The big guy returns in one of the most spectacular reboots in recent history. GOJIRRRRAAAA!
There’s a moment roughly halfway into Gareth Edwards’ impossibly badass creature feature when I realised how defiantly old school it is. Hundreds of innocent civilians “protected” by an airport terminal can only watch in horror through the towering windows as two equally-towering feet land into frame with an ear-splitting thud. They’re the feet of our title “kaiju,” and despite the many millions of dollars in CGI it has taken to bring Gojira back to our screens, Edwards ensures that these feet look uncannily like a costumed stuntman lumbering into shot. This is both your grandfather’s Godzilla and an exhilarating re-invention.
What’s telling, though, is just how long it takes to get to that payoff. The litmus test here is the original 1954 Japanese film and not Roland Emmerich’s 1998 monstrosity. That critical failure is seemingly referenced in the exposition-led opening titles and the fact events begin in 1999; a good-natured wink on Edwards’ part. Like the ’54 iteration, the main focus here is on the humans who are sufficiently fleshed-out to make this silliness resonate. If you’re one of those people who get fidgety at the lack of carnage twenty-minutes into a film, then you’re going to have to attune yourself to the age-old techniques of suspense. You want this motherfucker to show up so badly that, when he does, it’s enough to get cinema patrons cheering (seriously).
The story is as utterly simplistic as it needs to be. After a power plant disaster in Janira, Japan, supervisor Joe Brody (the typically-brilliant Bryan Cranston) loses his wife and barely makes it out alive. Years later, he’s estranged from his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and seeking out answers for his loved one’s death. He knows the tragedy wasn’t a mere accident, and soon they discover the full extent of the situation; the government have been keeping the existence of enormous, dinosaur-like beings secret for decades and now the chickens are coming home to roost. There goes the neighbourhood.
If I was being entirely honest with myself, the character stuff is the least interesting part of the movie and why this review is lacking an extra star below. These are well-played roles by the cast but they’re not especially deep protagonists, and the female parts – especially Ford’s wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) – are unfortunately underwritten. We care about all of them just enough to give the set-pieces weight, and the film isn’t called Brody, after all. It’s a testament to Edwards’ command of the material that plot contrivances and occasionally corny dialogue don’t matter one bit. This is a man only one film removed from his low-budget debut – the fabulous Monsters – and you’d swear he’s been making blockbusters all his life. The narrative moves like a dream yet he never gives us too much of the title behemoth upfront. That’s commendable in this day and age.
When the shit finally hits the fan, such as Godzilla’s tsunami-raising arrival in Hawaii, it firmly becomes one of the greatest monster movies in history. We’re largely kept at ground level to sympathise with the trampled innocents, complimented by grandstanding wide shots to really take in the kaiju-on-kaiju brutality. The sense of scale is amazing and not since Jurassic Park over two decades ago have I felt so much awe over a computer-generated image. Gojira is truly terrifying in his titanic breadth, killing untold hundreds inadvertently every time he makes an entrance. The director sells the tragedy without ever spoiling the picture’s sense of fun, leading to an epic confrontation that sees a largely-evacuated San Francisco turned to rubble. It’s tough to imagine long-time followers of this venerated creation – who is all for intents and purposes the “hero” – being disappointed.
2014’s Godzilla is a triumph and a film Toho, Ltd. should be very proud of as they give it a Japanese release on his sixtieth birthday. Finally, one of the country’s most prized exports has been awarded the Hollywood iteration he deserves on a limitless budget. Edwards’ film effortlessly slots into the wider mythology and forges a fresh path that is as exciting as it troubling. Where do you go from here? Whatever the case, you can guarantee I’ll be there grinning from ear to ear. Rest assured, Gojira lives again…