Godzilla (2014)

GodzillaFollowing a family tragedy fifteen years earlier at a malfunctioning power plant in Janjira, Lieutenant Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is happily married with a five-year-old son while his father Joe (Bryan Cranston) has returned to Japan to conduct his own investigation into the incident. When Joe is arrested for trespassing, Ford flies out in an attempt to talk his father into coming home. Instead, the two are arrested once more — this time by an organisation operating from the long-quarantined site of the meltdown — and inadvertently bear witness to the birth of a Muto — a giant moth-thing that has been in stasis for millennia. While Ford tries to get home to his family before the creature can beat him to San Francisco, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) advise Admiral William Stenz (David Strathairn) on how best to proceed. The Muto isn’t their only problem, however, as its appearance coincides with the re-emergence of Godzilla.

A lot has changed since Matthew Broderick killed Godzilla — not just the creature but the franchise too. Since 1998 the world has experienced an increase in terrorist attacks, tsunamis and nuclear disasters, tragedies that are now etched into the public consciousness and duly reflected in Gareth Edwards’ diametrically opposed reboot. The new film also reflects changes in the cinematic landscape, with the most obvious influences including the likes of Cloverfield, Pacific Rim and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy. Godzilla 2014 is dark, intense and super, super serious.

Having impressed back in 2010 with his low-budget creature feature Monsters, Edwards was selected by Legendary Pictures to bring the king of the monsters back to life. The trailer — all atmosphere and ambiguity — suggested that he had brought his indie sensibilities to Hollywood, while the posters were surprisingly arty and the logo harked back to the character’s Japanese beginnings. Unfortunately, on this occasion the director fails to reconcile his high-brow aspirations with the decidedly low-brow genre conventions; the film is so sensitive, sophisticated and of its time that when Godzilla does show up in all of its 1950s, B-movie glory it looks completely out of place in its own movie.

1998’s Godzilla may have been ridiculous, but at least it embraced the concept’s inherent cheesiness. After all, it was a film about a giant asexual iguana that accidentally levelled New York while stockpiling fish for its as yet unhatched young — how could it pretend to be anything but preposterous? The problem with Edwards’ film is that for all of its po-faced seriousness it is arguably even more ridiculous than Roland Emmerich’s film; this Godzilla is not the bi-product of nuclear testing, but rather a relic of a bygone age that surfaces once every couple of decades to restore some sort of natural order. It’s not quite clear what equilibrium this might be; the creature has lain dormant for hundreds of years of human dominion and devastation (bar an unexplained appearance in the 50s) but comes out of exile the moment two Mutos decide to breed. When Watanabe suggests to the United States military that they simply stand back and let a mindless beast save the day all of Edwards’ early hard work is immediately undone.

Nothing in Godzilla makes sense. The Mutos’ nests seem designed to harness the energy of nuclear missiles yet they pre-date the technology, originating from a time when the planet’s ambient radiation levels were much higher. The creatures also seem to have evolved the ability to emit EMPs by stamping their feet, though what use this might be to them outside of the confines of the plot it is difficult to say. Furthermore, they are blamed for the death of Sandra Brody (Juliette Binoche), though it’s never entirely clear how they were actually responsible for the meltdown. The film spends so much time setting up the Mutos that Godzilla enjoys little more than a cameo appearance, showing up at the end of the film to waddle around San Francisco and occasionally breathe blue fire. It would be easier to overlook the plot holes and gap-toothed logic if the film was willing to poke fun at its own failures, but as it stands Edwards’ film isn’t even unintentionally funny.

The human element doesn’t fare much better. Cranston, Taylor-Johnson and Watanabe may get more screentime, but this is spent on exposition and logistics rather than character development. Johnson’s Brody grew up in Japan, moved to San Francisco with Elle, went back to Japan to see his father and now must island hop his way back to the states again in order to save his wife and child. The characters exist simply to give the camera a reason for being at the next disaster zone (Honolulu Airport, etc), a fact that becomes all too clear when Brody’s son is evacuated only to crop up on the Golden Gate Bridge just as Godzilla is about to knock a hole in it. Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen are sympathetic enough, but their long-distance relationship struggles to elicit the necessary stakes. Cranston and Binoche, meanwhile, overact to within an inch of their lives, Watanabe is there simply to say Gojira in a suitably foreign accent, and while everyone else struggles with ripe dialogue Hawkins seems to have been left with the stage directions.

Throughout Godzilla there is the sense not so much that there is an elephant in the room as a giant Pokémon with bad skin. Like the titular beast, Godzilla is lumbering, bloated and confused. Is this supposed to be a sleek, post-9/11 reimagining of an outdated classic or a love letter to the sort of tacky, straight-to-VHS Godzilla sequels that used to fill the shelves of Blockbuster? If Godzilla’s actually the protagonist then why are we spending so much time with the Brodys? Why is everyone taking it all so seriously? Where the hell’s the worm guy? 2-stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

7 Responses to Godzilla (2014)

  1. Amonymous says:

    Interesting, well-argued review. Even though I disagree.

    • I take it you were a fan? I just thought it was dull. It spent far too much time in control rooms and not enough time on the ground with the creatures.

      • Amonymous says:

        When watching I was frustrated at the emphasis on teasing rather than showing, but Cranston carried the first act of the film well and for me Godzilla has the most thrilling final act I’ve seen this year. Middle was admittedly baggy though.

      • I thought Cranston was pretty awful, actually. Like he’d been brought in from a pantomime version. As for the monster, it lacked the personality and motivation to carry the final set piece. If the movie had embraced the silliness and had Brody ask for the monster’s help at least then you’d be able to root for him. The film didn’t even try to explain why he should care about San Francisco.

  2. Jack Boshet says:

    I could not take this review seriously after I read the line “1998′s Godzilla may have been ridiculous, but at least it embraced the concepts inherent cheesiness”, I’m not even a fan of the bland and lame japanese monster series, but the fact that you would give that pile of garbage any positive points, just astounds me, you should hang up your cap and necktie, and leave the business of film-reviewing forever, you are a disgrace to critics

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