With his 2010 film, Monsters, Gareth Edwards proved that he was adept at crafting a world believably inhabited by both humans and giant beasts, even when on a shoestring budget. With Godzilla, he has achieved largely the same thing, although this time with an enormous amount of studio money. Putting this to good use, Edwards’ Godzilla is a film which sets a high mark for all other effects-based movies, with some of the most jaw-dropping moments that anyone is likely to see this year. Not only that, but the human element, whilst occasionally strained and never quite matching the pure brilliance of the monster sequences, is a lot better than is to usually be expected in stories of this ilk, helped greatly by an impressive cast.
This human story follows bomb disposal officer Ford Brodie (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) around the world as he attempts to come to grips with the emergence of 300 foot primordial beasts as well as return safely to his wife (Elizabeth Olsen, relegated largely to being a panicked voice at the end of a phone call). Matters are further complicated by the fact that Ford’s dad (Bryan Cranston) is getting himself into all sorts of trouble attempting to unearth what really happened when his nuclear plant melted down 15 years earlier. If this sounds like the plot is not really centred on Godzilla, that’s because it really isn’t. Despite lending his name to the title, the King of Monsters only really makes himself known at the film’s climax, after a about 90 minutes of teasing.
Whilst this may be off-putting for some, I thought it worked. Too much monster action and the collateral damage they cause merely by existing would have become exhausting and boring over the run of a film this length. Instead, Edwards cleverly keeps the monsters largely off-screen for the middle of the film, showing the audience instead the destruction in their wake or have them appear only in news broadcasts, until the final payoff, which is really quite extraordinary. The effects are mind-boggingly good, in a way that very few other blockbusters can even hope to match (Inception and Gravity are the only ones which spring to mind), making the creatures worryingly real. The MUTOs (the more insectoid beasts from the trailers) genuinely appear alive, especially in one sequence where the male and female of the species attempt a courting ritual (a nice callback to one of Monsters’ most outstanding scenes). And then we have Godzilla himself. A brilliant, hulking force of nature that is faithful to the original rubber suit from the fifties as well as a landmark achievement in modern CGI; the effects team have even managed to imbue the giant lizard with a sort of personality, with any close-ups of his face revealing a certain something behind his eyes.
These factors all come together in a huge finale (the film is a big one in every sense of the word) which more than makes up for all the teasing. Godzilla’s combination of intelligent character and force of nature means that the battles are both animalistically brutal and excellently choreographed (one of Godzilla’s kills is likely to rank as 2014’s best) and at no point do any cracks or hints of laziness come through, despite the clichéd use of the Golden Gate Bridge as a sight of major destruction.
This unadulterated praise cannot be levelled at the humans, however. This is not to say that the acting or screenwriting is actually bad (although lines like ‘it’s not the end of the world’ should always be met with a groan), more that it is evident that more effort went into the creatures, and rightfully so in a film titled Godzilla. Then again, as we are given so much time with the humans, it would have been nice to see something more outstanding. The inclusion of Bryan Cranston is undoubtedly a boost, but scenes without him (and the trailers definitely implied more Cranston than you actually get) have a noticeably Heisenberg-shaped hole in them. Everyone else is perfectly adequate, and Ken Watanabe – playing a perpetually amazed scientist – is always the man to call when you need someone to deliver a line that is both wise and ominous, but it has to be acknowledged that, away from Godzilla, the film can sag.
However, that is not a dealbreaker in a film of this nature. Yes, we have to spend a lot of time in the company of humans, the majority of whom are not particularly remarkable, but their story is still well-constructed and bookended by genuinely extraordinary monster sequences. Everything looks absolutely phenomenal, combining small touches with events of an epic scale and the eponymous Godzilla is a stomping, roaring masterclass in how to use CGI. This is a film that begs and deserves to be seen on the biggest screen you can find. All hail the King of the Monsters.