Godzilla *** (out of five)
Japan has never stopped making Godzilla movies but the US studios only try occasionally. The last attempt, Roland Emmerich’s in 1998, was the worst film of that year – by a long shot. Having no reason for being, it created one: replicate “first-person shooter” video games. It was boring, stupid and a monumental waste of time.
What lessons have been learned? Indeed, why make an American Godzilla? What is a Godzilla film anyway? A horror film? An action movie? A thriller? A disaster movie?
Gareth Edwards, who made a wee splash with his DIY monster flick Monsters in 2010, has realised that Godzilla is exactly, and only, that – a “monster flick”, a sub-genre with its own rules, and, unlike Emmerich, he loyally and thankfully follows them all.
The result won’t win any Oscars outside of the sound categories, but, if you’re the type of customer who will consider going to a Godzilla movie, this one is worth your while. Edwards borrows the Spielbergian style in every way – from camera moves to use of music to the gradual rolling out of the big effects – and it’s the right choice. If the monster flick is close to any other genre, it’s not horror or action, it’s “adventure”, and Godzilla is an adventurous romp with a very healthy budget, a surprisingly good cast doing surprisingly committed work, and, of course, awesome effects.
(Incidentally, I feel that special visual effects have plateaued. They can still be used very cleverly or in service to a better degree of story – see Life of Pi and Gravity – but, really, Godzilla in Godzilla is no “better” an effect than the ape in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Iron Man in Iron Man, or anything in the Lord of the Rings movies).
The elephant in the room, when dealing with a Japanese nuclear disaster theme, of course, is Fukushima, and it’s obliquely referenced with taste. In fact the whole film is tasteful – and that’s a great compliment for a monster flick, a Godzilla movie, or anything else.