“The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control”: Godzilla Review

GODZILLA

More than living up to the promises of its trailers, Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla is almost overpoweringly tense and suspenseful, but in the year that marks the 60th anniversary of cinema’s most iconic dinosaur, why is now the right time for a new take on the Godzilla story?

Since the release of the first Godzilla film by Japanese studio Toho in 1954, the eponymous “monster” has spawned an incredible legacy including numerous TV and film spin-offs. Unlike most of these, however, Gareth Edwards‘s new addition to the franchise possesses a political and emotional resonance that harks back to the original, while reaching far beyond it in scale and ambition.

_KF14095.DNGLike the original, what makes this film so intensely powerful is its grounding in real, world-changing events. Rather than simply focusing on the effects of one destructive act, however, Edwards brings together elements of several, capturing the incomprehensible nature of the devastation wreaked by war, terrorism and natural disasters. The result is a film that is less anti-nuclear and more anti-human irresponsibility in general, serving as a cautionary tale against, in the words of Dr Serizawa, “the arrogance of man”. Think of almost any major disaster from 9/11 onwards, and you’ll probably be able to spot some sort of visual reference to it in Godzilla.

Part of this involves showing how powerless such events leave us feeling: virtually every shot is carefully crafted to highlight the smallness of humanity when set against the forces of nature and the vastness of the world we inhabit. Right from the opening scene, crowds of people are shown from above, scrabbling like little insects around a gigantic pit. This is only reinforced when Godzilla himself appears. Bigger than any skyscraper, he renders buildings as insignificant as ant hills, helicopters as ignorable as flies.

Simultaneously terrifying and beautiful, the depth of each shot is breathtaking, layered like a series of enormous paintings, often rendered even more striking in 3D. This comparison is clearly one that the creative team were conscious of: during the film’s HALO jump sequence, we are presented with a John Martin-esque apocalyptic vision. At the same time though, outside of the existence of monsters, nothing stretches too far beyond the realms of believability, right down to the camera angles: Edwards has said that it was important to him not to put a camera “anywhere a camera can’t go”. There are a number of hand-held sequences, giving the film a kind of documentary feel even in its most dramatic moments. Efforts at realism even GODZILLAextend to the ominous opening titles, where snippets of text hinting at the “truth” of the story are quickly crossed out before they can be fully read, suggesting the suppression of documents practised by governments around the world. There are also a ton of visual references to the first Toho Godzilla, as in the design of the Brodys’ Janjira home, which mirrors that of Dr Yamane and his daughter Emiko.

Edwards’s strikingly visual method of storytelling was clearly a major factor in casting decisions. Dialogue is relatively sparse, yet every one of the actors can say more in a look or action than many could given a long speech. Leading man Aaron Taylor-Johnson conveys a strong sense of interiority as Ford Brody, his soulful eyes full of fear, pain and determination, often all at the same time. His training in military bearing under technical advisor Sergeant Major James D. Dever also clearly paid off – at times, we feel he wouldn’t be out of place in a Vietnam movie. As with his career-changing role in Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston brings to his character a rich and complex emotional life. Ford’s father, Joe, is a broken, desperate man, yet for very different reasons to Walter White. His family relationships are especially compelling, both with his son and with his wife, Sandra, (Juliette Binoche) with whom he has a convincing chemistry. Strengthening the link with the Toho original, the fantastic Ken Watanabe plays Dr Serizawa, the son of his 1954 namesake (his first name, Ishiro, a nod to the earlier film’s director). As before, Serizawa is the only man with the knowledge to save the world, and is reluctant to assist the military out of a grave fear of humanity’s destructive impulses: you can almost see Hiroshima written into the creases of his brow. With fellow scientist Dr Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), he has an almost symbiotic partnership. As Hawkins herself says, “When you meet them, you see that they’re almost telepathic in how they communicate.”

_KF10258.dngInterestingly, though, it’s not only the humans we feel for. Amongst Edwards’s greatest talents is his ability to create monsters that feel alive, with as much emotional power as the real actors that surround them. His ability to foster empathy for his CGI creations was praised in his previous film, Monsters, but in Godzilla, this is taken to a whole new level, where perhaps the film’s most tear-jerking moment is one involving no human characters at all.

This is also due in large part to the sound work of Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn. The otherworldly roars they have created induce primal responses in any listener: on a simple animal level, their hugeness is frightening, but at the same time, they are full of feeling and meaning, amazingly able to make us sympathise with beings that could kill us without even noticing.

Godzilla’s only real disappointment is its ending. Avoiding spoilers, there’s something a little too easy and anti-climactic about how things finish off that doesn’t quite match the tone of the rest of the film. Still, this is a staggering achievement, worthy of any Hollywood giant, let alone a filmmaker just beginning to make his name. Whatever his next project, it’s probably safe to say we can expect great things from Gareth Edwards.

Godzilla crashes into UK cinemas on Thursday 15th May. Check out the extended trailer here.

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1 Comment

  1. […] you’ve yet to watch Godzilla, you can read our spoiler-free review here, or if you’ve already seen the film, check out our footage from the press conference […]

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