|UK Release Date||17th May 2014|
|Reviewed||18th May 2014|
We loved Monsters. There’s not two ways about it. A superb piece of lean thriller with just enough CGI to give it that studio feel but not so much that we weren’t entirely concentrated on the personal drama unfolding in amongst the ruins of society. Just writing that sentence makes me want to watch it again. British (hooray!) filmmaker Gareth Edwards, coming from a visual effects background, got the balance so spot on that you’d worry if he’d had more money to create the movie. It’s a perfect example of our Broken Shark, that serendipitous hurdle that makes your movie all the better - Edwards apparently knocked up the required special effects by himself once the rest of filming had been completed. Needless to say we approached his first movie since his feature debut with a little caution…
Stepping into the big time in some style, Edwards had $160 million to play with for his interpretation of Ishirô Honda’s mother of all monster films, Godzilla, more than enough to buy himself an entire visual effects team. Honestly, if you want to see the definition of extremes, check out the Monsters visual effects credit against this one. If that doesn’t scare the manager in you, I don’t know what will. Edwards places his tale very much in the present during a quick roundup of archive footage showing nuclear blasts and brief glimpses of what might be a creature, along with a shortish prologue showing a nuclear power plant meltdown some fifteen years ago. It’s an effective and promising start, particularly the wonderful archive footage.
Skip to the present day and bomb disposal expert Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) gets a call from Japan to tell him that his obsessive father Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) has been picked up breaking into the contaminated zone near the power plant where he once worked before the meltdown and subsequent death of his wife (a pretty brief Juliette Binoche cameo). Joe is convinced that the governments lied about the cause of the meltdown and has spent the intervening time attempting to prove that whatever caused the accident, could happen again.
Ford dutifully heads out to retrieve his pa but in the meantime sinister things are indeed re-surfacing in Japan and scientist Dr Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) is struggling to keep something rather large and unpleasant under control in his top secret lab / giant monster holding pen. The preverbal inevitably collides with the air-conditioning and before he knows it, Ford is shipping out with the marines to try and avert disaster when two MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Objects) surface, followed very quickly by Godzilla himself. The plan, such as it is, involves a lot of nuclear weapons (the monster’s food source) being used as bait to get the creatures out of harms way before using good old school James Bond style ticking detonators (the creatures are quite keen on a good EMP blast you see) to blow them up. Oh, and Ford’s missus and son happen to be working / living at monster ground zero. Always the way isn’t it.
Edwards’ movie does a lot right - it’s a country mile from the inevitably tiresome Roland Emmerich catastrophe made back when putting Jean Reno in everything seemed like a good idea. For a start, Edwards’ Godzilla actually looks like Godzilla. Less of a big iguana, more of a giant radioactive lizard from the centre of the earth. The emphasis on this one is noticeably skewed towards telling a story of three monsters coming together with the backdrop of mankind flailing around failing to do anything about it, rather than setting up a giant monster killing finale in which mankind triumphs. All very much to be applauded. The effects are pitch perfect, from the glorious monsters coursing through the sky and through the ocean to the warships tossed around like toys in a bathtub; everything looks and more importantly feels as it should. I watched this on a 2D multiplex screen, probably preferable to a 3D one but I would imagine the IMax version is the ideal format to witness this on.
The humans inevitably suffer though for all the monster spectacle. Although Edwards does his best with investing some time with his characters before the monster tsunami, it’s impossible for them to stand out above the noise. Taylor-Johnson is as bland as seems to be required of a bomb disposal expert and a script that requires pretty much no emotion whatsoever and Elizabeth Olsen is suitably worried whilst dashing around her ER unit but again, there isn’t really space for her to spend much time acting. Watanabe’s character is only required to shuffle around with a prominent Molskine notebook, spouting the occasional wise phrase and poor Sally Hawkins doesn’t even get to do that as she trails around after Dr. Serizawa as his assistant (I think?). David Strathairn (an actor I’d love to see more) fills the military commander role, shouting orders and generally looking baffled that nothing is working and…. well, that’s about your lot really. Cranston’s role as Brody Snr. is borderline cameo though he has great fun with it while he’s around and you’ll miss Binoche if you spend too long picking out your Cornetto.
All of which sadly leads to an air of shrugging over the destruction wrought by the monsters. Buildings are wiped out pretty regularly but without any human peril, the whole exercise is lacking any real threat. The odds are so insurmountable and the destruction on such a large scale that the results are greated largely with indifference. Which is a shame because the work with the monsters really is good. The two MUTO’s are very close to having an actual character arc and Godzilla himself actually looks like you’d trust him to look after your city (whilst at the same time re-writing a good deal of your insurance policy) as well as looking as mean as hell.
I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy Godzilla (2014), it zips along pretty well and there are some outstanding set pieces. The halo jump into the city it almost worth the ticket alone (certainly at the IMax) but my final emotion from the screening is probably one of deflation. I’m unsure exactly how Edwards could have done better given the script (which in addition to the above, takes itself a little too seriously) but the movie needed more of an emotional anchor and less cut out and keep characters. The only consistent human anchor comes in the form of Ford Brody who spends most of his time chasing around after different military units before inevitably saving a city. That he ends up saving it from the people attempting to protect it speaks to how the movie is prepared to go against convention but in the end, it doesn’t take long before you reach the same conclusion than the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Surely if mankind had just kept out of the way, the whole thing would have resolved itself….
Check out the trailer here.