Friday, 16 May 2014

Godzilla (2014)

To be honest it wasn't the fact that Godzilla was being remade that I was bothered about, it was that Monsters (2010) director Gareth Edwards was making it.  Monsters is easily one of the more interesting, atmospheric and thought-provoking sci-fi films of recent years (along with the superb District 9, 2009), and the guerilla seat of the pants production made it all the more impressive.

One of the key themes of Monsters is that nature should be allowed to take its course, and none of the creatures are naturally aggressive; it is only when humans attack them that they retaliate.  In one of the final scenes, two monsters are engaged in a display of courtship, and the two main characters (the only two characters!) appreciate how beautiful these beasts actually are.  This idea of nature being left alone is revisited in Godzilla, eloquently put by Ken Watanabe's character: "The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control, and not the other way around".

And herein lies a flaw in the film.  Laudable as it is to let nature get on with it, this translates into Godzilla and his antagonists having an almighty smack down in the middle of San Francisco, destroying half the city (a contractual obligation in these sorts of movies nowadays it seems) and all the human characters are completely inconsequential.  The military have plans involving nukes, but are frustrated at every turn; and though a human element is introduced as (having just watched his father die) soldier Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is trying to get home to his wife (Elizabeth Olson) and son; but it's all fairly banal.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it, because I really did.  Gareth Edwards is a creative director and there were several stylish moments that had no particular reason to be, they just serve to enhance the film.  He also manages to create a sense of tension on several occasions, even though we essentially know how things are going to pan out.  Consider the scene where Ford Brody and the other marines are HALO jumping; we see the character’s claustrophobic eye view through the mask, seeing only snippets of the monster and the devastation below, all the time hearing only his breathing.  Simple, yet effectively done.  Rather than do his own cinematography, this time Edwards managed to secure the services of Seamus McGarvey (Atonement, 2007; Avengers, 2012), and consequently the film looks suitably atmospheric; nicely contrasting the dusty orange glows of a city being destroyed with the bright clear lines of the military installations.  Adding to the atmosphere is a pretty great score from Alexandre Desplat, which is suitably big and thumping.

I also really liked the traditional design of Godzilla, reminiscent of the 50s and 60s Japanese movies and indeed the cartoon I remember watching when I was a kid.  I also like the design of the two MUTOs, I thought they were very much like the Klendathu “Bugs” from Starship Troopers.  There is therefore much to enjoy and celebrate in Godzilla, not least that Gareth Edwards demonstrates that Britain continues to produce some excellent directors; and the fact that the human element is rather inconsequential (other than a mechanism for us to witness the events) isn’t enough to reduce the impact of this Gojira.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

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