In 2010, director Gareth Edwards made his way to the festival scene by ways of Monsters, a eco-centric, sci-fi hit that introduced audiences to the wonders of large scale destruction and monsters mixed with the small scale effects of the individual characters as well as making a name for the extremely talented Scoot McNairy (12 Years A Slave, Non-Stop). Think District 9 with monsters instead of aliens. Fast forward four years later, thanks to the critical success of his first full length indie feature, and Edwards, who has been given the keys to the commercial kingdom, is front and centre in adapting the King of Monsters in only the second Americanized version since the abysmal yet highly popcorn-crunchingly entertaining Godzilla remake from Roland Emmerich from 1998. Entrusted with a massive $160 million dollar budget from Warner Bros. Pictures, after acquiring the rights of the iconic beast from Toho in 2010, Edwards proves that Godzilla reigns at destroying one thing, and one thing only, the promise of young filmmakers career’s.
Godzilla is a large beast to discuss in one review or twenty-seven for that matter (since there has been about twenty-seven film adaptations of the beast) since his birth back in 1954. For his sixtieth birthday, Godzilla has been given the royal treatment, having its largest budget to date, a strong international cast, and the biggest presence on screen thanks to a belief that bigger is better. That belief is shot down with the help of this film. With screens growing in size (IMAX, AVX, etc.), ticket prices getting a radioactive hike and the God of Monsters terrorizing cities solely based on its sheer size, something’s gotta give, but never does.
For the first time in the creature’s existence, Godzilla is not the centre of attention. In fact, the monster itself only makes up for mere minutes of the film. Adopting a very Nolan-esque, if not J.J Abrams approach to minimizing the beast’s reveal before the film’s premiere and within the film, Edwards focuses less on the destruction of Godzilla, and more on the presence monsters have on a small group of people on earth. Basically, a rehashing of Edwards’ Monsters, with a much bigger budget.
Unfortunately for Edwards, instead of keeping his vision and artistic integrity intact, he decides to allow Hollywood, and the symbol of Godzilla himself, to consume him, into something I like to call, the symptoms of a Hollywood film. Edwards succumbs to; foggy glass shots where characters wipe their windows for a big reveal at the monster; children noticing things before adults, monsters and rain (lots of it) and my favourite, crazy guy who proves us all that he wasn’t crazy. Godzilla is one big ‘told ya so’, when the summer blockbuster season is a large example of so many times we go into a film, hoping to be surprised, but being delivered exactly what we expected instead.
Like any other huge blockbuster film recently (see: The Watchmen, X: Men First Class, The Wolverine), the film begins to explain the origins of the giant lizard, this time dating it back to radioactive testings done in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the 1940’s. Deep rooted in one of the most tragic time’s in our world’s history, Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Wantanabe) explains how the radioactive bombs were done less as a test, and more of a means to destroy the unexplained and mysterious creature found deep in the ocean. Unknown to scientists then, but the monstrosity fed off the radiation being used, making it stronger as opposing to killing it. Since his disappearance, the God of Creatures has since been absent from the world. Until, in 1999, when engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston in his most annoying role yet) experiences the devastation of electrical shocks taking out the power at his radioactive plant, that leads to chaos and causes him to lose his wife Sandra Brody (Juliette Binoche) and many of his co-workers. Left to raise his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) alone, Ford grows up becoming a bomb specialist for the United States Army (how appropriate), distancing his father from his family due to his obsession with the mysteries of the events the day his wife was taken from him. Fifteen years later and after returning after fourteen months on tour, Ford returns to San Francisco to his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and his son Sam (Carson Bolde), only to be summoned by his father for some unfinished business that might lead the end of the world as we know it.
The summer movie season has recently been infamous for spewing out relentless amounts of superhero films and unexpected heroes. Godzilla is no different than any of these films, finding an unlikely hero in the process of ripping the essence of the ferocity and symbolic destructive nature that is Godzilla. One of the biggest problems of this adaptation of Godzilla lies in the dubious marketing tactics for the film. In an early Comic Con trailer, the narration of the trailer suggests the creature’s odious nature and pleasure with destruction. Based on earlier interpretations of the monster, these hints of originality and authenticity of the creature are not kept or upheld with any dignity at all for the iconic cinematic figure, instead thrown on its head and butchered.
Godzilla was a film delivering mammoth of promises to its audience. With a cast that has accolades that reach highs than many other summer popcorn flicks, Edwards decides to throw all this talent aside, kill it early on in the film or just drown it with various other, secondary, unimportant characters. From a script that is only accredited being written by Max Borenstein, with a story originating from Dave Callaham (and re-written by countless others including David S. Goyer, Frank Darabont, etc.), the script shows how fascinated it was with inducting Godzilla into various American landmarks, and focusing less on story and the development of characters. Cranston, who does whatever he can to bring new life to the ‘obsessed-crazy scientist’ opts for overacting and wooden deliveries, while Aaron Taylor-Johnson tries to steal emotion wherever he can when the audiences feels anything but emotional, and Olsen is underused as she has been in Hollywood film adaptations, like the pathetic Oldboy remake. There is not much blame we want to put on one individual as the film stomps half-heartedly along to its conclusion, but one cannot help but just blame everyone involved for a film that seems to be stunted as is Godzilla due to his immense size and inability to be freely and swiftly. Godzilla is a great example of promise for the grandiose when the ‘less is more’ formula applies.
In one of the most satisfying moments of the film, Ford is trying to join the fight against the MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) and he runs into his eventual partner and friend Sergeant Tre Morales (Victor Rasuk from the highly underrated HBO series How To Make It In America), Ford asks, “Where are you going?”, in which Sergeant Morales replies, “I guess were monster hunters now.” If only, given Edwards’ experiences as a director made him realize that Godzilla is the only name he needed to deliver a more-than stellar creature-feature and not a diverse cast of cliched characters who make a poorly made Japanese anime look good. Maybe then, Godzilla would have work. Instead, Edwards delivers not a reboot to the ironic screen giant, but a film of monsters, monster hunters, and unexplained saviours, with little to no discretion to be had.
As Hollywood evolves, it becomes clear that sometimes, obscurity and originality is Hollywood’s greatest friend. Take Cloverfield for example, which has sustained its reign as the King of Creature features since its release, and stays true to the realistic nature of the symbolism of a creatures existence; annihilation. In a cinematic world where realism is always tried to be attained, and the idea of something as catastrophic and menacing as a giant lizard roaming the streets of the world isn’t as optimistic a way to died as many would imagine. Death and destruction is imminent in creature features, and Edwards’ decision to roam away from Godzilla’s commercial and complex appeal, makes the idea of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead as appealing an idea of having a world where zombies are being taken over by humans. No, just no. Godzilla will surely make an impression on this weekend’s box office, but, once X:Men- Days of Future Past comes along, Godzilla will be an example of films exercising their size, and reiterating the age old idiom, ‘the bigger they are, the harder they fall’.
Night Film Reviews: 2 Our of 10 Stars.
Is Godzilla going to reign supreme for weeks to come, or fall hard? Is the King of Monsters back to full form or given a lazy and messy reboot? Does director Gareth Edwards succeed of reinventing the creature feature, or does Cloverfield hold the title? Leave all your movie-centric thoughts below!
Check out an example of how the marketing for the film failed miserably to show the true essence of the film itself!