Reviewed by: Max Crawford

"The eventual climactic monster showdown is everything a Godzilla fan could hope for."

If you're a film in 2014 and you're still relegating female characters to “tragic backstory” or “hero's moping wife” roles, you need to sit down and have a word with yourself. The only female character with any real agency in Gareth Edwards' Godzilla is a 300-foot monster that eats nuclear submarines.

It's a shame, because it's the sort of film you want to be shouting about from the rooftops, and adding niggling little caveats somewhat ruin the effect. Not only is it an astounding spectacle, it's a proper Godzilla movie, spitting atomic fire in the face of Roland Emmerich's misbegotten 1998 atrocity. The opening titles set the tone: over a montage of 1950s atomic bomb tests, the credits appear alongside tantalising snippets of information which are quickly whited out as if by a censor. The sequence was designed by Kyle Cooper, the man behind the main titles for Se7en and every other film with a decent main title sequence, and it neatly reflects the teasing approach taken to revealing big G himself. That's right, there's plenty of trivial human nonsense to be gotten out of the way before we encounter any monsters at all, let alone their king.

If you simply must have humans in your film, Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche are two pretty solid picks. Their early scenes in a nuclear power plant in Tokyo lend the film a grounding and emotional heft that's rare in a summer blockbuster. That both are quickly phased out to make room for Aaron Taylor-Johnston is a bit of a clanger. A T-J is perfectly adequate in a Shia LaBeouf meets Brendan Fraser meets some actual acting ability kind of way, but he spends an awful lot of screentime looking slightly agog and staring into the middle distance.

Taylor-Johnston plays Ford Monstermagnet, son of the aforementioned nuclear technicians and a Lieutenant in the US Navy. His mutant power is that everywhere he goes is immediately attacked by giant monsters, conveniently keeping him at the heart of the action throughout the film. His secondary mutation causes adorable children to similarly gravitate towards him, in order that they might be imperiled and then heartwarmingly saved. His wife is played by Elizabeth Olsen, in one of those throwaway nothingy roles that are supposed to make you care more about the main character because he has a wife and child. Seriously, stop doing this.

After a fair bit of setup and some classic science exposition from Ken Watanabe, we finally get down to a bit of monster action. A huge creature hatches, trashes some stuff with EMP blasts, and then promptly unfurls its wings and flaps off, with the US Navy in baffled pursuit. They're far from the only monster hunters in the ocean, however…

More science exposition follows, along with a few fleeting glimpses of our eponymous hero, but nothing really kicks off as it becomes apparent he's being saved for the finale. Sally Hawkins, star of Mike Leigh's excellent Happy-Go-Lucky, gets about five lines as Ken Watanabe's sidekick. Honestly, film, we talked about this. The US Navy busily gets on with ignoring all the advice of the monster expert they travelled all the way to Japan to collect, reinforcing the film's major subtext as they do so (spoiler alert: it's about nuclear weapons).

The eventual climactic monster showdown is everything a Godzilla fan could hope for. The monster fight scenes are incredible, the visuals sumptuous, and the humans manage for the most part to keep themselves out of the way. The few moments of human-monster interaction are nicely judged, and one combat manoeuvre in particular will likely raise a cheer from the Toho fans in the audience.

For Gareth Edwards to come from low-budget debut Monsters to something of this scale is nothing short of incredible. It's the Godzilla movie Spielberg might have made, and for all its flaws it deserves to rampage all over the box office.

Reviewed on: 14 May 2014
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Monsters from the deep confront each other and pesky US forces in a special effected fight to the death - in 3-D
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Angus Wolfe Murray **1/2

Director: Gareth Edwards

Writer: Max Borenstein

Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Juliette Binoche

Year: 2014

Runtime: 123 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US, Japan


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