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godzilla_485dca15

D: Gareth Edwards / 123m

Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Victor Rasuk, Carson Bolde, Juliette Binoche

Opening with a montage of grainy black and white footage from the Fifties that reveals the real reason for all those atomic bomb detonations in the Pacific – Bikini Atoll et al – the movie fast forwards to 1999 and the discovery in The Philippines of a massive skeleton and two egg sacs, one of which bears the signs of a recent hatching. At the same time, the Janjira nuclear plant in Japan is experiencing a series of seismic anomalies that has plant supervisor Joe Brody (Cranston) worried that these anomalies may cause damage to the plant. While his wife Sandra (Binoche) investigates below ground, there is a reactor breach and the plant is destroyed.

Fifteen years on, the site of the Janjira plant is still a quarantine area.  Joe’s son Ford (Taylor-Johnson), now living in San Francisco with wife Elle (Olsen) and young son Sam (Bolde), receives a call telling him that Joe has been arrested for trespassing in the quarantined area. Ford travels to Japan to find out what his father is up to. They go back to the Janjira plant and are promptly arrested. They are taken to a secret facility within the plant where a chrysalis containing the creature that destroyed the plant is being studied by scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Hawkins). The chrysalis hatches, releasing a massive winged monster that devastates the facility before flying off. Ford, Serizawa and Graham join an American-led mission to track the monster, which is heading for Hawaii.

In Hawaii, the creature – known as a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) – is discovered feeding on the reactor of a Russian submarine. The military attack the MUTO but it proves too much for them. Godzilla arrives to battle the MUTO but it flees. Serizawa sees the creature is headed toward the US and realises it’s trying to reach its mate, the inhabitant of the other egg sac from The Philippines, and which has been housed in a secure nuclear waste repository in Nevada. This MUTO, the female, hatches and begins heading towards the coast (but not before laying waste to Las Vegas). Serizawa is afraid the two MUTOs are making their way to each other with the intention of breeding… and if his calculations are correct, they’ll meet in San Francisco.

The military comes up with a plan to destroy the MUTOs using a more-powerful-than-usual nuclear weapon (basically two nuclear warheads strapped together). Ford goes along with the team assigned to getting it offshore far enough that it will destroy the creatures but cause minimal damage to the coastal region, but the female MUTO wrecks the train it’s being transported on and eats one of the warheads. The other is saved and flown to San Francisco. The two MUTOs meet there and capture the remaining warhead, which the female uses to build a nest for her offspring. Godzilla arrives to battle the MUTOs. While they’re distracted, Ford destroys the nest and regains the warhead, but it’s damaged and he can’t disarm it. He gets it to a boat and heads out to sea in the hope of getting far enough before it explodes. Meanwhile, Godzilla battles the MUTOs…

Godzilla (2014) - scene

One of the most eagerly awaited movies of 2014, Godzilla arrives trailing a ton of hype and pre-release fervour, but sad to say this is a major disappointment. The story is nonsensical and at almost every turn throws up a WTF? moment. There are inconsistencies galore, some of the worst dialogue so far this year, a sad waste of a more than capable cast, an incredible lack of tension or threat throughout, and the usual reliance on mass destruction to provide any thrills.  Here are just ten reasons why Godzilla doesn’t work:

1 – The characters are paper-thin and serve no purpose other than to mouth expository dialogue of the “This must mean…” variety.

2 – The cast are required to do little more than gawp and gasp at the destruction going on around them. Seriously, why employ actors such as Juliette Binoche (who had to be persuaded to take part), Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn if you’re going to give them so little to do?

3 – Inconsistency No. 1: Godzilla’s arrival in Hawaii causes a tsunami, but not when he arrives in San Francisco (perhaps the budget didn’t stretch to two such sequences).

4 – Ford has a son who isn’t put in jeopardy once; instead the writers have Ford save some random Asian-American kid when the train they’re on is attacked by one of the MUTOs (plus having Ford save his own son would have added some much needed emotional resonance to the drama).

5 – Elle is seen escaping from the destruction of San Francisco, but at no point is she in any peril; in fact she survives unscathed. What was the point of showing this (other than to give Elizabeth Olsen something more to do than make phone calls and look worried a lot)?

6 – Ford is introduced as an adult as an explosive ordnance disposal officer (and a lieutenant at that), but this skill is never utilised (it’s his relationship with his dad and his dad’s data that keeps him along for the ride).

7 – The MUTOs, even though they are supposed to be MASSIVE, seem able to appear and disappear at will.

8 – The MUTOs are attracted by nuclear radiation but the male MUTO, the one that hatches at Janjira, doesn’t stop to munch on the rest of Japan’s nuclear plants (there’s nearly fifty of them). Is MUTO love really that strong a call?

9 – How many times do the same buildings have to be destroyed in San Francisco before anyone is supposed to notice?

10 – Inconsistency No. 2: Why, if the MUTOs are supposed to have migrated towards the earth’s core for their radiation fix, is one found so close to the surface in The Philippines (and what has sustained the egg sacs)?

11 – And why was the Russian nuclear submarine found perched in the trees (on a mountainside) in Hawaii when it was earlier reported as missing at sea?

Yes, that was eleven reasons instead of ten but that just goes to show how lazy the screenwriters – all five of them! – were in assembling this narrative mess. It’s sad when a project that’s been in development for as long as this one has, falls at the first hurdle because the filmmakers couldn’t spot the problems inherent in the script (though with five writers having worked on it, maybe they did). And while this is a Godzilla movie, and what we’re looking for is some outstanding monster-on-monster action, does the rest of the movie have to be so bad? Well, the answer seems to be yes. And because the filmmakers have opted for a slow-build, let’s-keep-Godzilla-hidden approach, the effect of all this underwhelming drama is that the audience are soon praying for things to hurry up so they can get to the big showdown without lapsing into complete slack-jawed lethargy.

Once all three monsters reach San Francisco the movie does pick up, and the battle between them goes a long way toward redeeming things, though there’s still far too much cutting away to see what the human characters are up to (as if we care by now). There’s also a slightly corny moment where Ford and Godzilla share a look, but it’s the one misstep in a section where the filmmakers do get it right. And we get to witness Godzilla’s famous nuclear breath, something that will have fans cheering in their seats.

So, it’s not all bad, and the visuals (as expected) are often stunning to behold. The much-touted HALO drop is still eerily effective despite the long-term exposure given it in the trailers and the movie’s print ads, and the scenes of devastation are effectively rendered (as expected). The MUTOs have a realistic-looking solidity about them (even if they look like second cousins to the kaiju from Pacific Rim), and Godzilla himself is a leaner, meaner looking version of himself (though the problem of scale is still an issue – he’s taller in some scenes and shorter in others depending on the background). Monster-wrangling for the second time, director Gareth Edwards shows his obvious empathy for the material and despite its limitations, rescues large chunks of it from the mangler. He has a visual style and flair that is reminiscent of early Spielberg, and he has a firm grasp on how to stage the final showdown, paying special attention to the framing and using the most effective camera angles. There’s a kinetic energy to these scenes that is lacking in the rest of the movie, but it does add up to a more satisfying conclusion.

Rating: 4/10 – woeful for the most part, and just plain horrible to sit through at others, Godzilla lurches on to the big screen like the big, lumbering beast he was in the Fifties and Sixties (though minus the saggy underbelly); embarrassing to watch at times, and with no clear idea of what to do for the first ninety minutes, the movie is only slightly better than Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version, and is saved by the panache of its final showdown.

 

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