Monday, June 2, 2014

Movie Review: Godzilla

Gosh it's been a while since I posted here. Which is mostly due to work, then exams, then holidays, a pretty solid barrage of "real life" intruding on my "geek life". On the plus side, some of this has involved doing things, and seeing things I can then go on to write about, as and when I manage to find the time to do so. And here we are. Part of the joy of being on holiday is cinema trips, and part of the joy of having a son who is now 12 and heading into full-on geekdom himself, is that we get to go see some of the really big, fun movies that dominate the summer. So last week, given a choice between X-Men: Days of Future Past and Godzilla, we went for the latter.

Godzilla is one those oddly bold choices for a huge summer blockbuster. The last attempt to westernise the big lizard was a terrible, terrible movie that may have made money, but was hardly something audiences would remember fondly. The Toho Studios films are warmly thought of within fans of that genre, but fans of the genre hardly made a smash hit out of Pacific Rim, did they? And finally, it's directed by Gareth Edwards, who made the pretty cool Monsters, but this was a big step up in scale (pun intended) for him. Probably mindful of all of this, the trailers have front-loaded the presence of Bryan Cranston as an acting lead and cut footage together of a disaster movie, not a Monster-em-up, which probably played better with anyone unfamiliar, but is possibly the root cause of some of the "not enough Godzilla" complaints you may have heard.

To start with that last point, it's just nonsense. What Godzilla does is take the broad structure of a film like say, Jaws, and build the film up with hints and snippets as it goes, leaving the focus on it's human characters for much of the running. We see a lot of the movies monsters, but never clearly, always hints, or fragments, or in one instance, on a TV news report, so the scale is apparent, but never just up there for you to marvel at. It's a more conventional film that del Toros Pacific Rim, which has big Kaiju action right off the bat, and handles a lot of its characterisation through things like costume design which clearly left a lot of people cold for all it was one of my favorite films of last year.

Back to Godzilla then, and the more conventional human stories are pretty familiar on the whole; some daddy issues, a "getting back to the family" emotional narrative, and some conspiracy theorist stuff which is pretty well done but nothing you won't have seen before. Again, it's a disaster movie vibe for much of the films first and second acts, which builds the tension nicely, and sets the stage nicely, but does feel a little like waiting for the curtain to rise properly. But when it does, boy is it a lot of fun.

Ken Watanabe is awesome in everything, by the way. If there is anything that Godzilla does really well - and really faithfully - it's the final showdown. Having spent its time establishing both its human, and monstrous stakes, the film just lets rip in the middle of San Francisco in what is a gloriously fun final act. Its well choreographed, clearly shot, and lets the humans have something useful to contribute without kidding you that they can somehow hurt any of these massive creatures. Everything comes together like clockwork, a lot of happy buttons are pressed - especially the Atomic Breath, which had both my inner 12-year old and my actual 12-year-old bouncing up and down on the seats. Everything pays off, which is surprisingly rare these days.

I think we made the right choice that weekend!