Gareth Edwards made his mark on the film-world in 2010 with his micro-budgeted Monsters, and what a calling card it proved to be. He has now been propelled into the big league as director of Godzilla, which Warners are hoping will wash away any memories of the generally-disliked 1990s Roland Emmerich version.
Full disclosure here. I actually found plenty to enjoy in Emmerich’s flawed but still passable Godzilla (he has made far worse films since) and I was impressed by the use of found-footage in Cloverfield. I also spent many a Friday night in the 1980s thrilling to Destroy All Monsters, Mothra and other Toho creature features on Channel 4. So, what has Gareth Edwards delivered and how does it rate on the fans’ Godzilla-ometer? Clearly the director has a passion for his subject and there’s no suggestion that a small-time director has bitten off more than he can chew with this sophomore feature. This is an assured piece with plenty of impressive set-pieces to propel it along, showing a real love and understanding of the craft
I give this a solid 8 out of 10, not just for the impressive effects but also because the film manages to imbue some character and nobility in our atomic beast (thanks to some input from mo-cap pro Andy Serkis). Let’s be honest, ultimately it’s all about monsters stomping round cities and hanging off landmarks, but what monsters… and what cities! The human drama is perfunctory and gets lost as the film progresses, but this is a kaiju movie after all, not Terms of Endearment. The cast are impressive on paper – Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins all show up – but you might be surprised just how much (or little) screen time they have, which in turn might leave you thinking some were short-changed while others you’d have happily seen flattened in the carnage in the first act.
Addressing criticisms that it takes too long to see the eponymous beast, this seems fairly reflective of today’s ‘I want it all immediately’ audience. I was more than happy to let the story develop at its own pace through fleeting glimpses of the beast before we get the full reveal of the dino money shots, and it’s not as if there’s nothing else to catch our attention while Godzilla is just breaking the waves or glimpsed behind a building. Similar criticisms were levelled at Edwards’ Monsters, though that was arguably down to economics rather than an aesthetic device to build suspense. Structurally, comparisons have been made Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and this is further heightened by Alexander Desplat’s brassy and dissonant Willams-esque soundtrack.
This is one of the few blockbusters of recent times that doesn’t feel like it needs 1/2 hour shaved off its running time. Lean and single-minded, this film delivers exactly what it promise what it says on the tin, and while thematically similar, this is far easier to enjoy and forgive than Pacific Rim. It’s hard to say much more without revealing major plot points, though the fact that a sequel has just been greenlit probably gives you an idea of where things are headed.
After 60 years and 30+ movies there’s only so much you can do with a thunder-thighed nuclear beast, so kudos to Edwards for stamping (stomping?) his mark. Oh, and the sound design is great – you’ve gotta marvel at that guttural primal roar!
Verdict: The alpha predator is back in business. 8/10