[ Director: Gareth Edwards; Screenwriter: Max Borenstein; Starring: Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins; Running time: 123 minutes; Certification: 12A ]
Something which has genuinely confused me for years is how Roland Emmerich, the uncontested master of disaster movies, was able to make a multi-million dollar movie about a giant lizard destroying a city so incredibly dull. By all logic, it doesn’t make sense. Whatever the answer is, I had hoped Gareth Edwards could provide it with his own giant lizard flick – a much-anticipated follow-up to his cracking indie hit Monsters – by way of comparison. That answer never came, but allow me at least to begin by saying one thing: this Godzilla is far and away better than Emmerich’s Godzilla, and that’s important. The problem is, being better than Emmerich’s Godzilla isn’t a tall task, and damning praise is pretty much where the praise dries up.
Starting out promisingly – a heart-pumping opening credit sequence packed with stock footage of nuclear tests over an energetic soundtrack whacks the audience in the face, before Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins and Bryan Cranston introduce our story with an immediate growing sense of intrigue – things soon take a turn towards the ordinary. The problem with the film is not that it takes forever waiting for anything to happen, it’s that it uses all that time to no avail. Usually I would advocate allocating a good deal of time to the characters and plot development in any type of disaster/superhero/action movie so we can grow to understand and care about them by the climax, rather than just starting and ending with punchkickshoot, but in this case, the longer it goes on, the less we care about anything. There’s just no emotional investment in any of the characters, despite the script devoting so much of its attention towards an attempt to do so. Cranston’s scientist is the only person we feel anything towards, but he, like the eponymous lizard, isn’t in it nearly enough.
The film is obsessed with teasing us and pretending it’s more complex than it really is. During the opening act, the mystery is built upon rather well while the scientific exposition proves interesting and the anticipation bubbles…but then it keeps going. It keeps teasing us, keeps acting as if we don’t know what’s coming. Passing the hour mark we’ve virtually seen nothing other than seismic charts and Watanabe’s concerned face, and even after Godzilla enters the frame, the film continues to treat the audience as if they don’t know what’s going on. Ultimately the whole affair just becomes kind of boring and silly. Godzilla is a threat-less beast, essentially coming in as a secondary character (his screen time can’t equate to more than a couple of minutes) before his big fight plays out like a courtesy rather than the main attraction. Like something thrown in to appease a blockbuster-hungry audience without the care it deserves. With the exception of a couple of well-handled set-pieces, it’s a film strangely devoid of spectacle and awe.
That being what it is, there’s some good stuff dotted around. Even if Ken Watanabe literally does have that same slightly confused, slightly concerned expression throughout the entire film, the performances are all thoroughly decent – and it’s a brilliantly strong cast. The special effects are impressive and slick – the monsters have a real heft to them, and on the rare occasions Godzilla is actually around, we really do feel his presence with a roar that shudders our bones. Edwards has already proven himself, and I don’t think the fault necessarily lies with him. I think his intentions with the film are admirable, they just don’t entirely pan out. Equally, the script isn’t exactly bad so it’s hard to pinpoint just why the film lumbers around so heavily. Like The Counsellor, all the right elements are there…
Ultimately I was disappointed not because my expectations were high – I didn’t have many other than what Edwards himself conjured with Monsters – but rather because I just wanted to be treated to a really good monster movie. And I didn’t get it. Godzilla draws the short straw, forced to stumble around in the background while un-engaging characters run around doing stuff that we’re supposed to be interested in, before getting an anti-climactic send off that boarders on the ridiculous. Did I just not get it? Are the dashes and glimpses of something great more than that? Here’s hoping I’m entirely, completely, undoubtedly wrong. But I’m not.