hawkins’ character is unfortunately only there to look worried and deliver scientific exposition and David Strathairn is the one-note military representative. If the requisite amount of human drama was there to bolster the story (one which fades despite the promising start) then the lack of action wouldn't be such a problem, and it doesn't help either that after being visually spoiled by the likes of last year’s giant monster movie Pacific Rim, some audiences may feel a little underwhelmed in terms of sheer spectacle.
Godzilla is an interesting hybrid of old and new, the early sequence plays heavily on the fears of the recent Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster, whereas Godzilla’s design and inadvertent role as mankind’s saviour are great throwbacks to some of the older movies. Despite a few truly awe-inspiring moments, impressive cinematography and one or two story turns that will surely take you by surprise, you cant help but feel a little more ‘Godzilla’ in a Godzilla movie wouldn't have gone amiss.
16th May 2014