How time has flown since Roland Emmerich’s big-budget version of Godzilla came and gone with a whimper that had outraged many die-hard fans back in 1998.
After the underwhelming response of that ill-fated movie, it took Hollywood more than a decade to finally rebound with another big-budget version of Godzilla. Instead of Emmerich, we got Gareth Edwards on the helm. Prior to Godzilla, Edwards is only known for directing the low-budget debut called Monsters. While Monsters had its few shares of flaws, it was notable for his impressively homemade special effects (at the measly cost of US$15,000!) that got him the lucrative gig to direct Godzilla. It’s certainly a huge gamble for Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, especially with Edwards made a sudden quantum leap from independent to big studio production for the first time ever. But rest assured that Godzilla is finally in good hands.
The story: When a series of strong tremors mysteriously shook the Janjira nuclear power plant to rubble, American nuclear physicist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is unfortunate enough to lose his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) during the tragic incident.
Fifteen years later, we are introduced to Joe’s adult son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a U.S. military bomb disarming expert, who has a nurse wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son Sam (Carson Bolde) resided in San Francisco. During that time, his father is still living in Japan while trying to uncover all sort of conspiracy theory related to the mysterious occurrence at the Janjira nuclear power plant. When Joe is arrested for trespassing a quarantined zone, Ford heads to Japan and help his father to overcome the problem once and for all. Soon, they discover that the 1999 nuclear catastrophe has somehow awakened otherworldly beasts which includes a towering monster known as Godzilla.
For a relatively new director who has no experience with big-budget studio production, Gareth Edwards really surprises me a lot the way he handles a US$160 million-budgeted Godzilla like a seasoned pro. His direction evokes a lot from the classic monster movie of the past, namely Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, where he plays around with lots of power of suggestion to build a slow but suspenseful tease before he unleashes the monster on a full-scale revelation. Such a move might frustrate some of the viewers who lack patience, but once Godzilla finally made his grand appearance, it’s certainly worth the wait.
Technically, Godzilla is stunning enough to keep your eyes hooked on the screen. Edwards knows a lot about camera placements, especially the way he uses unusual angles to showcase Godzilla and other monsters through different perspectives (such as the viewpoint of Godzilla through the windshield of a bus). Alexandre Desplat’s pulse-pounding score and Seamus McGarvey’s majestic cinematography, in the meantime, suits well with Edwards’ dramatically serious tone and epic scope of this movie.
And what about the Godzilla itself? I’m happy to say that Edwards nails the design of the famous Japanese kaiju monster that close to the spirit of the original 1954 black-and-white classic than the uninspired T-Rex clone in the 1998 version. But the biggest plus here is the impeccable sound effects of Godzilla’s famous deafening roar which often sent me into a spine-chilling sensation.
While Edwards manages to set the tone right for Godzilla, there are times where he teases way too much with slow buildup until he forgets to balance it with a more satisfying payoff. The other glaring flaw is the lacklustre acting from most of the cast here. It’s rather surprising that Edwards fails to make good use of his actors such as Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn and Juliette Binoche where they are only reduced into thankless roles. But the biggest disappointment of all is the weak pair-up of Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, in particular, spends most of the time with a blank-faced expression while Elizabeth Olsen is terribly wasted as the worried wife.
If you can get past some of the drawbacks that plagued the movie, Gareth Edwards’ version of Godzilla remains a top-notch summer movie event that lived up to most of its expectations. And best of all, he finally manages to wipe off the bad memory of the 1998 version.