After all, it's just a ride….

Godzilla (2014)

god1This years Hollywood blockbuster season roars into action with the surfacing of a new franchise, Gareth Edwards eagerly awaited reboot of one of movie monsters most invincibly irradiated creations – behold the mighty Godzilla. Edwards arrived on the filmmaking scene with his guerrilla debut Monsters, a terrific little movie which was one of the Menagerie’s favourite of that year, since the critical acclaim he retreated to the deep to craft this $160 million blockbuster (not a bad promotion from his debut print cost of $500K and I’d wager at least half of that was P&A) as monster movie maniacs anxiously swished their tails in nervous anticipation  – don’t fret as broadly speaking he’s pulled it off. In terms of context I’m respectfully in awe of the 1954 original, it’s a unimpeachable benchmark of the fantasy / SF genre, but I wouldn’t consider myself in any way a kaiju enthusiast as I’ve only seen it twice I think and have only ever seen maybe three or four of the Toho sequence, although as a completest I do keep meaning to plunder and pillage through them all one day. I have less than fond memories of the late Nineties reprisal which is widely considered as one of the marketing strategy precursors of current summer behemoths, and if you’re of a certain age then of course I have to excavate this. I have been looking forward to this as I’ve been in the mood for a big, broad Hollywood howl of a movie recently, and nine figure budgets and state of the art digital carnage are always welcome around these parts. Minor spoilers will occur and I do mean minor, nothing more than the first twenty minutes of the movie which can all be gleaned from the first two trailers anyway but consider yourself warned – this movie obliterates the kindergarten affectations of last years waterlogged Pacific Rim, move over Del Toro as there’s a new titan in town…

godzillaAfter an impressive title sequence with a redacted design – and it’s quite refreshing to even see a committed title sequence these days as most Hollywood behemoths get straight into the action – the film plunges into its gargantuan annihilation. It’s 1999, and scientist duo Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe, mumblingly bemused as always) and Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) have been summoned to investigate the presence of a mysterious chamber excavated underneath a tropical mine, an ancient antechamber which bears the ominous infrastructure of a colossal rib-cage. Something has recently made an escape, and is rushing across the pacific to the Japanese coast, on a collusion course with a nuclear reactor manned by Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche). Chaos ensues, a cover-up is erected after the installation is flattened, as Brody’s adolescent son Ford is whisked to safety from the alleged earthquake. Fifteen years later and the boy is now a man, returning from foreign theatre Lieutenant Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is reunited with his wife Elle (Elisabeth Olsen) and his young son. This happy reunion is shattered however when his father arrested and he has to fly to Japan to escort him from the authorities, the old man has refused the official version of events and keeps infiltrating the restriction zone surrounding the quarantine area which was the site of his beloved wife’s death. Joe has surrounded the forbidden zone with clandestine sensors which are picking up some strange results, after talking his son into one final incursion to honour his mothers memory they stumble upon an apocalyptic secret which is slowly beginning to arise and is very, very hungry……

god3Clearly someone has been supping at the Spielberg serum as Godzilla is radioactive with the good man’s technique, and I thoroughly mean that in the most positive and laudatory way. Dumbstruck awe-shots at impossible creation? Music cued pull ins to rapt faces before CGI embellished titanic reveals? A displaced family seeking emotional and geographic reconciliation? Its Close Encounters by way of War Of The Worlds, as civilisation faces its greatest threat from a creature long dormant in the fathomless depths of a planet we thought our puny species had conquered. With some minor reservations this is a terrific blockbuster if all you’re expecting is the requisite digital shock and awe, a celluloid cheeseburger and fries which should satisfy any bombastic cravings. Pacing wise despite a rather bloated opening once the film gets into its stride around the hour mark it picks up a galloping speed and never looks back, the set-pieces build a momentum and for me (as I said not I’m not particularly kaiju crazy) it has some goosebump inducing moments as Edwards and his team build to some terrific monster movie moments. The CGI shimmers with a glistening gloomy threat (helmed by industry titan Jim Rygiel and it was great to see veteran John Dykstra on the credits), as Alexander Desplat’s frenzied score cheers on the cataclysm.

god4The film is played with the utmost sincerity and seriousness without descending into parody, so it should be applauded how Edwards and his monstrous crew have managed to keep the picture fertile for a wider casual audience and also maintained a few monster movie touches which the diehard crowd will adore. There is one climactic moment in this film toward the end which had me giggling like a maniac for about ten minutes, an early contender for genre movie moment of the year. The environmental instincts contaminate the film with tremors of every catastrophe of recent times, from the shattered buildings of 9/11 to the Indian ocean tsunami, the Fukushima deluge to the sterile serenity of Chernobyl, a quietly staged scene traversing a devastated landscape which nature has partially reclaimed instantly invokes some of the more quietly orchestrated moments of Monsters. I note from twitter that a few critics have mauled the film for lacking any human dimension, I don’t think that’s fair as quite a lot of the screen time is devoted to Ford, his relationship with his father and his dangerous attempts to be reunited with his family, whether or not these efforts succeed is another matter (emotionally they don’t) but at least, I guess, they tried. Truth be told these are the parts of the movie which will have me reaching for the remote upon a re-watch, when I go and see a Godzilla movie my overriding instinct is to see the fuck getting fucked over on everything, and on that front Godzilla shrieks like a supernova – skyscrapers shatter, cities in carnage, deafening sound design with the delicious delight of destruction.

god5If I have some reservations it’s primarily the lack of a connection to our main character Ford, he’s something of a charisma vacuum so the peril in which he is repeatedly plunged doesn’t really connect. There are some rather eye-rolling concessions to Hollywood convention where characters happen to be in exactly the right spot at the right time which bellows the coincidence gong, not to mention when you make your main character a clearly explained military ordinance defusal technician it’s clearly signposting where a certain plot strand is going to detonate. Then again and very carefully avoiding spoilers I really liked the film universe infrastructure, the genre genesis which christens the chaos inducing critter, although one element was a little confused but I can’t possibly get into that yet – maybe a missed a dialogue reading which brushed something away. But these are gnats buzzing on Godzilla’s broad back if you’re in the mood for cataclysm and CGI electrified carnage, with stentorian set-pieces the silly season has started with a Shiva induced salvo;


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