Wednesday, 14 May 2014


This review originally appeared on the Virgin Movies website. I thought about writing another one in a slightly different style for The Incredible Suit, but time is a precious commodity. I'm not getting any younger and I still haven't climbed Mount Fuji, written a bestselling novel or made love to a supermodel in a Ferrari. I mean, I'm not going to do any of those things now, if ever, but the principle stands.

The Godz must be crazy! etc.

Making a monster movie these days is an unenviable task. It's nearly twenty years since Jurassic Park, almost thirty since Aliens and knocking on for forty since Jaws, and pretty much every effort in the past two decades to replicate the artistic and commercial success of those man-vs-unknowable-beast touchstones has met with varying degrees of failure. The latest attempt, Gareth Edwards' 21st-century update of kick-ass kaiju Godzilla, comes frustratingly close to achieving the legendary status its eponymous titan deserves, but lacks the heart and soul of the films it so obviously reveres.

Wisely pretending that Roland Emmerich's 1998 stab at reviving Godzilla never happened, Edwards' take pays a respectful homage to the themes that spawned the Japanese original sixty years ago. Nuclear radiation is still A Very Bad Thing, and when it appears it's responsible for the creation of a terrifying threat to mankind, only one hundred-metre tall hero has the power to prevent total wipeout. (Of humanity. Not the TV show.)

But before the monster mash can begin, we need a cast of humans to provide the necessary exposition, heroism in the face of apparently insurmountable odds, and screaming. Bryan Cranston is Joe Brody, a former nuclear plant worker with a conspiracy itch he's been scratching for fifteen years. His son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is a soldier, husband and father whose skepticism about his dad's crusade withers when it's vindicated in destructive, terrifying style. Ken Watanabe, meanwhile, is the expert to whom everyone turns when the plot needs explaining, and if he were here now he'd tell you that an ancient fear has awoken in the shape of MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Objects), and it would be wise if we all took cover under the nearest sturdy table.
Someone get Cranston some conspiracy cream for his conspiracy itch, stat!

The thought of Bryan Cranston sharing screen time with Godzilla is almost unbearably tantalising, and it's the potential of that meeting between gigantic acting talent and gigantic CG lizard that suggests Godzilla might be more than just Pacific Rim minus the robots. Tragically though, the film fails to capitalise on that potential by not featuring enough of either star. Cranston is sidelined in favour of Taylor-Johnson, who's a blank, emotionless substitute, while Big G occupies far less screen time than the MUTOs. They may be undeniably impressive antagonists but, well, whose name's on the poster, guys?

Fortunately Edwards conjures some incredible set-pieces for his creatures, with the first appearances of both MUTO and Godzilla providing terrific bursts of cinematic thrillery: a panning shot from inside an airport's departure lounge may be the most gleefully exciting thing we'll see all year. And when the inevitable final-act smackdown rolls around, preceded by the eerie HALO jump you saw in the trailer, you know you're in the hands of a filmmaker with talent to burn.

The downside is that it takes so long for the 'zilla thrills to arrive: each time the main attraction threatens to turn up the excitement to deafening volumes, Edwards cuts away to more scenes of puny humans yapping about electro-magnetic pulses or standing around stupidly refusing to leg it from rapidly-disintegrating cities. Nobody wants to see two hours of monsters punching each other, but when the star of your show is God-frickin'-zilla, at least let the big guy roar some more.
Also unfairly shoved into the background are any characters without a penis: Juliette Binoche, Elizabeth Olsen and Sally Hawkins all get short shrift, which in 2014 is an embarrassing and insulting waste of formidable talent. Gareth Edwards, and screenwriter Max Borenstein, are evidently fans of Jurassic Park and Aliens - entire scenes in Godzilla are dangerously close to crossing the line between homage and rip-off to Spielberg and Cameron's masterpieces - but they've failed to pick up on their predecessors' provision of crucial, meaty female roles. It's all very well winking at the audience with a character called Elle Brody - just one letter away from Chief Brody's wife Ellen in Jaws - but what Godzilla could really do with is an Ellie Sattler or Ellen Ripley to balance out the testosterone.

There's much to enjoy in Godzilla, and a lot of it is down to watching Edwards - on just his second film as director - grow as a master storyteller. But he's not quite there yet, and he needs a better story to tell than this one. A sequel would be welcome, but it'll need more heart, more soul, and much more Godzilla.


  1. The story, to me, was fine. They play it up so seriously and so believably, that I honestly did think that something of a monster-attack like this could actually happen. However, I think the fact that there aren't many interesting characters in this to latch onto, definitely makes it seem like they were written second, and the main monster himself, Godzilla, was written first and foremost. Good review.

  2. Sure, there's something to be said for teasing an audience... ratcheting up anticipation of what's eventually to come. But at some juncture - much earlier than director Gareth Edwards intends - Godzilla needs to stop being an extra in his own movie.

  3. I swear that same sense of dread that overwhelmed me watching all those cheesy if menacing "monster movies" of the '50s and '60s came back once more, only now accompanied by a recognizable cast and superior special effects.