Some kind of monster

This Godzilla re­boot makes it up from the depths, but fails to reach any dizzy­ing heights, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEWS -

GODZILLA

Di­rected by Gareth Ed­wards. Star­ring Aaron Tay­lor-John­son, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watan­abe, El­iz­a­beth Olsen, Juli­ette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn. 12A cert, gen re­lease, 123 min Roland Em­merich’s ghastly 1998 re­make of Godzilla did the world at least one ser­vice. Now we knew it was pos­si­ble for a film in which gi­ant lizards de­stroy Man­hat­tan to be more bor­ing than an af­ter­noon at the ham­mer fac­tory.

We hardly need to say that Warner Broth­ers’ in­ter­est­ing new crack at the an­tique Ja­panese fran­chise is a deal more en­ter­tain­ing than the Em­merich film. Wave a potato on a stick at the au­di­ence for two hours and you’d man­age that hum­ble achieve­ment. The new Godzilla is packed full of bravura se­quences. It works hard at re­uphol­ster­ing the myths while stay­ing true to the orig­i­nal spirit. Un­for­tu­nately, it’s also just a lit­tle too po-faced, a lit­tle too short on char­ac­ter and a lit­tle too, well, drab.

The stu­dio has made the brave choice of hir­ing Gareth Ed­wards to di­rect. On the sur­face, the English­man’s de­but, Mon­sters, seemed like an au­di­tion for his new role. It was, af­ter all, a pic­ture about a cou­ple try­ing to cope in a uni­verse over­run by gi­ant de­struc­tive crea­tures. But that film was distin­guished by push­ing the enor­mous threat into the back­ground. It was like a Gra­ham Greene adaption set loose in a world of post-apoc­a­lyp­tic mu­ta­tion.

The new film is no less sombre and no less lack­ing in hu­mour. When the mon­sters – yes, there are more than one – at­tack Las Ve­gas we an­tic­i­pate a vol­ley of satir­i­cal set-pieces. That doesn’t hap­pen. We do see the city’s ver­sion of the Eif­fel Tower be­ing elim­i­nated, but that mini-at­tack on Paris is about as hi­lar­i­ous as the film gets.

There’s noth­ing wrong with a swerve away from quips and high irony. It is of­ten for­got­ten that Ishiro Honda’s Go­jira, the pic­ture that started all this, was, among other things, a dead-se­ri­ous med­i­ta­tion on loom­ing eco­log­i­cal dis­as­ter. The end re­sult is, how­ever, more than a lit­tle air­less.

We be­gin at the end of the last century with an ap­par­ent melt­down at a Ja­panese nu­clear power plant. An un­re­lent­ingly tense Bryan Cranston (first seen in a bad wig) plays an Amer­i­can bof­fin trou­bled by sus­pi­cions of con­spir­acy and in­sti­tu­tional eva­sion. His wife (Juli­ette Binoche), also an of­fi­cial at the plant, is called in to deal with the dis­as­ter, but fails to halt the spread of deadly fumes. A pro­logue has al­ready alerted us to the fact that some sort of pre­his­toric force is loose in the Pa­cific. Many de­tails will be filled in as the decades progress.

In the present, Cranston has be­come ever more de­ranged while his son, played by the blank Aaron Tay­lor-John­son, has run off to be­come a bomb-dis­posal ge­nius with the armed forces. They are soon in­volved in the in­ter­ac­tions be­tween two fly­ing crea­tures and one very fa­mil­iar stomp­ing beast.

The crea­ture de­sign plays re­spect­ful homage to the Ja­panese orig­i­nal. We might com­plain that Godzilla only looked like Godzilla be­cause a man had to oc­cupy the scaly suit. Ed­wards’s film, how­ever, makes the beast both fright­en­ing and be­liev­able while hon­our­ing his orig­i­nal role as class of green (in two senses of the word) avenger.

Fea­tur­ing a deaf­en­ing score by Alexandre De­s­plat and lovely, shad­owy cine­matog­ra­phy by Sea­mus McGar­vey, the pic­ture stages stun­ning se­quences such as a night-time para­chute as­sault and a tense pur­suit through the Hawai­ian un­der­growth. But none of this quite com­pen­sates for the corny ex­po­si­tional di­a­logue – poor Ken Watan­abe and Sally Hawkins speak en­tirely in foot­notes – or the sur­pris­ing lack of nar­ra­tive drive.

It feels a bit mean to scowl at a film that works so hard at do­ing fresh things with val­ued ma­te­rial. In the end, how­ever, good in­ten­tions are not enough to el­e­vate the new Godzilla be­yond com­pe­tent ad­e­quacy.

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