A proper-sized blockbuster, where the humans are wholly incidental.
May 19, 2014
Patience is rewarded in this latest Hollywood take on the Godzilla tale, with the eponymous giant taking almost an hour before his first appearance. It is, if you'll permit, a case of 'Waiting for Godzilla', and the eventual reveal is a genuine delight.
The film begins in 1999, where a series of sudden and inexplicable catastrophes — most notably the collapse of a Japanese nuclear facility — are categorised as 'natural disasters' and dismissed, leaving in their wake unanswered questions and shattered lives. Among those affected is nuclear engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), along with his wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche), and his son Ford (Kick-Ass's Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Joe refuses to accept the official line, and — as his obsession grows — he soon becomes both an outcast and absentee father as he embarks upon a one-man crusade to discover the truth.
Fast-forward, then, to the present day where, to Joe's horror, the same seismic anomalies that preceded the last disaster suddenly recommence. It's a slow burn kept alive almost entirely courtesy of Cranston and Binoche, but one whose dramatic ignition comes with the full force of a 3D IMAX experience. It's also a pleasant surprise, because the creature awakened is not Godzilla. It is, rather, a MUTO — or Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism — perhaps best likened to a 300ft cockroach possessed of electromagnetic pulses and an appetite for radioactive materials. He'd be the solution to so many of earth's environmental concerns, were it not for his complete disregard for buildings or the earthlings inside them.
What, then, of Godzilla? Instead of acting as the film's traditional villain, he is something more transcendent — an ancient, imposing yet graceful leviathan whose place on this earth is, seemingly, to ensure its equilibrium. With a design aesthetic far more aligned with the original Godzilla of 1954, he is truly awesome in scale and defined most crucially by his iconic scream (a two-part, roar-and-rumble experience created first by leaving dry ice to sublimate on a metal vent, then dragging a giant wooden crate across a polished floor). Sound is, in fact, the star of this film, with utterly rib-rattling resonance an almost constant companion throughout.
It is, in short, a silly but fun film whose human characters are wholly tangential to its CGI stars. With a cast that also boasts the largely underused Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen and David Strathairn, the decision to entrust its least recognisable and accomplished actor with the lion's share of screen time is a curious misstep, and despite all the MUTO's menace, the most ominous element in Godzilla remains its opening titles and their use of archival nuclear test footage. In a film centred around the destructive power of giant monsters, nothing manages to quite live up to the terror and devastation reminded to us in those few, opening seconds.
It is a nuclear device, too, that provides the film with its greatest source of tension in the climax. Still, it's nice to have Godzilla back in our lives after 1998's disappointing attempt, and, as far as blockbusters go, this has almost everything you're looking for.