Friday, 6 June 2014

Godzilla – Long Live the King

From half a million dollars to 160, Gareth Edwards (director) delivers another supreme blend of science fiction and human drama with ‘Godzilla’. Just like his debut, ‘Monsters’, Edwards balances monster movie thrills with a touching and, at times, tragic relationship study.

We are introduced to three generations of an American family crippled by the devastating effects of human ignorance (nuclear research, in this case). Man of the moment, Bryan Cranston plays Joe Brody, a man so consumed by his work that his son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is left virtually fatherless . . . and soon after, motherless, when a nuclear disaster strikes a Japanese power plant.

Fifteen years later and Ford’s had a son of his own, but his father’s guilt still lingers long in the memory. However, just like the titular beast, it soon resurfaces . . . gone, but never forgotten.

Thus begins the mayhem.


And what mayhem. Buildings tumble, bridges buckle and break . . . and that roar. The sound design is exceptional across the board but, when Gojira gets his roar on, that’s something else entirely. Quite simply, it’s one of the most memorable sounds of modern cinema. Combine that with the brilliant effects work (certainly on Godzilla, himself . . . less so on his foes) and your hair will be left well and truly blown back. Spittle flying and belly rippling; it’s feral, instinctual, terrifying and provides some of the film’s standout moments. It’s also refreshing to see the designers keeping schtum about how they went about creating it.

In fact, it’s great to see this cinematic legend handled with so much care and affection. News headlines towards the end of the movie refer to him as ‘King of the Monsters’ and I couldn’t have said it better myself.

But, that brings us to the real issue. When the monster is so well handled, many of the human characters pale in comparison. I felt much of the drama rang true - a couple of father-son observations, in particular - and, though I'm a sucker for it, the classic ‘man shouldn’t meddle’ warnings felt well integrated. But it’s not all plain sailing.

Although I love some of his work dearly (Kick-Ass!), I’m not convinced by Taylor-Johnson as a blockbuster lead. He certainly looks the part, but he lacks the maturity written for his character. It’s especially obvious when he’s placed opposite Cranston, who blows him out the water for sheer crazed emotiveness. He also struggles when it comes to his role as a father. Even when the writer, Max Borenstein, includes a couple of nice little father-figure moments, Taylor-Johnson looks uncomfortable. And if only Elizabeth Olsen wasn’t so good as his wife. She does a far better job when it comes to the family drama and I would have liked to see more of her.

To his credit though, Taylor-Johnson aces the military role . . . as does the film. I’m sure you’ve seen snippets by now, but there’s a superb HALO jump, and it stands as the greatest demonstration of Edwards knack for camera control. He draws real beauty from the dense, choked ash clouds and the stark fizz of the flares. Every frame of that sequence is picture-perfect. I never thought I’d say it but, if anything, it’s let down by the music. While the monolith theme from Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is suitably chilling, it didn’t feel epic enough. And put simply, however glorious that set piece is, it’s never going to dislodge Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece. With such a talented composer on-board (Alexandre Desplat, whose work on this film is effective, but not his best), I would have liked to see an original composition accompanying that brilliantly original dive.

But those minor gripes aside, whatever your view on modern blockbuster storytelling, we live in world where studios are giving the Gareth Edwards of this world (Nolan, Whedon, Abrams etc.) hundreds of millions of dollars to create cinematic magic. It truly is a glorious world we live in.