Wednesday, 27 August 2014
In 1954 a creature stomped its way into Japanese cinemas that would become the most iconic movie monster to grace the silver screen. A franchise made up of 27 sequels and an American recut of the original later and Godzilla had undoubtedly earned it's place at the top of cinema's food chain; the king of the monsters. 1998 saw the first attempt at a US remake of the now classic film, a product that has gained notoriety as being one of the worst blockbusters of our generation and tainting an icon's cinematic legacy. Just under sixteen years later, and just in time for the original's 60th anniversary. Gareth Edwards has brought us a revitalised Godzilla film that not only honours it's original, it earns it's own spot beside it in the pantheon of great monster movies.
Gareth Edwards // 2014 // 123 mins
The mysterious destruction of the Janjira nuclear plant in 1999 saw the loss of countless lives, including that of American supervisor Joe Brody's wife. Fifteen years later Joe's grown son Ford travels back to Japan to help his now estranged father, who spends all of his time obsessing over the hidden truth of what happened to his wife. While exploring the quarantined town in which they once lived the father and son are detained and taken to a facility on the site of the old plant, where they witness the awakening of a giant winged creature referred to as a MUTO. While scientists and the military devise plans for how to divert the creature and it's mate from all populated areas, nature conjures up it's own solution in the form of a prehistoric alpha-predator that will track down and destroy the creatures; Godzilla.
Make no mistake, this is not the return of Roland Emmerich's streamlined iguana-beast, Edward's monster feels much more like a real life approximation of the Toho creature that destroyed Tokyo in it's 1954 predecessor. Standing the tallest he ever has, at 350ft, the benevolent behemoth is a sight to behold, and a sight that is bravely used in moderation by Edwards and his writers. The sheer technical achievement behind Godzilla's appearance, sound and physicality is remarkable and a true success, but so is the restraint with which he is used in the story. Rather than bombard us with his image and lessen the impact of his presence, the beastie is mercilessly teased through brief glimpses and clever cutaways. The suspense and anticipation that this builds within the viewer is thrilling and makes the film's climax, where the reigns are removed and he is let loose upon the MUTO's in stunningly rendered and brutal fight sequences, all the more satisfying.
In his debut feature, Monsters, Edwards proved his ability to balance a strong, engaging narrative within the fantastical realms of the monster movie genre and his efforts to repeat that success here are admirable. In Monsters, the creatures had been present and known about for a long time, and so the director/writer could employ 'everyday' people who get caught in their path as his central characters. Here we are witnessing the worlds first ever encounter with sky-scraping beasts, and so naturally the characters we follow are directly linked to the creatures' awakenings and eventual destructions. As such the protagonists of Godzilla are scientists and soldiers, people at the centre of this event, people doing their jobs, and so personal stories end up feeling undeveloped in order to keep the drama focused on the immediate events they are having to deal with. The result of this is that talented actors such as Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins are left feeling underused in stock roles that are really just bit-parts to the larger, overall story.
Bryan Cranston delivers the films best performance as Joe Brody, excellently capturing the fragile desperation and paranoia of a man obsessively searching for a truth that is being hidden from him, and living with the guilt of his wife's death. The history that the writers have built around this Godzilla is rich with nods and references to the original film while still developing it's own mythos surrounding the events of the 50's. The film is loaded with beautiful cinematography and striking set-pieces that showcase the numerous locations that the narrative takes us through and illustrate Edwards clear intention to make this more aesthetically stimulating than the average blockbuster. All of this is only enhanced by Alexandre Desplat's tremendous score, which ominously echoes over much of the action and builds on the already unbearable tension.
Godzilla demonstrates with brilliant clarity the talent that Gareth Edward's possesses and the passion and dedication he has put into producing a faithful Godzilla film for the fans of the franchise, of which he is clearly one. The film feels very much like an independent blockbuster, trading in extensive action sequences for restrained and carefully considered plotting that builds to an incredible payoff in it's finale. Godzilla has finally received the reboot he deserves, and we can only hope this revival continues to build on the solid foundation that this film has laid. The King of the Monsters has reclaimed his throne.