Godzilla has an unusual place in movie history. Originally a Japanese creation, all attempts by the West to transfer it to their own have been a disaster, with the 1998 Roland Emmerich version being the prime example. Despite this it’s fame appears to have only grown, with the Internet playing a major part in that, along with help from institutions like the BFI, which in 2005 released the original uncut Japanese version to a British audience for the first time. Therefore it was surely only a matter of time before the big lizard got another attempt to hit your cinema screens, however few might have predicted that the director put in charge of such a vision would be Gareth Edward’s, whose only previous movie was a monster movie, but was made for around $500,000 compared to the $160 million that Warner supplied for Godzilla.
This time around our action starts in Japan where Joe and Sandra Brody (Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche) work at a power plant, which, slightly unsurprisingly, ends up going ka-boom. Sandra dies and we flash forward numerous years to their now adult son Ford (Aaron Taylor Johnston) returning from military duty to his wife and child. Just as he settles back into home life he is called away to Japan where his father has been arrested for attempting to sneak back into the area surrounding the plant he used to work in and where he believes the government are hiding a secret related to the death of his wife.
Unsurprisingly this turns out to be true, but perhaps actually surprisingly, it turns out to not be Godzilla but rather another giant creature, which in reappearing calls Godzilla from the sea in order to wage war. This has lead to many peoples biggest criticism of the film, that the lizard we are all there to see is held off far too long and because of that the film is affected. I don’t actually agree with that. It is true that Edwards has gone for the Jaws method of monster introduction, but I don’t think it’s the delaying of the monster that is the problem, but rather the lack of any incentive to care about the human characters. Cranston in unsurprisingly brilliant as the slightly unhinged father figure, but his appearance in the movie is far too small a part to prevent the rest of the central characters coming across as just dull. Aaron Taylor Johnson manages to give the best lifeless, American military guy performance I’ve seen in a Hollywood movie in a long time and while his relationship with Elizabeth Olsen does briefly sparkle, we are not shown enough of it to ever really care.
But then again does anyone go to see Godzilla for the humans? What you really care about is the monster smashing set pieces and in that sense this is a triumph. Edwards has put together several truly brilliant moments, with a confrontation in Hawaii and a close encounter on a bridge both standing out as perfect examples of how to do a monster movie. Both of them have that edge of terror, while also relishing the full scale destruction that are these movies bread and butter. Meanwhile the effects that have brought Godzilla to life are worthy of plaudits. This is a monster that seems to have it’s own personality and there are times where you can almost hear it’s inner monologue as it deals with the threat of both humans and other equally large beasts.
Godzilla is far from a perfect film. However, it’s one that shows a lot of potential. Edward’s attempts to make this more than just a a monster movie is an admirable mission and if it falls slightly short at times it is not from lack of trying. There wasn’t a single moment in this movie when I found myself bored and at two hours it never drags. With the amount of money this movie has already made and with the announcement that he will be helming a Star Wars spin off, it’s clear Edwards is a director on the up and while Godzilla is never going to be my movie of the year, it’s a strong enough film that that is something I am very pleased to see.