The Irish Mail on Sunday
GODZILLA THE PLOT KILLER
Huge monsters. Destruction by the bucketload. But don’t expect a story in...
As a rule, films that involve big lizards and I have never really got on. The 1954 original Godzilla from Japan was already too rickety for me by the time I was old enough to see it, its many successors have always struck me as simply too silly, and I gave up on Cloverfield as soon as we first clapped eyes on the scaly monster that was hiding in New York’s rivers. Nevertheless, I had high hopes for the new 2014 version of Godzilla.
After all, it’s directed by Gareth Edwards, the young film-maker and visual-effects expert who first came to prominence late in 2010 with Monsters, an extremely good sci-fi thriller that he was reported to have made for just $15,000, having created all its spectacular effects… on his laptop.
If that’s what he could do with a humble PC, went the logic, just imagine what he’ll be able to do with a serious Hollywood budget behind him, as he clearly has here. Well…
On one level Godzilla certainly delivers: if you’re a 14-year-old boy and want to see big, scary monsters trashing modern-day San Francisco while gallant soldiers race to defuse nuclear bombs, then this is the film for you. But in terms of rebooting a now 60-year-old franchise, of suddenly waking you up to the genius of the original concept and making you thirst for the clearly signalled sequel, this just doesn’t cut it.
Thanks to Edwards’s undoubted visual creativity, he offers us a 350ft-tall Godzilla (not to mention a couple of similarly sized supporting monsters) in the sort of roaring, flame-belching detail that we’ve simply never seen before. But I’m sorry, Gareth, the old lizard, first envisioned by the Japanese director Ishirō Honda, still strikes me as rather long in the tooth.
After an unfortunate opening in a huge mine that draws rather too obviously on Alien, I thoroughly approved as the story headed swiftly towards Japan. Ah, I thought, we’re going back to where it all began to pay homage and, as a Fukushima-style nuclear power station appears, to the anti-nuclear agenda that gave Honda’s original – made just nine years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki – its metaphorical clout.
Godzilla, you see, was the destructive monster the nuclear age had unleashed. But that clout disappears here, following the decision to introduce two new creatures. These are giant, radioactivity-loving and, again, rather Alien-like parasites that are soon dubbed MUTOs, or Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms, by the acronym-loving US Navy – and Godzilla is the only thing that can stop them. Given that he can still demolish a skyscraper with a single swish of his tail, the giant saurian is unlikely casting as an action hero.
Godzilla, however, is a film desperately in need of a hero, someone – or, indeed, something – we can root for. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is notably underpowered in the central role of Ford, a young US bombdisposal expert whose mother died in a nuclear accident in Japan, while Bryan Cranston, playing Ford’s obsessive father, looks like what he’d been all his working life before
Breaking Bad – a yeoman supporting actor. And it’s certainly none of the female characters, who are shamefully underwritten. Poor Juliette Binoche doesn’t make it past the first five minutes, Sally Hawkins – Oscar-nominated for Blue Jasmine, of course – looks both lost and unconvincing as the scientist who may know more than she’s letting on, and Elizabeth Olsen, who plays Ford’s wife, spends most of her time answering the phone.
It’s all very disappointing given that, fine visual effects apart, two of the strengths of
Monsters were shared central roles for its male and female stars – Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able – and the quality of their acting.
But in stepping straight up to a Hollywood blockbuster, Edwards perhaps exposes his inexperience in directing actors on a bigger stage. The end result always feels a little forced, a little staged, and doesn’t always ring true.
My hunch is that teenage boys and coreGodzilla fans won’t mind too much, as the film delivers destructive spectacle by the bucketload. But, for the less committed, the battles do go on a very long time, there’s something about the scale of the distinctly B-movie MUTOs that never quite convinces, while Max Borenstein’s screenplay – lacking in both emotional involvement and a real sense of jeopardy – seems littered with lapses in logic and continuity that, more than once, left me scratching my head and wondering whether Edwards had given it sufficient attention. As for Godzilla himself, he’s an undeniable visual-effects triumph but he lacks the all-important watchable pathos of King Kong. So while I’m pleased someone’s had a go at bringing him up to date, I’m in absolutely no hurry at all to see him back for a second time.
Big lizards and I, it seems, still don’t get on.