“The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around. Let them fight.”
Gareth Edwards follows up his feature debut Monsters with his take on the biggest monster of them all, Godzilla. Hitting the reset button on the franchise just 16 years after the 1998 Roland Emmerich film of the same name, Edwards delivers an impressive version of one of Japan’s most famous exports.
After a brief glimpse of a 1954 “nuclear bomb test”, the film picks up in 1999 with Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad), supervisor at a Japanese nuclear power plant witnessing what would later be covered up as a nuclear meltdown by the government. A number of years later Brody remains in Japan, still haunted by the devastating effects of the nuclear plant disaster, and obsessed with the idea of revealing the truth behind the cause of the catastrophe.
When he is arrested in an attempt to access research left in his former home, now quarantined due to radiation, his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kick-Ass) flies out from America to bring his estranged father home. Unwittingly however he finds himself in the epicentre of the beginning of a battle between a Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism (MUTO), awoken by man on the fateful day of the power plant meltdown, and Godzilla, Earth’s greatest predator.
Much like his reveal of the monsters in his feature debut, Edwards exercises great restraint in introducing Godzilla onto the screen, spending the first half of the film offering just glimpses of the titular hero. Revealed roughly an hour into proceedings, Edwards’ Godzilla is truly remarkable in scale. Using scenery, buildings, ships and fleeing humans as reference for scale, Godzilla is brought to life in impressive fashion as he creates havoc in his wake.
And though he certainly does cause plenty of havoc, the MUTOs are the primary antagonists here, with Godzilla himself looking to restore balance to nature, and maintain his place at the top of the food chain. His quarrel is not with the humans, though naturally the human characters see things differently and look to destroy the monstrous threats in one fell swoop.
The interaction between the human characters and Godzilla is limited however, reflecting the theme that man cannot control nature.
Therein perhaps lies the biggest problem the movie has. As Godzilla and the MUTOs battle it out, the human characters we spend the first half of the movie being introduced to almost begin to pale in insignificance. Taylor-Johnson’s Ford is planted centrally in the action, but his actions seem to have little consequence in the grand scheme of the film, with the battle between the monsters firmly taking centre stage.
The destruction to the cities caused by this battle is circumstantial, with the MUTO’s being Godzilla’s targets, and his very simple motivations being the driving force for the final stretch of the film. Through his sheer size, and the focus being squarely on this battle, the human characters take a back seat for a large portion of the final act.
Fortunately the performance of Aaron Taylor-Johnson is strong enough to provide enough human emotion to the film to keep things engaging. His character Ford’s scenes with his father, wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son (Carson Bolde) are fleeting but convincing enough to make us actually care about his outcome in the wake of the destruction being caused around him.
This is a considerably more traditional take on the character of Godzilla than the 1998 version it follows, and as such the film fares much better. Japan rightfully provides the backdrop of much of the opening part of the film, Godzilla is at the biggest we have ever seen him, and aesthetically his design and rendering harks back to past iterations of the character.
The work of sound designer Erik Aadahl and sound editor Ethan Van der Ryn is also hugely impressive, adding to the scale and spectacle of the monsters on screen.
Most importantly however, Godzilla is a great deal of fun, and Edwards brings a sense of realism to its B-Movie roots, whilst not forgetting its past.
Godzilla is a spectacle of a summer blockbuster, and it brings the classic monster back to the big screen with a bang.
Rating (out of 5):