Godzilla review

Review Ryan Lambie 11 May 2014 - 06:00

Monsters director Gareth Edwards heads up a new Hollywood incarnation of Godzilla. Ryan takes a spoiler-free look...

When director Ishiro Honda unleashed Godzilla on an unsuspecting Tokyo in 1954, the result was so much more than just another monster movie - even if it did spark a wave of sequels and imitators. Honda’s Godzilla captured the anguish of a nation reeling from the impact of the atom bomb. His giant monster was a walking, roaring psychic wound.

If subsequent Godzilla films portrayed the beast as an increasingly affable Toho mascot, wrestling a procession of other colossal kaiju to the ground as the world looked on in admiration, then Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla film entirely failed to evoke either the nightmare chill of Honda’s original creation or the charm of the legion sequels which followed. 16 years on, and British director Gareth Edwards brings his own American version of Godzilla to the screen. And thankfully, it’s far closer in style and tone to the 1954 version than Emmerich’s outsized, egg-laying lizard from the 1990s.

A nuclear disaster at a Tokyo power station in 1999 leaves scientist Joseph Brody (Bryan Cranston) convinced that the Japanese government is hiding the truth behind what happened. Official records state that the incident was due to an earthquake; Ford’s data and gut instinct suggest otherwise. With Brody now predicting a new wave of imminent destruction, his estranged son, military bomb disposal expert Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), heads to Japan in an attempt to convince his father to put the past behind him. But an unearthly howl and the crash of masonry proves that Brody was right all along - as something nasty marches onto the streets of Tokyo once again, even the government can’t cover up the unfolding mayhem.

Edwards got the Godzilla directing job following his low-budget debut, Monsters. A romantic road-trip drama which had giant intergalactic creatures as its backdrop, Monsters was an unusually measured, meditative take on the monster B-picture, and Edwards takes a similarly restrained approach with Godzilla. For long stretches, the title monster is heard and its teacup-rattling presence felt, but only briefly glimpsed, building up a sense of anticipation where most filmmakers would go for a dervish of special effects. Edwards’ direction, aided by Seamus McGarvey’s meticulous cinematography and Owen Patterson’s distinctive production design, is almost Spielberg-like in approach.

There are nods to the father of summer blockbusters everywhere, from the Jaws-like build-up of suspense to Close Encounters-style government conspiracies to battle scenes vaguely reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan. Like Spielberg, Edwards follows the action through the eyes of the people witnessing it, whether they’re awestruck children, panic-stricken family pets or the haunted stare of Taylor-Johnson.

There’s a real artistry to the way the scenes are composed, with unusual camera angles and captivating shifts in perspective. The sequence often repeated in trailers, where a group of soldiers leaps from an aeroplane to the ghostly howls of Gy Ligeti's Requiem, is one example of this, and there are dozens of others throughout the film: here, what looks like a part of the landscape could just as easily be a giant monster.

Godzilla’s imagery is matched by Alexandre Desplat's thunderous cacophony of horns and primal drums. Reminiscent of the blaring theme tunes of 50s and 60s creature features and Gustav Holst's Mars, it’s distinctive and perfectly suited to the larger-than-life action.

Visually and aurally, Godzilla is among the most creative and striking summer blockbusters we’ve seen in years. We’re all used to seeing buildings flattened and bridges rent asunder in such films, but Godzilla has a tone and pace that sets it apart from either the gloomy, militaristic city levelling of Man Of Steel or the cheerful Saturday afternoon kaiju smackdowns of Pacific Rim. Godzilla is very much a fun B-movie, but Edwards takes his inherently daft subject matter seriously. What if a giant monster really did awake from its slumber and start stomping around the world’s cities? The director makes that premise feel believable, even as planes and tanks are being thrown around like leaves in a hurricane.

This isn’t to say that Godzilla is flawless. Although superbly cast, the dialogue rarely sparkles as it does in something like Jurassic Park - another Spielberg touchstone. It’s a problem common to many monster movies aside from Godzilla: the human characters have a tendency to provide little more than a sense of scale for the colossal star of the show. Taylor-Johnson is entirely likeable as one of the leading characters, but what can be said of him other than that he’s a brave and big-hearted family man? The same could be said of his wife of Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), Ken Watanabe’s scientist Dr Serizawa, or even Bryan Cranston's crusading father. They all turn in superb performances, yet there’s little in the script to make them stand out as much more than action archetypes.

That’s a drawback, for sure, but it's our one major criticism in an otherwise gripping and exciting film. What Godzilla does get absolutely right is the majestic sense of power emanating from its central monster. For some, Godzilla 2014 might seem a little too coy, with initial sightings repeatedly relayed through crackling television sets or reflected in the windscreens of cars. But Godzilla’s subtlety through its first half has a thrilling pay-off in the second, where the action bursts into dazzling life.

This new Godzilla lacks the sense of despair present in Ishiro Honda’s 1954 original. But in its place is something relatively fresh in films such as this: an absence of cynicism. There’s an underlying theme in here about parents protecting children, and of people simply trying to do the right thing in the face of disaster. In Edwards’ reading of Godzilla, there isn’t necessarily any such thing as good or evil. There’s merely humanity and nature, with the former standing awe-struck in the destructive presence of the latter. Most importantly, Godzilla himself emerges just as he should: a bellowing, powerful force; a true king of the monsters.

Godzilla is out in UK cinemas on the 15th May.

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This sounds exactly like what I wanted to see in a modern Godzilla movie. Absolutely can't wait for the general release date next weekend.

Ooooh can't wait !!

This sounds really good. I can;t believe I'm saying this but I actually want to see this Godzilla movie.

Kind of dissapointed cuz review doesn't seem to mention Gadzooki. I'll probably pass this and wait for the Teenage Alien Ninja Turtles

I'm really looking forward to this. I love the idea of only glimpsing the monster for the first half of the movie - it worked perfectly for Jaws (my favourite movie of all-time), so I don't understand why more movies fail to stick to this formula instead of filling the screen with way too much detail from the start. The more familiarity one has with something, the less fearful it becomes. Just like the first few trailers for Godzilla had far more impact than the latter.

"There’s an underlying theme in here about parents protecting children"

His presence is implied! :-)

I honestly don't care if this film is bad, it's the first "true" Godzilla film we have had in years, that alone makes it best film of the decade.

Bring on the M.U.T.O.s!!!

I've watched most of the trailers/TV spots - beginning to wish that I hadn't.

So pleased a movie has got a 4 star on DOG..booking iMax tickets as I type !!

You do realize they dropped that alien part right? Even so they were created by alien origin anyway, as the ooze that mutated them was alien

Always find it fresh to read your reviews, as opposed to the churn pulped out of other such sites, like Digital Spy. This good review however doesnt make it much easier on my wallet... I think the Odeon might be milking me soon with this and XMen out in the same month...

Sold!!

3D or not 3D? would have been handy to know in this review.

I think Godzilla should have been a giant, furry mammal in this. It would make it more interesting and give an old and dated character more of a modern vibe..

I don't really care about the human characters, in fact I think it would be better if there was none at all.

So excited, I've been waiting for this since it was announced!!!

LOL no way

story was weak! Muto was weak! The new Gozilla is cool though but he should have been made out as a the nuclear cautionary tale that he was. He does something cool in one of the fight scenes though. The next movie should have badder enemies like Ghidorah or Destroyah. The atomic breath needs more power its kinda wimpy in this, not like the annihilation beam in the Toho movies.

I have some issues with the the subtext of Godzilla, it's about the only part of the film that feels like it's trying too hard to be different from the originals, it's trying to tie "man's anger is his folly" with "climate change" but in the end, walks away saying "don't worry, mankind, everything will be ok" without ever truly earning it.

I'm just back from seeing a preview and to be honest the trailers give very little away. There are still lots of surprises to be had.

saw this today, if you're a godzilla fan you're gonna absolutely love it, a great tribute to the fifties original and the later toho films, it's enough to wipe the 1998 abomination from living memory

Not 3D. Unless you see it in IMAX (seriously, go see it in IMAX!) there is no point shelling out for it. There were some brief shots where debris seemed to pop out, but otherwise nothing.

This film was distinctly average, it had some cool moments but mostly was just really frustrating. A few things someone should tell the director
1) You need a lighting budget, darkness isn't your friend especially in 3D
2) This isn't Monsters, you actually have a budget so perhaps we could see Godzilla for more than 10 minutes
3) Teasing your audience is not an endearing trait, stop cutting away from the action to show us something less interesting and less relevant
4) Get rid of the humans, or at least stop them from making stupid and clichéd decisions, you want to give it a sense of scale, add a herd of cows or an elephant
5) Stop ripping off scenes from Jurassic Park, you wish your film was that good.

Saw it 3D. Loved it.

I liked it, but not as much as I was hoping. I would give it 6/10. It does a lot of stuff right, but I think the director made a couple of rookie mistakes. The fantastic cast is underused and the script ignores interesting characters to focus on bland ones. The pacing seems a bit sloppy in places too.

Still, it delivers on the big stompy monsters quite nicely, and I quite like the movie builds up to showing you the monsters. It suffers a little when you compare it to Pacific Rim. PR's great strength was not taking itself too seriously, and Godzilla could probably do with a bit of that.

Godzilla was a great. He is very much the hero in this movie instead of some thoughtless brute. The structure of the film is very reminiscent of the Showa Era Godzilla series. This is one of the best versions of Godzilla in a long time so I am quite happy with everything.

Spoilers

I'm a huge fan of Godzilla. I spent my childhood watching the big guy stomping Tokyo and battling other rubber suited bad guys So you can understand my excitement was at fever pitch for this new american iteration of a beloved monster icon. Undoubtedly, I haven't been this excited to see a Godzilla film since the 1998 version, and undoubtedly, I haven't been as disappointed as I am today having watched Gareth Edwards Godzilla.

The opening scenes are pretty good, that is to say, they aren't bad. Nothing special, but not dreadful either. Bryan Cranston is superb, with the small amount of material he gets to work with. Sadly, his time in the film is fleeting, at around the 30 minute mark, he is killed off in one of the cheapest, most unsatisfying film deaths, ever put on film. Basically he falls to his death. As he's lying in the ambulance, oxygen machine over his face, he and Aaron Taylor Johnson have a bit of a moment. It's all meant to be very touching, but fails, due to the audience not having time to get to know either of these characters. As you can gather, when the best character is killed off so early, there is no point in trying to invest in any other cast members, even the Japanese Scientist, who mumbles a few things about "alpha predators" and the obligatory "Gojira" is paper thin. Which is to be expected I suppose, hey, we didn't come here to see people right, we came to see Godzilla!

Which brings me to my next point, yes, we came to see Godzilla. Unfortunately, the opening montage really does set the scene for this movie, but not in a good way. In the montage, there is a clip of Godzilla, rising up out of the sea, just as you are about to see the money shot, and the camera focuses in on what we paid to see, it cuts away to something far less interesting. The majority of the shots on Godzilla, what you laid out your 20 bucks for, end after 30 seconds, with instant cuts to army guys, army guys running, army guys talking, army guys looking befuddled at how in the hell they ended up getting this dire gig.....

The movie plays like a military propaganda film, with even a martial law scene in the first act. Oh look, the Americans are taking over, God(zilla) bless amurrika!

When the behemoth Godzilla finally does make his first appearance, it's the shot from the trailer, so by now, not a single person who went to see this film will have been tantalised because, well, because, we have all watched the trailer 20 times, a day, at least. so the arrival of Godzilla is the most underwhelming entrance of the big guy in all his cinematic history. I'm not being harsh, just truthful. The build up and reveal of Godzilla in the 1998 film was more satisfactory. And just as you are about to get that final, fleshed out look at Godzilla, what happens? They cut to a shot of a child eating his supper, or some other even more mundane pap. You see Godzilla a maximum of three times, the third time being a sort of extended cameo for the final scenes. The second time you see him, the Mutos is on screen too, and it looks like they are heading towards a showdown, cut to kid eating his supper, "Look mum, dinosaurs" Mum looks out of window.....Cut to static image of destroyed city, after Non Existent Fight 1. That's how the rest of this film plays out. Every time it starts to focus on the interesting characters, the monsters themselves, they cut away to something far less interesting.

But Godzilla looks good, right? He looks like they spent 160 million dollars on him? Well, yes, sort of. And by that I mean, he looks like Godzilla, for the brief time you actually get to see him in daylight. The extended cameo scene takes place at night, obscuring most of what's going on, I know, they spent 160 million on great FX you can't actually see. Go figure. But in my opinion, there is nothing special about the Godzilla on display here. Sure they have captured his likeness, but really, it's just what you'd expect, no more. Godzilla in this film is not your charming, brimming with personality hero dinosaur from the classic films, here, he can be best described as "generic". And does he deliver in his scenes? Frankly, no. He is portrayed as a puppy dog, ally to America, wouldn't hurt a fly, never damages a building (at least on screen) the titanic saurian who is indestructible, now gets puffed out after using his mediocre looking, atomic breath. Is the old guy getting on? His iconic roar, in this Americanised Godzilla, sounds weak, by which I mean, Godzilla sounds wounded when he roars, even before any of the (off screen) fights take place. The Broderick Godzilla at least got the mighty battle cry of Godzilla, right. Which leads me to the climax of the film, a much hailed "work of art" Godzilla finally getting his hands on the enemy, and destroying the Mutos.

If you have seen the trailer.........You've seen it. Save your money. Re-watch the trailer. The final fight, as mentioned, takes place at night, interspersed with multitudes of camera cuts to Johnson, when you can see what is transpiring on screen, it's ok, but, the fight is dull. Essentially, Mutos lands a few blows, Godzilla goes for the kill shot with the atomic breath, then collapses, resting. The second Mutos rumbles over, cut to Johnson, cut back to Godzilla grabbing the final Mutos and blasting it with his atomic breath. Then cut to Johnson, laying alongside Godzilla, resting. This film is full of moments like that, humanising Godzilla, on the few moments you can actually see him.

But what about the city stomping? Surely there is some??? Well, yes, one island gets flooded, but really, all you see is Godzilla rising up, cut to tidal wave going through city, cut to mum, or army guy looking befuddled. There is hardly any disaster porn in this film, if that's what you were expecting to see. A few shots of the aftermath though, but I wonder, where did they spend the 160 million dollars, because it certainly wasn't on the FX. Maybe they spent that much on retaining Bryan Cranston's services.

I think the amount of time Godzilla spends on screen in this new version have been exaggerated. Some sites are saying he's on there for 27 minutes, the same as the original, but I doubt that. It's more like 15 minutes, tops.

The most artistic shot in the whole movie is a silhouette of Godzilla cast in lightning. Just for a moment, seeing that, I felt like I was watching a Godzilla film, it reminded me of Final Wars. Also the creature design for Mutos is reminiscent of Iris, with a bit of Gyaos thrown in and a pinch of Cloverfield. The flying Mutos is a pale imitation of Rodan, even sounding the same.

So, to conclude, this is the most underwhelming film of the year, and my personally most underwhelming movies since 1998. This is the second American attempt at Godzilla, and at least here, they got the look and feel, right. But this is not the definitive Godzilla film we were all hoping it would be. I'll wait for the next one.

It sucked :(

Oh dear.....

!Spoiler alert! Godzilla appeared only after Bryan Cranston was dead. He seemed to be the living embodiment of Cranston's revenge. At one point Godzilla looked straight at his son and for just a second a glimmer of recognition seemed to be there. Was this intentional I wonder?

??

This is only about the second DOG review I've ever disagreed with. I'd have given this 2 stars.

It's been a while, but thanks for your reply.

Haha you're clearly a major fanboy to the point of hating anything that isn't toho Godzilla. I saw this movie with some friends, one of them being the biggest Godzilla fan I know and we all loved it. I agree it would've been nice to see more of the big guy but every scene he is he owns it. And as a Godzilla fan you should know that almost every Godzilla film has a huge focus on the human characters and Godzilla rarely gets a ton of screen time. I can see your reasons for not liking but to say its one of the most underwhelming movies since 98 makes it hard to take you serieously. I wouldn't say that seeing the trailers has made you see the movie, far from it. The trailers barely show anything and the final scene makes the build up more than worth it.

The point of the film was to take the idea of a giant monster attack seriously just like the original did, I would like to see some PR style action in a sequel but I am glad they took the serious approach this time round.

Just watched it... very disappointed.

I really enjoyed it... up to the point where the big guy arrived. Effects were pretty good... acting was great... sound quality of the dialogue was poor (more to do with my local odeon I think)! Overall I would give it 5.5/10.

sorry, but i thought the film was abysmal. massive amounts of
unnecessary exposition at the beginning to explain the other "muto"
monsters, followed by little to no explanation of the wheretofore during
the main sequence. it's a film that's basically about 'murican'
"heroes", ie soldiers, being brave and blowing stuff up. so,
transformers, but without the heavy cgi fight scenes. i wanted either a
smart and intelligent story to match the gritty feel of the movie, or an
unabashedly monster heavy popcorn fest to match the lighthearted
spectacle. what i got was something that tried to be all the above and
succeeded at none.

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