Film review: GODZILLA, from Built For Speed

The latest screen incarnation of Godzilla was preceded by one of the more enticing trailers of recent times.  It depicted a team of paratroopers descending through an ominously dark and cloudy sky to the eerie strains of Gyorgy Ligeti’s Reqium otherwise known as the monolith music from 2001: A Space Odyssey.  It was spooky, menacing and instantly grabbed the attention of chatty cinema audiences.  Seeing the trailer, viewers would have been forgiven for thinking this film would be a more intelligent, inventive and thrilling take on the creature feature than we normally see.  Unfortunately, the trailer deceived us as the skydiving scene is the best part of the film and the rest is typical “monster smashes up city, US military (with a little help) saves the world” scenario mixed with dull, poorly executed attempts at human drama.

After a series of seemingly earthquake-related accidents at a Japanese nuclear reactor, chief engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) begins to suspect some other subterranean force is at work. When a giant egg sack is discovered in the depths of a nearby mine only Joe deduces that it must be related to some form of highly destructive monster.  Fast forward 15 years and Joe’s army ordinance expert son Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has taken up the monster obsession.  When a gigantic creature (not Godzilla) suddenly appears and much like a drunken footy team on an end of year trip begins laying waste to San Francisco, Ford, the military and what seems to be a Japanese monster expert, frantically try to concoct a plan to combat the beast.  Things become more complicated and destructive when Godzilla finally joins the fray. 

Having first emerged from Japan’s Toho studios in 1954, the gigantic, fire-breathing, reptilian monster king Godzilla has appeared in over 30 movies. An hour into the latest film, long-time fans of the franchise might be a little worried that he’s not going to appear in this one.  Apart from some ancient news reel footage, we see virtually nothing of Mr Zilla during this first hour.  Most of the film’s first half is spent vainly trying to ingratiate us with and create emotional baggage for its human characters. 

While the always charismatic Cranston is lively enough in what is essentially the Doc Browne from Back to the Future role, none of the other human characters are remotely interesting.  Aaron Taylor Johnson’s soldier is astonishingly bland; he’s like Channing Tatum without the unintentional humour.  If Johnson had gone missing without explanation halfway through the film no one would have noticed.  The stellar female leads, Juliette Binoche as Joe’s wife Sandra, Elizabeth Olsen as Ford’s wife Elle and Sally Hawkins as nuclear scientist Dr Vivien Graham are completely wasted.  Also, as resident monster expert Dr. Ichiro Serizawa, respected Japanese actor Ken Watanabe is given little to do other than stare into space and utter quasi-philosophical twaddle about the coming of Godzilla.

It’s admirable that director Gareth Edwards, who surprised everyone with his last film the highly impressive Monsters, tries to focus on character as much as action but this film simply spends too much time with people we don’t care about.

When the monster battles finally take place they are reasonably impressive with a few stunning sequences of mass destruction.  Unfortunately, that modern cinematic menace, the sinewy, lumbering, insectoid CGI monster (think Cloverfield) makes an appearance in these battle sequences.

This version of Godzilla is certainly better than the lamentable Matthew Broderick effort from 1997 but it adds little to an already questionable franchise.

Nick’s rating: **1/2.

Genre: Action/ Monster.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Gareth Edwards.

Release date: 15th May 2014

Running time: 123 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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