More Monsters – ★★★½
It seems a little daft to argue that the plot for Gareth Edwards’ new Godzilla film doesn’t make much sense and is too preposterous to get behind. It’s a movie about a giant lizard who comes out of the sea to fight with some other radioactive monsters. This is hardly meant to be Loach/Leigh social realism territory.
The character of Godzilla’s origins are in 1950’s post-WWII Japan and he remains the nation’s biggest superstar – achieving sustained popularity on a par with western society’s fascination with the trio of Batman, Spider-Man and Superman. Wisely the writers Max Borenstein (screenplay) and Dave Callaham (story) opt to start the film in Japan, kicking off in 1999 in a nuclear plant where an unexplained event tears apart the Brody family, led with gravitas by Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche. We then jump forward fifteen years to see their son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), having put his life back together, returning to his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son following active duty in the middle-east where he was deployed as a bomb tech. This is more or less the point where the story stops adding up. Ford travels to Japan, Hawaii and San Francisco as he unwittingly just keeps getting himself into trouble as these big giant monsters and him keep crossing paths. If you thought World War Z’s road trip was illogical then you haven’t seen anything yet.
If you can put these plots quirks and reliance on coincidences aside there is the bones of a very strong film here. Edwards cut his teeth on the really terrific low-budget 2010 film Monsters which saw him acting as director, writer, D.P., visual effects artist and production designer. This film was undoubtedly the work of a singularly talented film-maker and it seems that by having to delegate a lot of the Godzilla work to other people the final result has suffered. Of course if he was to do the writing, effects and production supervision we’d probably be waiting until 2020 to see the final result so it’s probably fair enough he passed the workload in order to keep in contract with Warner Brothers Pictures.
All the actors do well with what they’re given (though Binoche, Cranston and Olsen are capable of so much more) but they’re really all just supporting players to the incredible monsters on show here. Edwards comes across in press interviews as a real student of this kind of thing and you can imagine he relished the opportunity to research the evolution of the Godzillasaurus kaiju. He’s also brought in some new friends/foes in the form of the “Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism” or “M.U.T.O.” as we’re told to call them. They look awe-inspiring and major props to the visual artists who worked on their creation as it is only right that the Kaiju are the stars of the show.
Edwards makes some pretty daring decisions with his direction using a lot of first-person perspectives and opting to cut away from the monster action at times as a way to create more anticipation for the big final San Francisco assault and showdown. When that final act does come you manage to forget about the script problems and completely illogical journey that we’ve been on, plus we get to see the return of Godzilla’s rather spectacular bad breath (you’ll understand when you see it). There are also some really beautiful scenes of radioactive Tokyo and decimated San Francisco – nothing in modern blockbusters is as fun as destroying major developed world cities.
Godzilla is likely to divide audiences. Those who place storyline and character development over everything are going to have to overcome a lot of big problems as the film just doesn’t fit in everything it wants to as, unlike Pacific Rim, it won’t just settle for a big balls to the wall monster action set-piece film. For those of you who revel in the 3D IMAX action experience then there won’t be many more thrilling and engaging films to come your way this summer.
Released across Ireland on May 16th 2014