Con­tem­po­rary Kaiju car­nage

SFX - - Penny dreadful - Ian Berriman

Is the King Of The Monsters the King Of The Re­boots? The big bud­get Kaiju bo­nanza stomps onto DVD and Blu- ray.

Our pa­tience is re­warded in the third act, in which Godzilla fi­nally en­ters into bat­tle

Re­lease Date: 27 Oc­to­ber 2014 | 12 | 118 min­utes | £ 29.99 ( Blu- ray 3D)/£ 24.99 ( Blu- ray)/£ 19.99 ( DVD) Di­rec­tor: Gareth Ed­wards Cast: Aaron Tay­lor- John­son, Ken Watan­abe, El­iz­a­beth Olsen,

Juli­ette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn

If all you

re­ally care about when it comes to a new Hol­ly­wood take on Godzilla is that it doesn’t com­mit the kind of crimes against canon Roland Em­merich’s 1998 movie did, then you’ll be sat­is­fied with Gareth Ed­wards’s ver­sion. Ed­wards doesn’t make big G scam­per around like an over- sized iguana, rather than stomp­ing about like an angry hod- car­rier in plat­form boots. Nei­ther does he strive to shrink the ac­tion down to hu­man scale by ap­ing Juras­sic Park and un­leash­ing Rap­tor- like Babyzil­las. The look is faith­fully scaly- spined; the roar is right; the atomic breath is present and cor­rect. Ed­wards also knows that what most peo­ple re­ally want from this fran­chise are epic rum­bles – the mon­ster movie equiv­a­lent of WWE. Once you’ve ticked off ev­ery­thing on your list of de­mands and breathed a huge sigh of re­lief, how­ever, it may strike you that the Monsters di­rec­tor’s take on the King Of The Monsters does have its is­sues.

In part th­ese are to do with the prob­lems of squar­ing fidelity to the source ma­te­rial with the de­mands of a mod­ern block­buster and a more scep­ti­cal, de­mand­ing au­di­ence. The high- con­cept is es­sen­tially silly, yet toss it out and you risk be­ing on the re­ceiv­ing end of a fan­boy fatwa. This leaves Ed­wards strug­gling to present a uni­verse that seems plau­si­ble, yet in which a 300- footh­igh lizard self­lessly acts as the pro­tec­tor of hu­man­ity. Pity poor Ken Watan­abe, twice tasked with de­liv­er­ing un­con­vinc­ing di­a­logue about how Godzilla is an agent of na­ture, here to re­store bal­ance. Get­ting the bal­ance right be­tween show­ing the spec­ta­cle and main­tain­ing au­di­ence an­tic­i­pa­tion is also a ter­ri­bly tricky business.

The film is at its most suc­cess­ful in its open­ing third, which ( right­ing another of Em­merich’s wrongs) kicks off in Ja­pan, and eases in Kai­ju­phobes by dis­guis­ing it­self as a com­par­a­tively sober thriller with a tinge of The X- Files. Bryan Cranston is ex­cel­lent as Joe Brody, a nu­clear physi­cist turned con­spir­acy nut ob­sessed with un­earthing the truth about the nu­clear re­ac­tor breach that claimed his wife’s life. Cranston projects Joe’s an­guished mono­ma­nia with Godzilla- like force, but sadly is aw­fully un­der­used; when the fo­cus shifts to his son, a navy ord­nance tech­ni­cian, the film loses one of the most pow­er­ful weapons in its ar­moury. Ford Brody ( Aaron Tay­lor- John­son) is a ca­pa­ble but cookie- cut­ter hero, who un­til the plot finds some­thing for him to defuse, seems to have lit­tle to do, and makes equally lit­tle im­pres­sion. Say what you like about the Em­merich movie, but at least Matthew Brod­er­ick’s geeky sci­en­tist was vaguely mem­o­rable.

En­ter­ing its sec­ond phase, Godzilla starts to echo globe- hop­ping dis­as­ter movies like World War Z. Flaunt­ing its scale, it pos­i­tively bris­tles with hard­ware; a Godzilla drink­ing game that in­volved down­ing a shot ev­ery time a mil­i­tary chopper was on- screen would un­doubt­edly end in liver fail­ure. This sec­tion also sug­gests that when Gareth Ed­wards un­dresses for bed at night, he does so while hum­ming “The Strip­per” and se­duc­tively twirling his socks around: frankly, the man is one hell of a tease. Once not one but three gi­ant monsters are in po­si­tion on the board, it be­comes in­creas­ingly frus­trat­ing that we’re only al­lowed fleet­ing glimpses of them, ram­pag­ing across 24- hour news in the back­ground, or re­ced­ing into the dis­tance as the cam­era fo­cuses on the af­ter­math of de­struc­tion rather than ac­tu­ally show­ing it in progress.

Our much- tested pa­tience is re­warded in the third act, in which Godzilla fi­nally en­ters into bru­tal, bes­tial bat­tle. There are some par­tic­u­larly mem­o­rable mo­ments here: sky­divers leap­ing out of a plane

over San Francisco to the un­earthly strains of György Ligeti’s “Re­quiem” ( sound­track to the obelisk in 2001); the sight of Godzilla emerg­ing from plumes of smoke and bel­low­ing in rage. But again, there’s a ten­sion be­tween verisimil­i­tude and the de­mands of the genre. It’s log­i­cal that th­ese ti­tanic scraps take place shrouded in fly­ing de­bris ( it’s im­pos­si­ble not to think of New York streets filling with clouds of pul­verised ma­sonry as the Twin Tow­ers tum­bled down). But it’s frus­trat­ing not to be able to get a clearer view of the ac­tion. It’s like watch­ing WrestleMa­nia through a bon­fire. Plus, the fight­ing feels like it’s over too quickly. Maybe the idea is to leave us hun­gry for more. Re­gard­less, the longer the film pro­gresses, the more you re­alise just how dif­fi­cult it is to make a Godzilla flick in the year 2014. Gareth Ed­wards has made a very good stab at it, but per­haps a “great mod­ern Godzilla movie” is sim­ply a con­tra­dic­tion in terms.

Ex­tras: Buy the DVD and you get just two short Mak­ing Of fea­turettes. “A Whole New Level Of De­struc­tion” ( eight min­utes) gives you a glimpse of the per­verse power wielded by Hol­ly­wood direc­tors: when Ed­wards de­cides that a brand new car that’s part of the set dress­ing looks a lit­tle too pris­tine, they ca­su­ally squash it with a bloody great con­crete block. Don’t park across his drive­way. “An­cient En­emy: The MU­TOs” ( seven min­utes), in­cludes in­ter­est­ing glimpses of the con­cept art for Godzilla’s ad­ver­saries. Buy the Blu- ray ( rated) and you get two more fea­turettes ( 23 min­utes), which fo­cus on rein­vent­ing Godzilla and the sky­div­ing se­quence. Four­teen min­utes of leaked “clas­si­fied files” com­plete the pack­age.

I am lizard: hear me roar.

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