In Review: Godzilla

by Martyn Conterio on 15/05/2014


The film industry reacted to the wartime bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the ‘creature feature'; pulpy sci-fi tales (of varying budgets) featured humans, insects and reptiles mutated to gargantuan sizes stomping over towns and cities, all thanks to pesky radioactive leaks and misuse of science and technology. The subtext – an updating of the Prometheus myth and the dreaded realisation we finally had the means to our own mass destruction – was explored in genre films throughout the 1950s.

Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is a Hollywood monster movie whose traditional appetite for destruction is countered by a melancholic temperament. It has united the origins of Ishirō Honda’s 1954 film to 21st century events such as 9/11 and Fukushima. Stylistically, it is superb. Painterly, widescreen compositions – all billowing smoke plumes, dust and debris, dead bodies strewn like discarded litter, scorched earth and the mangled stumps of once tall buildings – reflect the horror with weighty, real-life resonance, and this in a genre (the blockbuster) that often relishes mass destruction spectacle as a USP. Upon Godzilla’s entrance proper the haunted, impressionistic grandeur dons combat fatigues. JMW Turner becomes Robert Capa.

Godzilla is packed with apocalyptic visions and a humbling sense of awe. Nature is all about checks and balances. We screw with nature and it will screw with us. Here, the Pacific Rim is transformed into a sprawling atrocity exhibition. In other words, Edwards wants the audience to engage emotionally with the death imagery as much as savour the majesty of Godzilla.

Unfortunately, the plot is missing the vitality of the subtext and aesthetic accomplishment. The cast: Juilette Binoche, Elizabeth Olsen and Sally Hawkins are given very little to do. The men, however, get involved in large-scale action sequences around the toes of the lizard king. Everybody is playing second fiddle to a CGI beast, of course, but it’s shoddy stuff, and Godzilla does suffer. The major ‘human’ focus is on Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s luckless bomb disposal expert – he’s just back from a tour of duty – wandering Ulysses-like around various locations trying to get home to worried wife and standard-issue moppet.

Martyn has awarded Godzilla three Torches of Truth

3 torches cropped

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