Director: Gareth Edwards
Running time: 123 minutes
British director Gareth Edwards did much the same thing with his lo-fi alien invasion picture Monsters, and presumably reckons the same trick can work twice. But isn’t it odd to call a film Godzilla when the creature isn’t really the feature? He might as well have called it Brody, the family charged with providing the film’s human dimension over several continents and time spans.
Sandra (Juliette Binoche) and Joe (Bryan Cranston in a wig that would have William Shatner wolf-whistling) work as nuclear engineers in a Japanese power plant, until an underground earthquake kills off Sandra, leaves the area radioactive causes an estrangement between Joe and his son.
Ford Brody grows up to look like Kick Ass’s Aaron Taylor-Johnson, joins the Navy, gets married (to Elizabeth Olsen) and has a child of his own, but his father is unable to move on, producing X-Files theories about aliens and generally chewing scenery until the authorities accidentally prove him right and unleash a monster.
It’s not Godzilla though. The Motu resemble mosquitos on performance-enhancing drugs, but on a scale that allows them to eat nuclear missiles for breakfast. On the other hand, they may have a romantic streak, zeroing in on San Francisco for their mating ritual. Maybe even gigantic insects lose their hearts to Tony Bennett, or perhaps they just want to share postcoital cocktails by the Golden Gate, but the one good thing is that Godzilla finally stirs his stumps and decides to join them for a series of showdowns reminiscent of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and a couple of colossal cockroaches trying to knock ten bells out of each other.
As conceived by a small army of concept artists, sculptors and designers, the combatants are arresting enough to behold if you can see them clearly. The 1998 Godzilla got pelters for clumsily staging most of its big fights at night, an all-too-handy means of obscuring details. The 2014 version falls into the same trap. Still, Edwards creates some striking images, including a close-up of Godzilla’s back which makes it resemble a blasted cityscape, and a sequence where soldiers parachute past skyscrapers and a cold reptilian eye.
A Japanese scientist (Ken Watanabe) theorises that Godzilla is drawn in to restore a power balance to Earth, and you can’t help thinking that a Godzilla for filmmakers would be useful too. Edwards is a technician, not a storyteller, and his film needs a little humour, more tension, and a lot more humanity. Instead, he skims the surface, so his movie lacks poignancy; the death of Binoche is oddly unaffecting, and when Cranston bows out, so does the film’s last interesting character, leaving us with Taylor-Johnson’s generic emoting, Watanabe’s long expository monologuing, and Sally Hawkins as a scientist so nervy, she quivers like a sea anemone on a vibro plate.
There was probably no way Godzilla could live up to its hype. What’s depressing is how this bloated dino-bore falls short of being even solid summer escapism.
On general release