Saturday, 20 September 2014


Actually, you might not know, because the filmmakers have done a nice job keeping certain plot details under wraps and it would be a shame to give the game away here. Suffice to say, Godzilla isn't the creature that emerges from the ruins of that nuclear plant (this particular monster has wings), but he does arrive on the scene soon after because, as Dr. Serizawa helpfully exposits, he's essentially a giant environmental defense mechanism that's activated whenever the natural order of things is disturbed by the stupid tinkering of mankind. The fact that he's still an enormous monster capable of toppling entire cities means, of course, that the military still feels obligated to target him in addition to the other creatures. Ford reluctantly participates in some of these missions, which take him from Honolulu back to his home turf in the Bay Area.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Monsters was the way that Edwards used his low budget to his advantage, depicting the damage wrought by the aliens, while keeping glimpses of the E.T.s themselves few and far between. He brings the same approach to Godzilla for much of the movie's runtime, eschewing full body shots of the various monsters crashing about the frame in favor of ground-level perspectives that zero in on specific body parts—a leg, a tail, an occasional glimpse of a face— and God's-eye-view images of the carnage they leave in their wake. And in a nice touch, many of the earthbound point-of-view shots are often framed through windows, windshields and other human eye-level objects as a way to further emphasize humanity's role as a spectator in the primal clash of these larger-than-life beings. (Edwards also makes strong use of the new Dolby Atmos technology in choreographing his symphony of destruction; the creatures’ roars frequently become part of the geography of a given action sequence.) Where Emmerich went for cheap thrills, Edwards strives to inspire a sense of majesty and awe, and the bold visual choices he makes demonstrate an intelligence and forethought that can seem all too rare in the realm of blockbuster filmmaking.

At the same time, though, he's still hampered by some of the things that torpedo so many blockbusters, not to mention some of the older Godzilla movies: flat writing, poor characterizations, and the absence of any compelling human drama amidst the carnage. At least in the Japanese films, the humans were rarely intended to carry the story, ceding center stage to Godzilla and his ever-expanding cast of friends and enemies. By deliberately limiting the audience's view of the star attraction for so much of the film, Edwards creates a vacuum that the flesh-and-blood actors are required to fill and the results are mixed at best. While reliable character actors like Cranston and David Strathairn (who plays a high-ranking military officer) endeavor to make the most of their underwritten roles, Taylor-Johnson and Olsen struggle to register as heroes whose fates the audience is meant to be invested in. It says something that, when the final battle rolls around, viewers will be far more interested in Godzilla's survival than whether Ford makes it through unscathed.

That climactic sequence also speaks to something else the film, for all its creative ambition, sometimes lacks: a sense of showmanship. As cheesy as so many of the Godzilla sequels are, the filmmakers understood the simple appeal of watching two (or more) giant monsters slug it out early and often. Edwards, on the other hand, holds back on unleashing the full might of his titans until the very end, and while the finale is appropriately rousing, it makes the preceding set-pieces play more like teasers than complete scenes. (In that sense, a showy spectacle like Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim is almost a more classic Godzilla movie than Godzilla, as it never stints on the monster action, starting big and routinely upping the ante from there.) Though it understands the size of the character's big-screen legacy, Godzilla errs by not taking full advantage of his might.
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