Why their mismatched battle stays etched in movie memory is because it stands for something significant. It endorses a serious metaphor, of human tendency to tamper with nature and inadvertently create havoc-wreaking monsters. And monsters generate heroes who always find a way to “restore balance.”
Director Gareth Edwards would know. (His claim to fame is a low-budget, sci-fi indie named Monsters.) He adopts this classic viewpoint but presents it with a fantastic new twist to mark the return of the prodigious Godzilla in 3D.
A genre like this comes with unavoidable baggage of catering to blockbuster aesthetics, which Edwards gets without clouding his judgement. In accomplishing so, he emerges as a filmmaker keen on breaking the bang-boom pattern in favour of brooding cinematic imagery (take a bow, Seamus McGarvey).
Taking inspiration from Toho studio’s 1954 Japanese original Gojira, the British filmmaker treats the monster-on-rampage situation with the urgency of a real-life crisis. Having said that, our dear, darling, titular, skyscraper-grazing bad boy doesn’t grace the screen till about an hour and a half in a movie with a running time of 123 minutes. As upsetting that is, the atomic fire-breathing cross between gorilla and whale makes the wait worth our while once he sets about being the monster he was born to be.
The new design is impressively gritty, perhaps if a tad chubby (great eye, Japanese fans!) but then the old chap has hung around long enough to afford a love handle or two. Before he stomps on the scene with his characteristic roar, Edwards distracts us with curious kaiju developments that make nuclear junk look like treats from Willy Wonka’s factory.
Hollywood’s previous attempt to cash in Godzilla’s popularity, Roland Emmerich’s much-dissed 1998 version, boasted of the cheesy tagline, Size does matter but Edwards insists on subtlety too. One of the best scenes is when an airdropped soldier descends against the towering Godzilla with just the sound of his laboured breathing to share the horror he’s experiencing.
Ahead of Godzilla’s hoped-for grand finale against Alexander Desplat’s mounting score, he crafts spectacular set pieces — at the airport runway, on a rail track, the Hawaii devastation, the Golden Gate bridge combat — while constantly emphasising on the virtues of old-fashioned, nail-biting anticipation.
For all its evasion of comedy, the director seeks dark humour in how news plays out on the television around an apathetic ambiance. How man naively believes in his/her indestructibility until proven wrong, almost punishingly, by the clobbering Big G.
Prior to the mass-scale destruction, Edwards’s starts out on an emotionally resonant note. One poignant moment between the marvellous pair of Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche, as the scientist and his associate wife, is all it takes to lend Godzilla a sensitivity that is sorely missed in the later stages of the reboot.
Besides these two talents, there’s Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the aforementioned couple’s armyman son volunteering to assist in face of monster emergency, his concerned better half played by the lovely Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe’s laconic Japanese scientist called Dr Ishiro Serizawa (a hat-tip to Gojira director Ishiro Honda and the film’s key protagonist Daisuke Serizawa) who knows a lot but is too confounded to react and his associate (Sally Hawkins) who fills up the mandatory nerd quotient sans the quips.
What difference a pack of fine actors can make even to token characters.
Films of this nature often sacrifice its human characters in support of monster porn. Here too, people ultimately serve the sole purpose of forming a dumbstruck, sprinting crowd that’s trampled under gigantic feet, thwacked by an enormous tail or battered under a pile of rubble. Primarily because the film projects our lot no more than creepy-crawlies caught in the crossfire of radioactive beings.
It’s his exploration of what Godzilla is capable of, the aftermath that follows, which fascinates Edwards more than the deed itself. Essentially to him, kaijus are a rude reality, which can hurl us out of our comfort zone any time and turn our homes into striking smithereens.
Once dumbed down to manufacture mindless, gratuitous destruction/adventure fantasies, condescendingly spoken of as B-films, it’s refreshing to see creative dethrone campy. Still, the new Godzilla may not appeal to an impatient viewer looking for instant gratification nor will it overawe with its scale this soon after the Pacific Rim experience.
What it does though is join the ranks of those envelope-pushing films that celebrate the legend of invincible, enormous creatures – mythical, prehistoric or extra-terrestrial — by respecting its iconic source and upgrading it with ingenious vision that harmoniously combines technological advancement and fanboy perspective.
What next? Why King Kong versus Godzilla, of course!
This review was first published on rediff.com.