Fifteen years ago a reported natural disaster brought a Japanese city to its knees as its power plant went critical, with the population being evacuated and the whole place being declared a no-go area. Now, all these years later, someone still fights to find out the truth, but when that truth involves massive, near indestructible creatures, the entire world may be at stake, unless, of course, another creature decides to fight on our behalf.
Director Gareth Edwards spent ten years on the digital FX department of the BBC; he felt like he was wasting his life, neglecting his ambition to be a filmmaker, but after winning a twenty-four hour film challenge with an impressive short, and utilising his time honed portfolio of quality FX work, he was able to convince Vertigo Films that he could produce a convincing and mature creature feature for a fraction of the budget of the average Hollywood clanger, with the proviso that he produce all the FX work himself, on his home set-up and in his own time.
And so he bombed around South America with a cast and crew that could fit in a van, a single camera, minimal kit and a script that wasn’t so much a script at all, but a collection of scene directions. No one but Edwards knew how this thing was going to turn out, but after a ridiculous amount of work Monsters was unleashed on the world, a film so slick and accomplished that it totally belied its shoe-string budget of significantly less than a million dollars, a film that stood toe to toe with the very best films released that year.
It certainly got Warner Bros’ attention, spurring them on to make the unprecedented move of offering this debut director over four-hundred times his last budget to helm one of their acquired blockbuster franchises. Godzilla seemed the obvious pick.
The first obstacle would be to wash away the taste of Roland Emmerich’s 1998 swing at the franchise, a film that very few had anything good to say about, least of all the Godzilla fans. Using a design reminiscent of the classic Japanese look placated the fans almost straight away, and the promise of the biggest monsters ever put to screen positively excited; but would this be another Man Vs. Godzilla origin story? And if so, how could that possibly live up to the example set by last year’s Pacific Rim?
In short, hell no, well, kinda, it IS an origin story but it’s also a monster mash of epic proportions, bigger even than Pacific Rim in scale if somewhat slower delivering in action, with much less of it to boot.
Let’s be honest, what’s most striking about this Godzilla, first and foremost, are the visuals. Working for so long in the FX game you would expect Edwards to have a zero tolerance approach to poor visual effects, and this is undoubtedly the case; Godzilla looks amazing. Dragging these monsters into a very real environment in which buildings crumble on impact leaving floors of detail exposed and destruction dust and debris hanging in the air gives this production more impact than any fantastical approach could.
From the ground level our first glimpses of the titular Kaiju are remarkably gigantic, this scale never lessening or losing impact as the film rolls on, though it does walk a razors edge of holding back on consequential action, risking potential audience disappointment several times before the metaphorical turd gets real. Simply put, the visuals and climax are worth your money alone.
As has been tried and tested on giant monster films since way back with the original King Kong, the narrative of Godzilla rotates around key people who’s lives are significantly affected by the presence of giant creatures (who’s wouldn’t be, right?), with this the story is deceptively simple, throwing out an occasional twist you won’t see coming but for the most part following the basic structure of numerous Toho Godzilla flicks, which is to say, being more than a little silly.
I mean those films feel silly because of the cardboard sets and man-in-a-suit-monsters, and they have silly stories to accompany, but despite the fact that everything in THIS Godzilla is photo realistic and the actors are playing it serious to a fault, there’s no getting around the fact that, with all its pseudo-science, nonsensical views of nature and selective physics, this is a tremendously daft story; which some may find off putting but this reviewer found somewhat endearing and perhaps unintentionally keeping with the franchise.
Speaking of the acting, it’s all perfectly fine, but the sense of you not caring permeates through every scene where you’re not seeing a monster, they really are the reason you’re watching the film and the human stories aren’t compelling enough to convince you otherwise.
So, predictably, Godzilla is a feast for the eyes with a couple of smart moves up its sleeve and a ridiculously, epically destructive climax, but you won’t be leaving surprised by the character depth or originality of story… It’s way better than the ’98 effort, so you can rest easy on that score.
C grade – for originality
A+ grade – for visuals
B- grade – for storytelling
A- grade – for action
B grade – for acting
Overall grade – B