Saturday 17 May 2014

Film Review: Godzilla

Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Aaron-Taylor Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe
Runtime: 123 minutes

The King of Monsters is here - Godzilla, the iconic city-stomping kaiju is back on cinema screens with a dark, towering re-imagining from director Gareth Edwards.

Starring Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen and Ken Watanabe, this 2014 incarnation of Godzilla is a behemoth of epic proportions. The only question is; can it match its size in quality?

A post-War allegory for the atomic bomb, Godzilla has racked up somewhere in the region of 28 movies since the 1950's in Japan. Only once before has the iconic monster been adapted for American audiences - in 1998 by director Roland Emmerich - to very poor critical reception.

This time around however, there's no Matthew Broderick in sight. With up-and-coming director Gareth Edwards at the helm, and Legendary footing the $160 million bill, Godzilla has been done justice.

Well, sort of. The film is kind of mixed-bag, with really noticeable peaks and troughs.

Let's run-down some of the pros and cons. The best thing about a film like Godzilla is the aura of mystery and suspense surrounding the central creature. It's for this reason I won't give you a brief plot; you're better off not knowing. However I can reveal one thing - there is a lot of building stomping, and a city or two gets wrecked. But you already knew that...

The biggest thing to note about Godzilla is that of the human characters - the film, naturally, doesn't spend its entire two-hours runtime focusing on a 300-foot monster. The film primarily follows Aaron Taylor-Johnson's (Kick-Ass) strapping Army soldier character Ford Brody. You'd be forgiven for thinking that the main character is Bryan Cranston (Argo, Breaking Bad), but unfortunately he is not. Actually, Cranston, who plays Taylor-Johnson's obsessed father, has a lot less screen-time than I was expecting (and hoping for), and this was a real shame. He brought a great amount of energy and gravity to the film, and brought the best out of Taylor-Johnson.

Without Cranston to work alongside, Taylor-Johnson kind of struggles to carry the emotional weight of the film - not because he is a bad actor, but because his character was a lot blander and less interesting than Cranston's. Unfortunately for Taylor-Johnson, his character is very one-dimensional and cookie-cutter.

Elizabeth Olsen (Kill Your Darlings) plays a supporting role as Ford's wife, Elle. She doesn't get all that much to do, other than look scared and run in the opposite direction to oncoming kaiju. It's a shame, because what we do see of her is great, suggesting she'll be a good addition to the roster in Avengers: Age of Ultron next May.

Ken Watanabe (Inception) and Sally Hawkins (Layer Cake) play two top-secret scientists who are lumbered with the task of delivering barrels and barrels of exposition. In fact, a lot of script is weighted down with some pretty clunky exposition, making it quite dour at times. Both Watanabe and Hawkins' role diminishes as the plot marches onwards, making them mere bystanders to the carnage in the final third.

Now, I know what you're thinking; stop talking about the characters Rhys, let's hear about the thing we all came to see - Godzilla. Well, I'm pleased to announce that the King of Monsters is without a doubt the best aspect of the film. In terms of visual design, he looks great. You can't fault the VFX work that has gone into creating Godzilla. The sound design is also awesome. You get a real sense of proportion and 'epicness' every time he stomps across the screen.

The action is also great, and you can tell a lot of thought went into shaping sequences that are entertaining but not completely devoid of emotional impact, a la Man of Steel. In terms of the plot, I found that the middle third of the film was a bit clunky, before everything tied together nicely in the final 20-25 minutes. Honestly, the crescendo of Godzilla is quite possibly one of the most eye-popping, air-punching finales ever. After spending the majority of the film teasing the audience, Edwards delivers a knock-out ending that is haunting and tense.

The final few minutes of the film let it down again however, as I felt Edwards skimmed over the aftermath of the destruction. I kind of wanted to see more of what was left behind, with the characters (and world in general) not being given a whole lot of time to mourn before the credits rolled. Maybe I'm just nitpicking now, but with a run-time barely over two hours, surely there could have been more to add on the end?

The script (as I touched on before) was ho-hum, with Cranston, Taylor-Johnson and Watanabe being lumbered with some especially naff dialogue. I understand that this isn't the main focal point of the film, but it draws you out of the whole experience now and again. The score from Alexandre Desplat is superb however, a real highlight that perfectly captures the films sense of foreboding and cataclysm.

Also, without dropping any spoilers, there are a couple of shots from the trailers that simply didn't appear in this film. Not only that, but they hinted at a storyline that simply never happened. Usually, I can accept that things get left on the cutting room floor - The Amazing Spider-man 2 for example had a lot of stuff in the trailers that never made it into the film. In the case of Godzilla, the omissions are criminal, and suggest elements of the film that are never even hinted at, let alone built upon. I felt especially let-down given that these shots from the trailer got me so excited about the film in the first place.

The Verdict: 7/10

Godzilla is a good creature feature that ticks all the boxes fans of the genre come to expect - the VFX are ace, and the direction is superb. It's big flaw is the human characters; aside from Cranston, the other characters are bland, cliched or weighted down by exposition. The film somehow manages to be simultaneously impressive and underwhelming.


  1. Aw, I liked this one significantly more than you did, lol. I actually loved every single minute of this thing. But oh well, can't agree on them all, I suppose. :P

    1. Still a positive review Chris! Like I said, it's a great film, I'd certainly watch it again. Just some elements could have been developed further - notably, the main (human) character. Thanks for commenting!

  2. I loved this film for how it didn't just become another Michael Bay film that comes every summer. Although i love Bay's films, i thought Gareth proved with this film that not all summer blockbuster need not be about mayhem and mass destruction.

    Here's my review

    1. Yeah, great summary Haricharan :) Edwards certainly understands the value of subtlety in his work with Godzilla. Thanks for commenting :)

  3. I agree with you on Olsen, Watanabe, and Hawkins, but I must say that Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Cranston were great in their respective roles, in my opinion. Can't wait for the eminent sequel!

    1. It's just a shame Cranston won't be along to join in the action! :)



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