In light of Godzilla once again dramatically rising from his slumber in the ocean, angrily stomping through Japan and crashing onto the silver screen, we have decided our film-and-cinema reviews should have a distinctly reptilian tinge to them from here onwards. After all, Godzilla is practically the biggest cinematic legend going, dating back to the 1954 Japanese version (Gojira) by Ishiro Honda and holding the reputation of being one of the most remade/sequelled films ever.
And for all his gigantour-roaring-crunching splendor, one must never forget that Godzilla is in fact just an overgrown lizard who finds himself in a world where everything and everyone is tiny in comparison. Part of the aesthetic pleasure in watching him time and time again surely comes from the fact that we’ve created a monster by imagining what would happen if we blew up a teeny scuttling creature and he came back to bite us for meddling with nature. And knowing that what he really represents is the destruction caused by the atom bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (which Gareth Edwards directly references beautifully this time around), it fits in well with this idea: humanity’s progressive nature leads from inventing the telephone and the microwave to nuclear bombs. Enter big Angry Lizard God to punish us.
(We also have a bit of a thing about lizards in general, mainly because we remind ourselves of them as we scuttle around the London Underground with scaly, dry skin).
So, Amelia has devised a rating system for our films, a lizard-o-meter if you will, ascending in lizard size with how good the film is:
- Newt – bad
- Gecko – watchable/fair
- Iguana – good
- Komodo Dragon – great
- Dinosaur – unmissable
There will also be a Chameleon category, for films that we are in two minds about/disagree on/we really enjoy but is essentially a crappy film (you know the types, those guilty-pleasure viewings).
Gareth Edwards’ attempt to reboot the science-fiction-monster franchise that is Godzilla definitely deserves a lot of credit for the importance it puts upon setting out the background story adequately. The opening montage of flashing anatomical drawings of supposed monster legends, pages of Darwin’s theory of evolution, news cutting of nuclear bomb testing, ‘documentary’ footage of the bomb tests designed to hit the monster, lead us nicely into the murky legend and our own history at the same time. The tone feels aptly legendary from the get go.
If I were only rating the title sequence, this film would be in the DINOSAUR category. I would go so far as to say it is up there with some of the great modern filmic title montages of cinema (Se7en (1995), This Is England (2006), Watchmen (2009)). Like a good title sequence should, it suggests the tonal themes of the film via quick image association whilst maintaining ambiguity, showing us things that we don’t want to be explicitly told.
Everything works well to build excitement and emotional attachment to the characters until about halfway through. The focus slides from meaningful intent of both monster, investigating scientist and determined soldier son to bog-standard special effects military explosions and officials running around talking into radios, while systems start to break down all over the globe. This could have been an anxiety-building break down of human control in keeping with the theme of our experiments going too far, but instead feels messy, rushed and incoherent. The Godzilla vs Robotic-looking Insects layer felt like exactly what it was: a narrative vehicle to give Godzilla purpose that added nothing to the overarching tone Edwards seems to be going for. The main problem was that there just wasn’t enough time to evolve the rest of the film after spending so long developing the central family’s back story, as well as Godzilla’s history (literally the first hour). Unfortunately, Edwards takes us to a wonderful place but doesn’t quite pull off what the filmic foundations demand (so often the case…).
All in all, Godzilla is getting the Iguana status – a middling film that is still worth watching, still exciting and special-effect wowing, but doesn’t do itself justice where it really could have been original. He had the right intent which is encouraging, and I’m excited to see what the Monsters (2010) debuting-director pulls out next.