"Nothing bothers some people. Not even flying saucers."
- The Beast of Yucca Flats
Sunday, 10 August 2014
2014, USA - Japan
What to do when a film is half good? For example, the
parts of “Godzilla” 2014 that work are the stuff to do with Bryan Cranston and
the monsters, but the parts with Aaron Taylor-Johnson don’t so work so well.
The trailers were great – and as a general rule I don’t like most trailers -
and this Godzilla promised so much when it was disclosed that it was to be
helmed by the director of “Monsters”, Gareth Edwards. “Monsters” was like the
“Before Sunrise” of creature features in that it focused primarily on a couple
discovering love on the wrong side of an alien infestation. In fact its
crossing-the-border drama made it more understated and equally successful in
the social commentary stakes than Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9” and “Elysium”.
But “Monsters” was interested in real people whereas “Godzilla” offers only
Hollywood types: a good-looking stoic lead whose story intertwines with the
rise of the Kaiju, but the story is based upon three-act clichés that ask us to
relate to a somewhat two-dimensional lead character. The interesting actors are
killed off early – Cranston won’t make it to the second act, no matter what the
trailers may promise, and Julette Binoche is just a cameo – and we are left
with under-written characters. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the film
didn’t invest so much in the “human story”, but what this means is caring for
the lead character at the expense of the presumably hundreds upon hundreds of
faceless dead. So what you end up saying is The
parts with Godzilla are good and the parts with Aaron Johnson-Smith are bad.
The Godzilla stuff is what the audience comes for, of
course, and this Godzilla certainly looks the part. The highlights: the sky-dive;
Godzilla’s back lighting up; Godzilla blasting his death-ray down a MUTO’s throat.
Oh, and Godzilla screaming into the audience. CGI has come a long way since “Jurassic
Park” and when it’s used well it can be impressive: filming everything through
the fog of destruction helps the effects a great deal, just as having the apes
actors on set as much as possible helped “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”. These
two CGI extravaganzas are both impressive on a technical level but both share
the weakness of a somewhat obvious script and thinness of human dramatics: but “Apes”
overcomes because it focuses on the ape dramatics and its weaknesses, for the
most part, are secondary whereas in “Godzilla” the insistence on the human
element – which worked so well for “Monsters” – only goes to show how hackneyed
the human element is.
Let’s not forget how gloriously daft most of the
Godzilla sequels are anyhow, and how feeble the characters have always been,
but that’s no excuse. Everyone is unanimous that Roland Emmerich’s 1998 “Godzilla”
was terrible but Edwards’ reboot isn’t terrible, just half good, which means
half the audience disliked it. It’s proven a divisive film. So what can you do?
Lower your expectations and enjoy the monster show, perhaps. Edwards takes his
time but the teases are excellent and the monsters and the destruction they
cause are indeed spectacular. It’s not the ultimate monster narrative we wanted
because the story does nothing to elevate the material, but for monster action it
shows that CGI can now deliver on its promise and Godzilla has probably never
looked so realistic.