Ever since making its first appearance in Ishirō Honda’s 1954 film, Godzilla, this titular character has gone on to become a cultural phenomenon over the course of 60 years and is now widely recognised as the symbol of Japanese pop culture around the world. Having starred in 30 movies overall, Godzilla is not only a monster with an unprecedented legacy but is today considered a brand name in itself. Anyway, 2 out of those 30 features in Godzilla film franchise are American productions, the first of which was the 1998 movie directed by Roland Emmerich, who actually ended up changing the entire DNA of this creature. And the second attempt arrived in cinemas less than 2 weeks ago with the promise of bringing the ‘King of the Monsters’ right from its origins while also keeping its look & style faithful to its depiction in the original Japanese film.
After the disaster that was Roland Emmerich’s version, for which the son of a bitch isn’t even sorry, this 60th anniversary feature is the second coming of the giant monster and is supposedly the reboot of Godzilla film franchise. Set in contemporary timeline, it depicts Godzilla as “a terrifying force of nature” who is pitted against malevolent creatures who for years have been feeding on nuclear radiations but now threaten the very existence of humanity. It’s not that Godzilla plays the mankind’s saviour by default but is more like nature’s own monster which has been unleashed to restore balance in the world. The human drama concerns Joe Brody; a nuclear physicist who becomes obsessed with uncovering the true cause of the disaster that killed his wife, and Ford Brody; Joe’s son who, along with a scientist & US navy, together plan to stop these monsters until eventually deciding to let Godzilla take care of the matter instead.
Directed by Gareth Edwards, who made his feature film debut in 2010 with a low-budget monster flick called Monsters, which no doubt was an ambitious project but failed to live up to its premise. And here, Edwards tackles this big-budget feature by using the same technique he applied in his previous movie thinking that it might work this time. Well it doesn’t… because what actually results from this approach is too much of screen time being devoted to the human drama & to be honest, that wouldn’t have been a problem if it in any way was handled effectively or had any interesting arc to it. What’s even more disappointing is that although Edwards manages to build up the tension, he cuts the scenes too quick before they fully develop, hence resulting in a sort of frustrating experience. The humour is virtually absent from the film so as to give an impression of the subject matter being taken seriously but then Max Borenstein’s script adds nothing to that aspired seriousness thus leaving the drama pretty hollow.
Still, I’ve got nothing but only praise for its technical aspects because Godzilla roars loudly in these filmmaking departments. Art direction is simply fabulous & the creatures, both Godzilla as well as the MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), are meticulously designed, detailed & rendered on the screen. Cinematography makes clever use of camera angles and expertly manages to create an aura of impending doom with its overcast look. Visual effects are as spectacular & magnificent as the King of the Monsters itself while sound is easily the movie’s best aspect in my opinion. Still, editing isn’t up to the mark for a number of reasons like complete absence of Godzilla in the first half or not even much of a build-up of its arrival, trying to give more emphasis to its pale human characters and sudden cuts from the action just when it’s getting interesting. And last but not the least, the score by Alexandre Desplat is majestic, imposing & grandeur, just the way it should be.
Coming to the performances, Godzilla features an unusual cast in Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins & others. And I’ve no idea what the hell they signed up for because acting certainly isn’t what they do here. For the majority of its runtime, all they do is just stare with their blank faces & dropped jaws and are completely clueless about what’s expected from their characters. The blame for that obviously lies with its script which doesn’t feature an ounce of characterisation in contrast to what the director was bragging about during its production. The unfleshed characters are one-dimensional, the performances are disappointing, the entire human drama is absurd & the only one who managed to make a mark is Bryan Cranston, trying his absolute best with whatever resources available to deliver an energetic performance as Joe Brody. But just like the titular character, even Cranston’s role is short-lived & he’s gone way before half-time, leaving Taylor-Johnson to carry the rest of the movie on his shoulders at which he stumbles.
At last, I would like to talk about the King of the Monsters. The opening credits gives us a slight glimpse of its sheer size but from that moment until the half-time, there is no sign of the monster nor any physical presence & just around the halfway mark, it simply shows up out of nowhere. Still, the manner in which camera captures this giant monster’s dimensions is worthy of admiration plus that distinctive roar is intensely bone-chilling & unquestionably epic. The overall appearance is very much in tone with the 1954 Japanese film & even its signature weapon is in tact. Yet, more than anything, it’s the final fight between Godzilla & the two MUTOs that’s worth the price of your ticket but there’s a lot of padding to go through in order to get there. On an overall scale, Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla had the potential to be ‘The Movie of the Summer’ but thanks to its uninspired direction, mediocre screenplay, terrible characterisation, dull performances, messed-up editing & lack of substance, it doesn’t live up to its hype. Still, what works ends up working pretty well in here & considering today’s mainstream audience’s taste in films, most of them are gonna come out pretty satisfied in the end. To summarise the movie in a sentence, Godzilla did rise but it didn’t rise enough.