“When two giant radioactive monsters start attacking the US, bomb disposal expert Ford Brody finds himself caught in the middle when Godzilla awakens to hunt the monsters. Juggling his military duty with a desire to return to his family in California, Ford must stay alive whilst the battling monsters destroy one city after another in their fight to the death!”
- Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Ford Brody
- Bryan Cranston – Joe Brody
- Ken Watanabe – Dr Ishiro Serizawa
- Elizabeth Olsen – Elle Brody
- Juliette Binoche – Sandra Brody
- Sally Hawkins – Dr Vivienne Graham
- David Strathairn – Admiral William Stenz
- Richard T Jones – Captain Russell Hampton
- Carson Bolde – Sam Brody
- Monsters – Gareth Edwards
- To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Godzilla, we have a brand new American reboot courtesy of Monsters director Gareth Edwards. The direction Edwards chose resembles a disaster movie/ creature feature hybrid like Cloverfield or Pacific Rim but manages to create enough outstanding imagery to make the film unique but not emotionally engaging.
When two giant radioactive monsters start attacking the US, bomb disposal expert Ford Brody finds himself caught in the middle when Godzilla awakens to hunt the monsters. Juggling his military duty with a desire to return to his family in California, Ford must stay alive whilst the battling monsters destroy one city after another in their fight to the death.
Godzilla is a hard film to describe. To put it bluntly, there are lots of things to like but just as many things to dislike. Let’s start with the good.
The film is slow and plodding and it really, really works. The little sneak peeks of Godzilla successfully keep you excited and full of anticipation for the big finale which you know is coming. And the final battle is amazing and makes the whole movie worthwhile. The whole film is played straight and devoid of humour and that really emphasises the melancholic tone that comes from the central theme of the helplessness of man when faced against nature itself.
There is some real spectacle in this movie and it looks great. Some of the set pieces are exceptional and the visuals are always stunning. Edwards really provides a sense of the sheer size and heft to these monstrosities as they tower over the buildings. Even the opening titles where we get to see secret military footage of the attempts to kill Godzilla in 1954 and the cover up campaign claiming it was just nuclear bomb testing. Edwards has a very interesting, slow-burn film-making style and it really shows despite the massive production value upgrade since his last flick. He has a great eye for how to direct action scenes and create memorable scenes such as the fantastic HALO drop scene, where a platoon of soldiers plunge out of a high altitude drop ship and burst through two layers of cloud to find a city decimated and in the throes of a giant monster battle.
Speaking of which, Godzilla, himself (herself?), was awesome. I am not exactly a Godzilla expert but I know more than the average movie-goer about the previous films (my favourite being King Kong vs Godzilla) and I even like the 98’ US Godzilla movie (shock horror). I thought that the Godzilla redesign looked great and I appreciated the holding off on the full visual until the third act. I thought that the redesign reminded me a lot of a bear. The CGI was top of the range and the fight scenes between Godzilla and the MUTO’s were tremendous. I will admit that the amount of distortion put on the iconic roar was a little disappointing but the inclusion of the atomic breath more than made up for it, especially with the glowing spine spikes and Tesla Coil-esque charging noise. Andy Serkis did some awesome motion capture for the creature but there was little emotion in Godzilla’s plight to hunt the MUTO’s and kill them. In fact there is little reason given for why Godzilla is actually so doggedly determined to kill the MUTO’s other than ‘nature is restoring balance.’ Did he intend to eat them? Do MUTO’s taste really nice? Did a MUTO personally slight him in a previous life? They introduce the idea that the creatures were communicating underwater so perhaps one made an off-colour joke about the sexual decency of Godzilla’s mother? Mumzilla.
To be fair though, I liked the MUTO’s and the lack of explanation for their problem with Godzilla didn’t detract from the awesomeness of their battles. I thought that they were a nice design and relatively interesting but I don’t understand why some other creatures from Godzilla’s length catalogue of foes couldn’t have been used. I can understand wanting to keep the focus on Godzilla but what harm would it have caused to have made the flying MUTO Rodan? There’s a particularly nice moment when the MUTO’s first meet each other and have, what can best be described as, a nuzzle together before the male gives the female some food. It was a nice touch and very reminiscent of a scene in Edward’s Monsters.
Acting-wise the film is a mixed bag. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays Ford Brody but gives the role zero depth as he makes his way from one plot point to another. Compared to his deeper roles like Kick Ass, the character gives Johnson nothing and Johnson gives nothing back. Playing his wife, Elle is Elizabeth Olsen who suffers from the exact same problem. However Bryan Cranston is fantastic as Ford’s estranged father, Joe. He gets an in-charge scene, a running scene, a crying scene, a crazy scene, a nice scene with Johnson and in all of them he is great, showing his magnificent range as a seasoned actor. He even manages to bring Johnson’s acting up a notch. The stand out performance for me though was Ken Watanabe as Dr Ishiro Serizawa, the world’s Godzilla expert. His ability to turn up in the most important scenes in an epic stance spouting philosophy not-withstanding, I felt for him in his struggle arguing with the US military, realising his mistakes with the MUTO’s and just trying to understand Godzilla in a scientific way. He also gets one of the best moments in the film:
“We call him… [Zoom in on Serizawa’s face as he turns around and pauses] Gojira.”
Aside from using his original name, there were some other nice references for Godzilla fans such as referencing Godzilla’s first appearing in 1954 (the year the original film Gojira was released), an insect tank in the Brody home is labelled ‘Mothra’ and a news headline at the end declares Godzilla, the King of the Monsters.
Why can the monsters sneak up on people?! Seriously these monsters are ginormous but there are several times in the film where people are doing their everyday business until a giant foot appears or they find a massive hole from where a monster must have escaped silently and off-screen without alerting ANYONE. There’s also a moment where he’s swimming alongside military ships and then just zooms off and the military lose track of him – how? He’s huge, use your eyes, there’s no way you can lose something this big.
This may sound like another bizarre complaint but the editing was really boring. There are zero awesome transitions, none, it’s just end scene – cut – next scene. In an early scene, there’s a monitor in the background displaying the night-vision helmet cam of a soldier and as the scene ends, the camera slowly tracks in towards the screen and CUT – we’re in that scene. Why couldn’t we zoom into and through the screen? Night-vision is creepy; why not spend a few moments in helmet-cam? Maybe rack the tension up? That’s just one missed opportunity in a sea of monster-filled possibility.
Gozilla is surprisingly low on tension – it has buckets and buckets of spectacle but unless you count the HALO drop scene, there is no tension whatsoever. This is all because of the two central characters. It is abundantly clear that Godzilla is a ‘good guy’ who just wants to kill the MUTO’s and then get back on with his business. He has no intention on rampaging through cities, no ill will towards humanity for 1954 and the aftereffects of a creature of his size/ density coming in and out of the ocean so often on tidal patterns, tsunamis and ocean currents are minimal. The other problem is Ford. I have no idea whether it was Johnson’s intention or not but Ford is never scared, worried or doubtful – he just gets on and does things, and it’s kinda boring. Yes, I wanted him to get back to his family but I wanted him to emote along the way, I wanted this to be an emotional journey – it was at the start when he was juggling the frustration of wanting to be with his family and look to the future whilst being pulled away by the antics of his estranged father to examine the past but after that, nothing. Where is the conflict?
There is a big moment in the third act, where Ford decimates the nest of the MUTO’s, killing hundreds of their unborn offspring. The MUTO then finds him and they have an eye-to-eye moment and I wanted him to apologise. Yes, what he did was for the best of mankind but this man is a father, a parent, he must feel something after destroying the babies of another creature. Any show of guilt or reluctance would have added a much needed extra layer to his character, empathy from a human for a MUTO. But it was not meant to be.
This lack of development or evolution ultimately makes Ford into a plot device, to get us from set pieces to set pieces and plot point to plot point. The film has the same problem as Pacific Rim, where in that film Idris Elba ended up being responsible for everything of importance, in this film, Ford seemingly takes part in every single step towards defeating the MUTO’s, at times completely by himself, undermining the otherwise central theme of man’s helplessness against nature, which is constantly reiterated by Serizawa. Seriously, after several big action set pieces, he is literally the only survivor, if this film was Japanese it would have been called Godzilla vs MUTO vs Ford. Humanity should take a backseat and just let this guy settle all of our problems from now on, because he can survive anything. Except if you’ve seen the ending to the film then the chances are he probably has really, really bad cancer.
Not helping Ford’s character issues is his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) who is given LITERALLY nothing to do. Olsen is a fantastic actress and the two scenes she shares with Johnson are genuinely nice moments but when they are apart, we keep cutting to her as she is doing nothing of interest. Unsurprisingly she doesn’t get any development either; she’s not changed in any way by the world shattering events. She is just a prize to be collected once Ford finishes this videogame of a movie. Seriously though, this would make a great videogame, in fact the Japanese quarantine zone looks identical to the quarantine zone in The Last of Us.
There also a great unevenness to the film, especially comparing the first two acts with the third. The movie is full of talking – lots and lots and lots of dialogue. The pattern is pretty much 15 minutes of talking, 5 minutes of action, 15 minutes of talking etc. This continues until you hit act 3 which just becomes 35 of action with little to no dialogue. It’s quite a drastic gear change. It doesn’t help either that the whole way through we’re following the storylines of Ford, Elle, Serizawa, the Monsters and upon being separated from his mother Sam Brody until the third act when it’s just Ford. Yeah we still have Godzilla fighting the MUTO’s but all the focus is now on two events, Godzilla doing his thing, Ford doing his. Everyone else is just chilling off-screen.
Godzilla is good but not great. The monsters are handled well but the humans are handled terribly. The best performances come from the characters that actually had some third dimension but they are few and far between. It is definitely worth watching but I hope that the sequels fix a few of the issues that this one had.