** (2 stars)
d – Gareth Edwards
w – Max Borenstein, David Callaham
ph – Seamus McGarvey
pd – Owen Paterson
m – Alexandre Desplat
ed – Bob Ducsay
cos – Sharen Davis
p – Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers, Thomas Tull
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Juliette Binoche
There is a scene about 70 minutes into Godzilla – the new Hollywood incarnation of the Toho owned Daikaiju that first unveiled itself in the 1954 film Gojira – that, due to the strict guidelines I must abide to in regards to spoilers, involves characters I can’t mention doing something I can’t say in a place I shan’t refer to. In all honesty, let’s call it…well…a love scene. A very strange love scene. In fact, I cannot recall another time in recent memory when a summer blockbuster used both the visual and aural cinematic tools to such a strange degree. The anomaly of the scene itself is what is so striking and I haven’t been able to forget since.
This best encapsulates Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, a bizarre and dexterous nature delineation stuck inside a 200-million dollar summer blockbuster. Many have gone out of their way to castigate Godzilla for it’s messy plot and dull characters. They are not wrong. Even now as I write this I am finding it difficult to summon the energy to provide a synopsis at all.
In 1999, scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), who work at a top-secret organization called Monarch, are called to a quarry in the Philippines where a massive carcass skeleton and two egg-shaped pods have been uncovered. One of the pods hatches. Meanwhile, in the fictional power plant of Janjira, Japan, many suspect an earthquake is about to destroy the plant. Plant supervisor Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) realizes that a living creature is causing this but not quick enough to save his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) from a radiation leak.
15 years later, the Japanese government has labeled this incident an earthquake and Joe, who is obsessed with uncovering the truth, is seen as a crackpot, especially by his son, US Navy Explosives Officer Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Ford eventually recognizes that his father was correct after meeting the Monarch scientists and soon a giant monster battle between this creature and the King of All Monsters ensues.
The plot is utterly predictable with characters that could not be less interesting. 21 summers ago, we were exposed to a theme park of Jurassic dinosaurs by Steven Spielberg, a film that proved to be so fashionable that it is still being imitated in one form or another. Like Godzilla, the plot and characters of that film were hardly stimulating. Here, it is obvious that Mr Edwards’ interests lie elsewhere.
He spends the first Godzilla-less hour of the film with these cracker-thin people, teasing the audience to a mad degree. The most interminable part of this section involves Ford and other Navy Officers’ attempt to get a warhead to San Francisco by train, a plan concocted by Rear Admiral William Stenz, played by David Strathairn, who doesn’t really have much to do here. Ford’s wife, who is a nurse (because there always has to be one apparently) is played by Elizabeth Olsen and is given even less to do.
This is, of course, unfortunate. It is difficult to deny that Godzilla wouldn’t be infinitely superior if the title character had actors who equaled him. But it’s the diverting implementation that makes Godzilla so curious. Mr Edwards’ (along with cinematographer Seamus McGarvey) have an incredible awareness for the eye of their audience. Many shots go on longer than usual and we are never confused by the action in turn.
I liken this to Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of King Kong (of which I am a big fan). That film had an exoticism to it that was difficult to describe and Godzilla is no different. There are sequences of such staggering beauty that are bewildering by their mere presence in a film like this. Together with the infamous love scene, there is a sequence where a team of paratroopers, spilling flares surrounding their ankles, drop toward San Francisco from 30,000 feet, set to Györgi Ligeti’s “Requiem.”
Hardcore fans of Gojira will unequivocally be annoyed that Mr Edwards’ shows so little. But when Gojira reveals himself, he is formidable. Godzilla might always be best served as Japanese fare but despite the bullheadedness of this film, it is certainly far superior to 1998 Roland Emmerich version, Hollywood's only other dip in the Godzilla pool. Mr Edwards’ tells us that the ignorance of man is in thinking he can control nature, instead of the other way around. He is smart enough to know that the same applies to Hollywood and, in turn, has made an idiosyncratic if unabsorbing blockbuster.