Remaking and reimagining the Japanese creature feature Gojira (1954) seems to be a periodic interest of filmmakers, especially those in massively capitalised industries like Hollywood. Therefore, it’s a bold choice to choose as director Gareth Edwards, whose previous credit was a low-budget feature, Monsters (2010), renowned for its relative paucity of monsters and featuring his own self-made special effects. If this, then, is a big step up for him in terms of budget and impact, Edwards and his writer have also been quite canny in the way the film introduces its titular monster, whose existence is only hinted at for the first half of the running time.
The story retains its allegorical thrust about the hubris of humanity — reawakening this primaeval creature through the proliferation of nuclear power — though here the dinosaur is joined by a pair of huge mantis-like insect creatures called “MUTOs” (for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism — except that, as pointed out right after this term is explained in the movie, “they’re not terrestrial, they’re airborne!”). These latter are the film’s real threat, their eggs gestating for decades in massive underground lairs that resemble nothing so much as the Giger-designed pods of Alien, and which come over like steroidal versions of Starship Troopers‘ insectoid menace. The MUTOs’ first appearance in the film results in personal tragedy for scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), and fifteen years later it’s his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who muscles in on the effort to deal with the now-fully-grown threat, although Ken Watanabe’s Dr Serizawa is the one who’s really in charge.
While the primary interest for this type of film remains the punishingly monstrous creature effects (the CGI for which has a weighty feel to match those in Pacific Rim, which remains my high-water point for this kind of thing), there’s still a nice human interest drama that plays out between Ford and his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and between them and Ford’s now-paranoid dad. That said, even Cranston and Olsen’s fine acting is quickly overshadowed once the monsters are all in full flow, and it’s to the film’s credit that it all feels satisfying in the end despite the fact that nothing any of the human characters do in any way affects the drama being played out amongst the warring creatures.
Of course, it’s yet another film that takes an urban setting and delights in crushing it to bits, which seems like something that’s been a bit overdone in recent years, given it’s been the basic formula of all the recent Marvel and DC films. This time the city is San Francisco, chosen presumably for its Pacific rim proximity to Japan, and truly there’s a lot of collateral damage as the MUTOs and Godzilla square off under the impotent gaze of the American military. It’s this utter ineffectiveness of humanity in the face of Godzilla that’s the point, though, I suppose, and the film succeeds well in conveying this.
Director Gareth Edwards; Writer Max Borenstein; Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey; Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen; Length 123 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Saturday 17 May 2014 [2D].