We’ve been here before…
The last time Hollywood tried to tackle Japan’s biggest export we were left standing in the unfortunate wreckage of Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version which reimagined Toho’s gargantuan, atomic, force of nature reconfigured into a giant, pregnant iguana with a fondness for big piles of stinky fish…
Thankfully times (and the genre) have moved on since then with films like Cloverfield and Monsters tapping into the post 9/11 consciousness of life after an ACTUAL city levelling tragedy, but back in Japan, Godzilla’s newest batch of native movies pretty much carried on as if it was business as usual with mixed results…
So into the fray jumped the monster loving studio Legendary with the aim to do Godzilla right this time and with a solid cast, a hungry director and Heisenberg himself, Bryan Cranston himself leading the cast, this would surely be a meeting of The One Who Knocks going nose to nose with the One Who Knocks Buildings Over.
Japan: 1999 and the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant is experiencing a few difficulties… namely that some mystery earth tremors are making the making the place as stable as a nuclear powered sandcastle and American supervisor Joe Brody is forced to make a horrible choice when his wife is trapped after a fatal leak. 15 years later, Joe’s estranged son, Ford, returns on leave from the military to his wife an child and finds that he has to go to Japan to out bail his father who is in jail for trespassing in the quarantine zone has he is still obsessed about finding out what caused the events of that day.
What caused it happens to be a massive insectoid organism that awoke in an underground chasm and tunneled it’s way to the power plant to feed on the radiation for sustenance and has since wrapped itself in a huge, Dr Seuss looking cocoon. Having a run in with Monarch, a super secret branch of the government who search for monsters (enjoy paying those taxes, folks), the father and son are at ground zero to witness the cocoon hatch to reveal a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), a creature essentially made up of all the bugs from Starship Toopers who immediately decides it’s hungry and books it while leaving a devastating mess. As bad as that is, the MUTO’s arrival stirs the ire of a another, prehistoric alpha predator whom Monarch tried to kill with a nuclear bomb back in 1954; a gargantuan, spined lizard dubbed Godzilla who has awoken and fancies a brawl which turns out to be an immensely bad thing for the people of Hawaii. As Monarch works in tandem with the military to try and minimize the damage (yeah, good luck with that), another monster surfaces (typical, you wait 70 years for a monster and 3 turn up at once), but this creature turns out to be another MUTO, a female one and it’s in the family way if you catch my drift…
Suddenly becoming the good guy by default thanks to him not having a thousand mankind-ending buns in the oven, Godzilla swims his way to San Francisco to break up these Kaiju versions of Romeo And Juliet, but as he metaphorically rolls up his sleeves and goes to work, Ford and his family are trapped on the ground.
It really does the old heart good to see a modern blockbuster taking cues from the classics, but by classics I don’t mean the older ‘Zillas (although the basic storylines are honored), no I’m referring to such timeless creature features such as Jaws and Jurrasic Park; films which respected the audience and actually have the balls to hold back on the carnage to build up such old fashioned concepts such as suspense and tension.
Director Gareth Edwards strict discipline with concerns to his 335 foot leading man results in some fucking cool Kaiju imagery, which scatters legitimately spellbinding cinematic destructo-porn that our eyes hungrily soak up. Crashing fighter jets are telegraphed by their pilots parachuting lazily through the rain, battleships escort Godzilla to his fight like a boxers entourage and in an unfeasibly awesome moment, his spines light up gradually from the trail to his head as he charges up his patented atomic breath. Despite Godzilla’s heavily controlled exposure, he’s still the bad tempered, thick thighed, force of nature we know and love who may save us from various monstrous threats, but still causes a devastating tsunami while coming ashore in Hawaii in the movie’s best scene.
However, Edwards might arguably have too tight a grip on Godzilla’s reigns and most of the city crushing heavy lifting actually is caused by the MUTOs while the King Of The Monsters is frustratingly downplayed until the murky final battle which is exquisitely shot (the only light sources are from flares and fires) but is virtually impossible to watch in a bright room on a sunny day.
The humans (always a weak point in monster movies) do a decent job but Bryan Cranston, while acting very Bryan Cranston-like while giving maximum Bryan Cranston, is actually wasted in a role which writes him out early for shock value while the similarly dependable Ken Wantanbe spouts so much how-the-fuck-would-he-know-that, portentous hocus pocus you wonder if he isn’t so much a scientist as Godzilla’s press agent. In another, annoyingly slight role is The Shape Of Water’s Sally Hawkins, whose appearance suggests that maybe she could of stopped the carnage early if she’d tried seducing the monsters instead… In comparison, future MCU siblings Aaron Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen are sweet but rather dull and actually lead the movie in a strange, unintentional thread that has the two main couples (both human and MUTO) engaging in some of the worst on-screen parenting I’ve ever seen.
Some with short attention spans may be peeved at the movie’s deliberate pace and measureddrip-feeding of it’s title star’s screen time (this isn’t the candy-coloured crunch-fest of Pacific Rim) but the jaw dropping visuals are more sophisticated that your average creature feature and breathtaking scenes such as a HALO drop passing THROUGH a monster fight make Godzilla possibly the best shot monster movie of all time.
That being said, the plot could be tighter (the timeline of where all the monsters came from and where they’re going get a little lost in translation) but when the movie finally lets you into the saurion smackdown of it’s final act, the amount it pays off will probably depend on how large your TV and how robust your sound system is – at the screening I originally first saw it, Godzilla’s trademark roar was so loud it actually made my fucking hair vibrate.
But despite some flaws, the king has most definately returned.