Reviving Toho’s gargantuan behemoth for his 60th birthday was always going to prove a tall order, and with Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Ken Watanabe among the cast, director Gareth Edwards set expectations high for an action packed summer blockbuster to dwarf all others. However, as the old maxim runs, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall”.
Having doubled in size since his early outings in 1954, the Godzilla of 2014 has transcended mere monster status to become, as Watanabe’s Dr. Serizawa puts it, an “alpha predator”, “a god”, “a way for nature to restore the balance” when faced with the threat of the radiation hungry MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms). Indeed, the creators of the giant kaiju have claimed that his latest incarnation would have taken a single computer 445 years to render in his full city-crushing glory.
While the visual effects of the film are impressive, delivering not just one but three gargantuan beasts to wreak havoc on a cross-continental scale, these effects are most certainly the strongest aspect of an ultimately underwhelming package. While Cranston and Taylor-Johnson have had recent success with Breaking Bad and the Kick-Ass films respectively, it feels as though they have been cast largely to lend Edwards’ film credence as a crowd pleaser rather than because they were particularly suited to their respective roles. Although there is little to complain about in their performances, they are unable to bring weight to a script laden with sci-fi clichés that just don’t quite ring true; talk of secret organisations, government plots and godlike monsters are delivered in deadpan close-ups which are unfortunately more laughable than dramatic.
The problem, perhaps, is Alexandre Desplat’s overbearing score. His insistence that the music must be performed by “an orchestra which is stupidly big, as big as Godzilla” is perhaps justified in certain of the action sequences, but his attempts to “emphasise [the] character’s broken souls” through orchestration is akin to employing a truncheon to create poignancy from the performances onscreen.
Similarly, with a Spielberg-esque emphasis on filial relations, Edwards focuses on the vulnerability of children in the onset of monster-led destruction. He sets Taylor-Johnson’s Ford up as a figure of patriarchal protection, suggesting a concern with the wellbeing of the innocents who suffer as the city is destroyed around them which is rarely seen in blockbusters of this nature. Unfortunately, this concern seems limited to the central characters, serving more to portray Ford as a noble protector in parallel to Godzilla than to suggest any preoccupation with the victims of the natural disasters which the kaiju might be seen to allegorise.
Indeed, it seems almost as though Edwards views the human element of the film, which serves as the central focus for the first half of its 123 minute runtime, simply as a platform for the ensuing monster romp. Even in moments which should, or at least could, serve to build tension or emotional depth, the film’s tone has a tendency to jar. One such instance sees an incongruously comic news montage utterly puncture the atmosphere of frantic worry felt by Ford’s wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) as she tries desperately to discover her husband’s whereabouts.
Ultimately, Edwards’ reboot of the Japanese titan is underwhelming in the wake of the build up which preceded it; despite its prominent cast, its unfortunate tendency to lapse into B-movie style moments of incongruous (and, one suspects, unintentional) comedy has the effect of making Godzilla feel like an echo of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013), minus the self-aware sense of humour. However, flawed as it is, Edwards’ film is enjoyable enough, not least for the sheer spectacle of the battles between the CGI behemoths which form the greater part of its second half.