I am not a particular Godzilla fan, if in honest. I may be wrong, but I don’t think I’ve actually seen most of the historic films around the giant lizard. In fact, my first introduction was the Roland Emmerich film. I recall enjoying it at the time — I was 7 — but I think it’s safe to say that time has not been kind to it.
So I’m going into Gareth Edwards’ version with a fairly low baseline of expectation. Which might well help it, I suppose.
But the trailers have been engaging, with the right level of foreboding, scale and emotion. Whilst you should never judge a film by its trailer, they have showed a certain level of cinematic understanding. But forget that, why don’t we actually judge a film by the film?
Godzilla is…well, it’s better than the Roland Emmerich film.
If that sounds like damning with faint praise, well it sort of is, and it sort of isn’t. Because it is better than Emmerich’s, and that is important because that film made a lot of mistakes. Edwards’ doesn’t make those mistakes. But it does make its very own.
Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is an engineer at a Japanese nuclear plant, when unexplained seismic activity triggers a meltdown. After his wife dies as a result, Joe becomes a conspiracy theorist obsessed with uncovering the “truth” behind what happened, which estranges him from his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Meanwhile, scientists Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) are investigating the discovery of gigantic fossilised remains found in the Philippines.
Firstly, it does get a lot right. It wasn’t, for instance, a remake of Jurassic Park — despite the opening shot…
But seriously, it is remarkably well-paced. Two hours, but without dragging at all. And on top of that, Edwards has managed to balance hinting at the titular beast with his actual presence on-screen. And Godzilla when he turns up, is bloody impressive. The monster battle sequences [spoiler?] are awesome, excellently choreographed and with the weight and impact that CGI creations sometimes lack.
And the human element was well-constructed too. Bryan Cranston is an excellent actor, and the role that he has been given has plenty of room for him to occupy. The conspiracy theorist unhinged by guilt and grief is something he pulls off with aplomb.
Which brings me to the failings. The film focuses on the wrong people.
We follow Joe’s son Ford, a bomb disposal expert with the navy, as he gets caught up in giant-monster-fest, trying to get back to his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and son Sam. And they are possibly the dullest people we could be following. What it creates is pauses in the monster stuff so we can have reaction shots from Ford.
What it should have done, was kept the focus on Joe, and also the two scientists. I’m not sure why you cast Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins, in order to have them do effectively nothing. Reaction shots are pretty much all Sally Hawkins gets. But these characters had the potential to be much more interesting than Captain Kick Ass. I suspect that a civilian viewpoint generally, rather than from inside the perennially useless military machine, might have made for a more relatable film.
Now, that sounds like I’ve absolutely gone to town on it. But let me take this back to the beginning again. It is better than Roland Emmerich’s version. And there is a lot that it does right. It was an enjoyable film, but I wanted it to be — and felt it could be — better. Some frankly odd viewpoint decisions took us away from the soul of the film, and actually diverted and distracted us from an excellent reimagining of Godzilla himself.