16th May2014

‘Godzilla’ (2014) Review #2

by Ian Loring

Stars: Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn | Written by Max Borenstein, Dave Callaham | Directed by Gareth Edwards

Godzilla-1

After an enforced decade long break ordered by rights holder Toho, that most famous of Japanese pop culture landmarks Godzilla returns to the big screen with the aim of washing out the taste of Roland Emmerich’s previous Hollywood effort out of our mouths. With 15 year olds not even born when that film first came out, the time seems to be nigh for Hollywood to try and make its mark on this icon once again, and hopefully get some of that increasingly important Far Eastern box office in the process. With Monsters director Gareth Edwards making what must be the largest budget jump between films ever seen and an international cast of respected and promising talent, along with an excellent and evocative marketing campaign, Godzilla is here. And it’s a dud.

To speak of the positives first, and there certainly are some, Gareth Edwards brings us his unique, at least in this day and age, sense of delayed gratification and uses it at times to really get the cinematic juices flowing. The first half of the film is filled with mysterious imagery and an encroaching sense that something is coming and that it won’t be all that friendly. As the film builds, we see the action primarily from the human point of view, we run as the people run, we stare as the people stare, seeing limbs and often abstract imagery which gives a sense of verisimilitude, something Monsters had in spades.

The trouble with this is as the film continues to do this, and also persists in an annoying habit of cutting away before we really see any major action beats, the sense of anticipation which is so carefully crafted turns into a sense of annoyance. The goodwill this clever approach builds up is primarily dashed so much that by the time the third act gives us what we’ve actually come to see, at least you do from a blockbuster named Godzilla, that the sense of engagement with the material is broken, and even if the action shown is well done, if you don’t give a crap, the effect is lessened.

This sense may also have been offset if the human characters were entertaining or dynamic but alas despite the cast, we have little joy here also. Aaron Taylor-Johnson seems to be the lead but he makes so little an impression that that job could just as easily go to Ken Watanabe, despite the fact he spends most of the film standing in the background of shots and occasionally making dire warnings which sound good in trailers but offer little else. Elizabeth Olsen gets a fair amount of screentime also but aside from looking concerned or staring at CG things, she gets almost nothing to do. She and Taylor-Johnson actually work well together on screen but considering they are actually together for at best 3 minutes of the film, the sense of missing a trick, which is the pervading mood I felt throughout, is tangible.

None of this is really the fault of the actors, instead much of the film’s problems can be traced directly to Max Borenstein’s inert screenplay in which if the actors aren’t just mouthing exposition at each other, they’re not speaking. Positive notices of the film have argued that it isn’t about the characters anyway, it’s about Godzilla. It’s not even about Godzilla to me, it’s more concerned with talking around Godzilla. Indeed, if you took the humans out of the film completely, the actual main story likely wouldn’t change at all. Whichever way you spin it, that’s a disaster for a 2 hour long film.

With a malnourished screenplay, performances which never feel vital at any moment but with a style that occasionally sparks the nostalgic memory of mystery and anticipation, Godzilla doesn’t leave a total disaster in its wake but neither does he do anything to linger in the memory. Summer 2014 has its first disappointment.

** 2/5

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