Re­turn of the monster block­buster

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Review - Evan Wil­liams

Godzilla (M) Na­tional re­lease I WAS sur­prised the other day when a sixyear-old of my ac­quain­tance asked me about a film called Godzilly. At first I thought he’d said “God, it’s silly” — an as­tute judg­ment, you might think, from a critic of ten­der years, though it’s a judg­ment al­ready em­phat­i­cally re­jected by global cin­ema au­di­ences. Since its US open­ing last weekend, Hol­ly­wood’s lat­est block­buster monster movie has been ram­pag­ing through cin­e­mas around the world, tram­pling on at­ten­dance records and lay­ing waste to for­mi­da­ble box-of­fice ri­vals such as Bad Neigh­bors. Whether Aus­tralian au­di­ences will con­sider Godzilly merely silly or an au­then­tic cin­ema phe­nom­e­non re­mains to be seen. But make no mis­take, we’re go­ing for it. And why not? may be silly, but it’s also that rare thing in mul­ti­plexes: a grand en­ter­tain­ment, full of chal­leng­ing ideas, be­liev­able char­ac­ters and much breath­tak­ing spec­ta­cle.

Of course there’s noth­ing re­ally new about it. Godzilla is a joint cre­ation of Hol­ly­wood and Ja­pan’s Toho stu­dios, and this year marks what might be called their di­a­mond wed­ding an­niver­sary. Godzilla first reared his ugly head in 1954 in a Ja­panese cult clas­sic di­rected by Ishiro Honda, which was much in­flu­enced by Hol­ly­wood’s re­make of King Kong two years ear­lier. Toho and Hol­ly­wood have had joint own­er­ship of the crea­ture since. No fewer than 28 Godzilla movies have been made in Ja­pan since 1954, a longer string of sequels and re­makes than for any other film I know of. Plus there have been the usual spinoff books, comics, tele­vi­sion shows and video games.

The lat­est Godzilla is di­rected by an English­man, Gareth Ed­wards, who has form. In 2010 he scored a mod­est suc­cess with a low-budget Bri­tish film Mon­sters, which he wrote, di­rected and pho­tographed. Since then, Godzilla the monster and Ed­wards’s bud­getary re­sources have grown ex­po­nen­tially. It seems odd that only a week ago I was ex­tolling Pawel Paw­likowski’s Pol­ish film Ida for the ex­treme aus­ter­ity of its pro­duc­tion val­ues. Now I find my­self prais­ing Godzilla for ev­ery­thing Ida lacked — spe­cial ef­fects, hordes of ex­tras, big budget spec­ta­cle — which only goes to show that with movies, noth­ing is clear cut or pre­dictable. And a good thing too.

Godzilla’s ori­gins may be well known to most read­ers, but for the ben­e­fit of six-yearolds I should ex­plain that the films were in-

Godzilla spired by a se­ries of US nu­clear tests in the Pa­cific. The world’s first ther­monu­clear de­vice was det­o­nated on a Pa­cific is­land in March 1954, an event that serves as a kind of pro­logue to Ed­wards’s film. But watch closely and you’ll see a huge shape rise from the ocean be­fore the bomb ex­plodes. The other point to re­mem­ber is that Godzilla isn’t re­ally a bad guy. In Ja­panese pop­u­lar cul­ture he evolved from be­ing a preda­tory monster into a kind of an­thro­po­mor­phic su­per­hero: a sort Bat­man with black scaly skin and no cape.

In Godzilla (screen­play by Max Boren­stein), the vil­lain is a mu­tant crea­ture hatched from an egg-shaped pod dis­cov­ered by sci­en­tists in The Philip­pines in 1999. Muto, as he’s called, needs reg­u­lar doses of ra­di­a­tion to sur­vive and loses no time break­ing into a nu­clear power plant in Ja­pan. Joe Brody, the plant su­per­vi­sor (Bryan Cranston) man­ages to es­cape the melt­down. But to pre­vent ra­di­a­tion spread­ing he has to

El­iz­a­beth Olsen in the lat­est in­car­na­tion of

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