At cinemas now
Directed by Gareth Edwards
Screenplay by Max Borenstein
Starring Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Elisabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins

Can Gareth Edwards and co deliver a convincing take on the most famous giant lizard in the world?

Part of the charm of the original Godzilla films is the fact that the monster is clearly a man in a big lizard costume knocking over models. This wouldn’t really work on modern cinema screens so the trick is to make us believe that we are really seeing something very large and very dangerous rampaging around the city. In that respect Gareth Edwards’ new version succeeds.  Over two hours he employs a dazzling variety of visuals to bring us close up into the action. While some have complained about the relative scarcity of full scale appearances from the beast itself this is the film’s biggest asset because it builds and builds tantalising us with glimpses and distant sightings before revealing an awesomely realised Godzilla.
"I'm not entirely sure that I am the danger now"

In 1999 American scientist Joe Brody (same surname as Jaws’ lead character - probably not a coincidence) is running the Janjira nuclear plant in Japan when something stirs underground triggering a series of events that leaves the facility destroyed and his wife dead. Fifteen years later we find Brody living in a down at heal apartment whose walls are plastered with newspaper cuttings and statistics related to the disaster as he desperately tries to discover the truth that he believes the authorities are hiding. His arrest when trespassing on the out of bounds remains of the site lead to his son Ford  -who as a child witnessed the events from a distance and is now a soldier- coming to bail him out.
In his first post Breaking Bad outing Bryan Cranston adds a vital urgency to Brody’s crusade with Aaron Taylor Johnson able to convey Ford’s refusal to confront the past despite not getting enough dialogue. The two work well together so it is a surprise when Brody senior is killed during a sequence as another monster buried beneath the same site awakens. It’s a terrific introduction to what the military call a MUTO, and which resembles a sort of giant pterodactyl. Cast adrift without his father, Johnson’s character suffers somewhat from being similarly abandoned so that he is one of a number of interchangeable soldiers and scientists who do battle with what turns out to be a trio of threats.
The film has a fantastic sense of scale and its impressive how Gareth Edwards and his team marshal what could easily become an unlikely scenario. What transpires- rather than the expected Godzilla storming the city- is that humans are merely in the way as the lizard battles a male and female MUTO across the world. 

Possibly aware that we might be suffering from collapsing building fatigue after a slew of superhero smack downs, Edwards shrouds these situations in dust and interesting light. We view the ferocious creatures from any number of angles and there are several spine chilling situations. At one point Ford is lying on a vulnerable railway bridge as the MUTO moves beneath it; another time Godzilla’s head appears through clouds of dust. Busy cameras capture the momentum of the destruction with a randomness so a flick of a tail or a stray claw causes mayhem for the little people below. Sometimes Edwards cameras are still as Godzilla approaches underwater- the temptation to duck from the safety of our seats is nearly irresistible. One aspect that is particularly effective is the sound effects with Godzilla’s roar making the seats shake!
The trail of destruction seems to mirror very well -known recent events whether the Philippines Tsunami, Fukushima nuclear disaster or 9/11. During the many sequences of devastation our view is from the ground, how people would see it. The allusion to real events is inherent in the script through the use of the 1940s nuclear explosions, cleverly re-edited to show the bombs were actually dropped to kill Godzilla. The monsters themselves could be seen as allegories for global warming and our technologically advanced society’s inability to stop forces of nature. Near the climax an analogue bomb even has to be used.
The original films were partly made by Japan in response to events like Hiroshima but here Max Borenstein’s screenplay hedges around the issue because while nuclear weapons feed the MUTOs they also seem capable of destroying them. Is the film therefore suggesting that they are a good and a bad thing?
Inevitably the characters become overwhelmed by the action though there is some effort to keep them in the picture with grim pronouncements from experts and stoic decisions by the military but all of these are more expositional than emotional. Ford’s wife Elle keeps us in touch with the human side at first though being a nurse you’d imagine the script might have her do something more dramatic than shelter with everyone else. Elisabeth Olsen might feel a little short changed by the last half hour; in fact unless you count Mrs MUTO this is a very male film which seems slightly old fashioned. There is also an enormous amount of plot contrivance to ferry Ford around the world to manoeuvre him to critical place. Perhaps what would work better would have been to have established a group of soldiers whose activities we could follow in different places. Ford Brody is not a superhero but by the end of the film, despite the efforts of others, he seems to have played an unfeasibly large role in sorting out the whole thing. In that respect it’s a shame he doesn’t have more to say for himself; the unruly maverick is something of a stock disaster film motif but would actually have suited this movie rather well.
There is no denying that this latest Godzilla manages to create a powerful stew of impending doom and chaos that looks amazing which is exactly what you want from a big 3D film!

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