An excruciating confession for a cinephile: I've never seen the iconic original Godzilla movie nor any of its sequels. I may have watched Roland Emmerich's Matthew Broderick-starring remake but I've blanked it out of my memory. So I come to this new GODZILLA with few expectations and little knowledge. What did I get? A movie that impressed me with its moody visuals and overwhelming soundtrack & sound design - a movie dripping with first-rate character actors and earnest good intentions. But, sad to report, it's also a movie that just left me cold - that landed like the proverbial dead fish on the screen. And when you start to really pick it apart, you realise that underneath all that gorgeous production design what you have is a pretty hackneyed and muddled script with cardboard cut-out characters and less courage than it might have done.
So here's the story. An earthquake hits a Japanese nuclear plant (too soon?) and a young kid loses his scientist mother (Juliette Binoche - earnest cameo). Fast forward twenty odd years and that kid's now an army bomb disposal expert (Aaron Johnson) sceptical of his father's belief that it wasn't an earthquake at all. He follows his dad (Bryan Cranston with hair!) to the original site, witnesses the monster first hand, and returns to the USA via Hawaii in the wake of its attacks. Caught up in the military response he colludes in a plan to lure the monster with a nuke, off which it apparently feeds. But of course, it's not so simple. Because that monster is itself being hunted by another larger foe- Godzilla himself.
I love the idea that Godzilla is not the key threat and the twist in the tail that only the Japanese scientist (Ken Watanabe) at first perceives. I also like the way in which the screenwriters, Max Borenstein and David Callaham (THE EXPENDABLES) try to respect the original timeline of the Godzilla movies and create a kind of continuity. But I hate pretty much everything else that has to do with story. The way that each generation of men has to have a picture perfect family with a cute kid. How we know the good guys are good guys because they are good fathers. How the hero's wife (Elizabeth Olsen) has nothing to do but look concerned and cry. How actors as good as Sally Hawkins get lost in the chaos. If the movie had had any balls whatsoever, someone in that family nut wouldn't have made it. There's just a complete lack of relief from good people looking earnest and trying their damnedest to help out. Even the bloody monster isn't exempt.
All of which is a crying shame because the young British director Gareth Edwards (MONSTERS) has made a quite stunning leap from micro-budget creature-features into the big time with a confident and visually wondrous palette in GODZILLA. I guess it's just a shame that his movie didn't have some of the wit of PACIFIC RIM because it sure as hell has the 2-D characters.
GODZILLA has a running time of 124 minutes and is rated PG-13 in the USA and 12A in the UK.
GODZILLA is on release in the USA, Belgium, Switzerland, Egypt, Finland, France, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, the UAE, Albania, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, the Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, the UK, Georgia, Greece, Hong Kong, Croatia, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, South Korea, Kuwait, Lebanon, Montenegro, Macedonia, Mexico, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Portugal, Serbia, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, Slovakia, Thailand, Ukraine, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Cyprus, Estonia, Spain, India, Indonesia, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Latvia, Panama, Poland, Romania, Turkey, Taiwan, Uruguay, Venezuela, Vietnam, South Africa, Afghanistan, Fiji, Liechtenstein, Bangladesh, Iran and Trinidad and Tobago. It opens on May 22nd in Cambodia and Pakistan; and on June 13th in China and on July 25th in Japan.
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