Wednesday, May 14, 2014

'Godzilla' (2014) directed by Gareth Edwards

Gareth Edward's reimagining of the Godzilla franchise is loaded with potential. Firstly there was the excitement of a hot young director with one excellent film, Monsters, already under his belt being let loose with a big budget.  Then came one of the finest teaser trailers I've seen; as the camera pans over scenes of mass destruction with bodies lying everywhere we hear Robert Oppenheimer quoting the Bhagavad Gita: "I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." All that scored by the monolith theme from 2001, climaxing with a tremendously angry roar from a colossal stompy monster.

Sold!  Sitting down in my seat last night I was deeply excited to see what Edwards had come up with. Twenty minutes in  I had that queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that you get when you realise that you're watching a stinker.  Godzilla is not good.  Not by a long shot.  

Boiled down, the plot is that giant insectoid monsters appear, start wrecking up the place and then Godzilla turns up to beat the snot out of them.  It's a bit bare bones, but if you pay to see a Godzilla film then this is largely what you expect.  Wrapped around this is the human drama, and it's here that the film comes unstuck.  Working from an utterly inane, exposition-heavy script, the film proceeds to spend the majority of its runtime lumbering between a series of incredibly dull B-movie stereotypes.

The hero is as precisely as boring as he looks.
The prime offender in this is our hero, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).  By quite a long shot he's the most blandest protagonist in a long time.  He has all the articulation of an action figure and the personality and motivations of a milporn videogame protagonist. It's a stretch to say he's even a character, functioning more as a convenient dramatic excuse to follow giant monsters around.  That'd be fine, but we spend an inordinate amount of time with Brody as he runs around doing dull (but I guess cheap to film) soldiery type things.

His boring presence very nearly sinks the film, though to be fair to Taylor-Johnson, nobody comes out of this smelling of roses.  Bryan Cranston, an incredibly talented actor, is just plain bad as the scientist-who-no-one-believes-until-it's-too-late stock character. Lost underneath a bizarrely unconvincing wig he looks embarrassed by his crap dialogue. The best I can say about him is that in a sea of bad acting, his performance is at least interestingly bad.  Ken Watanabe looks similarly checked out, a one note character who feels parachuted in from a different movie altogether, delivering his lines with the vague contempt they deserve.  As for the women?  There's two of them in Godzilla, their combined dialogue maybe taking up a page or two of script, both relegated to standing on the sidelines looking worried as the men fix things.

The women in this film are tasked with hugging children and gawping uselessly.
Finally, after perhaps an hour spent watching painful exposition and endless shots of worried people talking on telephones, Godzilla shows up.  The audience breathes out a collective sigh of relief; "alright, we sat through all that shite, now bring on the giant monsters!"  Then we immediately cut away from the giant monster fight to a kid watching blurry footage of it on TV news. Bullshit!

This cuts to the most obvious problem with Godzilla: not enough Godzilla.  The big guy is absent for most of the movie, only appearing properly in the final act.  Even when he does finally show up he's a bit underwhelming after all the hype.  Visually he's an indistinct dark green blob, his only distinguishing feature his back spines - other than that it's difficult to tell exactly what he looks like, what he's doing or even sometimes where he is in the shot (an impressive feat given he is 100m tall).  Compounding this is that he's nearly always wreathed in smoke, fog and clouds - and the action scenes take place at night. Compounding that is that in the 3D version I saw (which added precisely nothing to the experience), the glasses make a dark film even darker.

A very grey movie.  Godzilla is in this picture I think.
It all feels a bit sub-Pacific Rim, which did the whole giant monsters trashing cities thing much better than Godzilla does.  The Kaiju in that film spewed great blue gouts of neon blood everywhere, battles illuminated by fluorescence and flashes of colour.  By comparison Godzilla is muted and flat, the monsters grey, the sky grey and the clouds of dust around them grey - a disappointing choice given how colourful Monsters was.

Even Godzilla's subtext is starting to look clapped out.  Godzilla is as much a giant metaphor as he is giant lizard; a symbol of mankind's hubris and the dangers of messing with nature and so on. Here he comes to represent disaster, the scaly embodiment of tsunami and earthquake - the puny human characters realising that they are nothing in the face of all-powerful nature.  Fair enough, but that's the basic subtext of every single giant monster movie.  There is a slightly more interesting set of symbols linked with the giant insects, Edwards associating them with Fukushima and nuclear waste disposal - but it never really goes anywhere interesting.

Frustratingly there are occasional all-too-brief shots where everything is framed beautifully and sounds good - all moments without any actors in them. But there's no way it's worth sitting through the rest of the bilge that makes up the majority of Godzilla to get to these worthwhile bits.  I'd estimate that of 120 minutes there are, at maximum, maybe 10-15 minutes of worthwhile cinema in here.  Unfortunately this is a sloppy, boring and largely Godzilla-free waste of time. What a shame.

Godzilla is on general release from 15th May

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