The monster returns...
Godzilla (cert. 12A) is back in cinemas, 60 years after Ishir Honda first brought us the king of monsters. The director is Gareth Edwards, a reward for his low budget but highly commended indie film Monsters (2010) – and a big budget Monsters: Dark Continent sequel is on the way.
Writers Dave Callaham and Max Borenstein have stuck closely to the original concept – a requirement of the Godzilla franchise – but this Godzilla is even bigger (he’d already doubled in size over the years in line with the height of the Tokyo skyline). This Godzilla is also cast as hero, saving the world from a couple of mutos - Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms, which look more metallic than organic.
They’re all disturbed by, and feed on, radiation, and the 1950s atom bomb tests are attributed to, in reality, attempts to kill these creatures. Godzilla always was a metaphor for nuclear destruction, and in fighting the mutos the old military gloss, “to save the town we had to destroy it,” takes on spectacular meaning.
The human interest is provided by a storyline where in 1999 Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is an American nuclear physicist working in Japan at Janjira nuclear power station, where his French wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) is a nuclear consultant. When tremors from the awakening beast trigger a breach, she is trapped, Joe himself closing the con- tainment door to seal her fate.
Fifteen years on, his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a US Navy lieutenant specialising in bomb disposal, and married to Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), a nurse in San Francisco. Their son Sam (Carson Bolde) sees as little of his father as Ford did of his.
Just returned from leave, Ford suddenly has to travel to Japan where his father, obsessed with discovering the truth about what happened, has been arrested for entering the Janjira quarantined area. For a bit of father-son bonding, they both go back to Janjira, just in time for one muto to emerge from its chrysalis, wreck the place, and fly across the Pacific to meet its mate, which has been disturbed by mining in the Philippines and transported for safe keeping to a deep bunker in Nevada.
Las Vegas is in the way of the muto reunion and, if nothing else, it means CGI can give us the half-size replica of the Eiffel Tower being toppled. It’s one of the more notable depictions of the carnage, though like some of the monster battles, it’s shot in a rather dim light.
Needless to say, the venue for the muto tryst is San Francisco, so while Elle deals with casualties at her hospital, son Sam is evacuated across the Golden Gate Bridge – or at least until the bus gets stuck in the traffic as Godzilla approaches. Ford, having persuaded Janjira scientist Dr Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and American admiral William Stenz (David Strathairn) of his potential value, gets to ride with a train carrying nuclear missiles to be used against the monsters - or at least until one of the mutos attacks a viaduct en route.
A monster that feeds on and fires radiation, electro-magnetic pulses dropping planes out of the sky, a conspiracy of silence, and potentially the end of civilisation, all combine to make for a decent plot and an excuse for some great effects. Some of the mystery, fear and beauty of Monsters has dissipated with the millions of dollars Gareth Edwards has been able to throw at this, but it is a notable addition to the genre.