Monster? I Identify as Kaiju! A Godzilla Review

By Charlie Higson


 

Beware, Here Lurk Spoilers.

For many, the lolloping escapades of giant prehistoric monsters have been overdone, or at least, do not need to be done more than once. However, for those who enjoy their large scale action, another American remake of the legendary Japanese Film franchise Godzilla is too tantalising to miss.

Despite being one of the most overdone genre’s in cinema history, it has been shown that large scale science fiction monster films can still be fresh. Cloverfield and Pacific rim are examples of these; different takes on an old genre that give the audience a real reason to watch another city get boomed.

As well as being the most famous kaiju to make it big in western cinema, the draw of Godzilla was that it offered a portrayal of the monster that had only previously existed in the Japanese film series; Godzilla as the hero. Godzilla has fought his fair share of kaiju and the eagle eyed among us will have seen the presence of other monsters in the films trailer.

This film gets half way to achieving its heavy action goals, with some genuinely astounding action sequences which unfortunately get stale coming to the closing scenes. The director literally ran out of buildings to destroy as some of San Fransisco’s skyscrapers are destroyed multiple times. Nonetheless, visually the film was stellar and well worth seeing for those who enjoy the occasional action binge.

On an emotional level the film delivers, as long as Brian Cranston is on screen. As a far more interesting character than his son, Cranston offers some grade A acting which frankly overshadows Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Alternative routes to gain an audience on an emotional level are trite (ie. A helpless wife and an endangered son). Elizabeth Olsen as Taylor-Johnson’s wife offers the emotional depth of a wet fart and Ken Watanabe (playing the part of the monster’s number one fangirl) seems perpetually distracted, supposedly by the Godzilla fan-fiction he’s writing in his head.

Furthermore, Cranston and Taylor-Johnson start out with a strained father son relationship which seems to promise emotional progression but never does. I know it sounds strange to ask for in a sci-fi monster movie but without the mushy stuff it really is just a load of collapsing buildings.

A huge let down to the film is the pacing. Initially the film builds the audience’s anticipation to the reveal of the title monster, and reveals instead his rival kaiju Muto in an expert twist. However, progressing into the second half of the film we enter a tragically boring slump that we only barely make it out of for the climactic battle ending.

Possibly the most ridiculous response to the film has been regarding the shape and size of Godzilla. This may have been brought on by western audience’s expectations for a slim, serpentine creature similar to that in Roland Emmerichs 1998 film. And, since Godzilla does rumble around like a potato with rabies, it is hard to blame some critics dubbing him ‘fatzilla’. Still, Godzilla is supposed to rumble around like a potato with rabies! Yet another unrealistic standard of beauty!

This viewer’s favourite feature was the soundtrack. The entire film was an effort to be faithful to an older Godzilla and the score possibly did the best job (composed by Alexandre Desplat). Though probably not something you’d download to your Ipod, it was true to the sound of an old school monster horror film with an element of contemporary blaring thriller thrown in for good measure.

Ultimately I could appreciate the films efforts to stay true to its Japanese roots, and in many ways this was done superbly. However, despite this the film was overall unsatisfying. A second Godzilla film has been announced after high ticket sales over the first weekend. I would be interested to see a second as writers have over 35 Japanese films worth of Godzilla lore to work with. To fill another 2 ½ hours the writers are going to have to do something interesting right?

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