Godzilla, film review: 'Fun but innately cheesy'
The question the entertaining new Godzilla movie can never quite resolve is how much cheese it should serve up with its monsters.
In the early scenes, in which husband and wife team of scientists Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche investigate strange tremors beneath the ground at the Janjira Nuclear Plant, the cheesiness is kept to an absolute minimum.
The opening credits - black and white archive footage of nuclear explosions - are full of foreboding. This is the first Godzilla since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. Its imagery of earthquakes, tidal waves and nuclear meltdown has a grimly topical resonance as a consequence.
British director Gareth Edwards, whose previous film was the micro-budget Monsters, shows extraordinary visual flair in his depiction of devastated cities and ravaged countryside. He pays exhaustive attention to sound editing, providing a mini-symphony of rumbles, shrieks, high pitched electrical whines and prehistoric courtship cries.
Cranston and Binoche don’t have a huge amount of screen time together but they bring an emotional intensity to the film that you simply don’t expect in a summer blockbuster.
The cracks in the film only really begin to emerge once Godzilla takes to the screen alongside his antagonists, the Mutos (huge creatures that look like a cross between pterodactyls and cockroaches.)
For all the loving care and digital wizardry that has gone into creating the 355ft tall monster, Godzilla here still looks as if he has just escaped from such low budget Ray Harryhausen movie shooting in somebody’s garden nearby.
Godzilla rises from the water in the new 3D movie
Once he is on the scene and fellow creatures the Mutos are wreaking havoc everywhere from Hawaii to San Francisco, the cheesiness becomes overwhelming.
Edwards has assembled a top notch cast but gives them the kind of dialogue that would barely pass muster in a Jerry Zucker spoof.
The brilliant character actor David Strathairn looks as if he is imitating Leslie Nielsen in his performance as a square-jawed, ultra-earnest US navy admiral not accustomed to tussling with monsters.
As a young scientist, part of the Monarch team that has long been on Godzilla's tail (so as to speak), Sally Hawkins recites lines about Godzilla's place "at the top of a primeval eco system" with admirable conviction - but that doesn't hide their absurdity.
As her older colleague, Ken Watanabe looks suitably anguished every time a tower is pulled down or a forest flattened or the electricity short circuits yet again.
The Statue of Liberty gets thoroughly Godzilla'd (Pic: Warner Bros)
Godzilla's status takes some time to determine. Early on, he is a force of destruction. Latterly, whatever devastation he leaves in his wake, he is seen as helping to restore nature's balance.
Against such sizable, scene-stealing and scene-wrecking opposition, the ostensible hero Aaron Taylor-Johnsen has a thankless task. He plays Ford Brody, the son of scientists Cranston and Binoche, belatedly following up on their work.
He has a wife (Olsen) and kid he hasn't seen in years thanks to his Navy duties but the filmmakers don't allow him much time to forge the familial bonds. Instead, he is whisked away to Japan in pursuit of The King Of The Monsters.
Midway through, the filmmakers seem to stop worrying about Godzilla's darker themes and instead concentrate on making an old fashioned, Irwin Allen style disaster movie, complete with buses stranded on toppling bridges, abandoned kids, collapsing skyscrapers, sinking ships and runaway trains.
It's all fun in its own (by now) very far-fetched way but reinforces the sense that Godzilla movies will never fully be able to transcend their own innate, cheesy preposterousness.
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