Gareth Edwards’ reworking of the Godzilla mythos in this, the franchise’s sixtieth year gets off to an impressive start, courtesy of three-minutes worth of engaging opening credits.
These credits are fun, offbeat and playful, and pursue and outline the legacy and the mythology of a well-worn series of movies, that has been through ups (the original film) and downs (the 1998 Hollywood adaptation). The film itself could benefit from an injection of knowingness.
Edwards came to the fore with the well-received low budget Monsters. The strength of that earlier film lie in its sense of world building and characterisation. While there are glimpses of the former in aspects of Godzilla they are few and far between (the quarantined zone is specifically encouraging), while the latter is practically non-existent. A talented cast is left to rot, with nary a convincing turn amongst the ranks of Juliette Binoche, Bryan Cranston, Sally Hawkins, Aaron Taylor-Johnson or Ken Watanabe, among numerous others. A peculiar sense of pi-faced drudgery dominates, with exclamations of emotion meme-worthy at best and forgettable at worst (Cranston’s “I-really-don’t-want-to-shut-this-door” face is amongst the greatest spectacles that the Blockbuster season of 2014 has yet had to offer), while the film’s core protagonist, Taylor-Johnson is little more than a trouble magnet, a MacGuffin with the gusto of a chicken McNugget.
There are moments of brief reprieve, specifically two of them. The first, seen across the film’s marketing campaign (and reprinted above) involves a troupe of soldiers descending from the heavens in an attempt to zero in on the problematic situation in the only way possible, and makes for an undeniably spectacular 30 seconds or so, evoking John Martin’s most ambitious paintings. Another sequence sees a moment of hope spiral in to a moment of terror, as planes fall from the sky in lieu of the hero we’ve been waiting for. Both make for dramatic moments, and offer a glimpse of what Edwards is capable of with a cinema of this scale (as does the occasional glimpse at just how all-consuming the scale of damage is). Unfortunately it’s all too fleeting, and absorbed by an overwhelming feeling of pretence and po-facedness.
The side is further let down by ropey cgi, with the eponymous prehistoric monster rendered in a peculiar fusion of photo-real and overtly cartoonish. Kinda-human hands hang free from a mountainous physique, with the resulting creature more organic rock-like than lizardly, ala the traditional Gojira, and distractingly reminiscent of the infamous Golgothan from Kevin Smith’s Dogma. That that particular creature is an entity constructed entirely of fecal matter makes it the perfect companion to Hollywood’s latest attempt to breathe life in to an icon of Japanese cinema.