Imagine you’ve organised a dinner party. You’ve kept the menu a surprise for your guests, but you’ve talked up your plans for the evening. Hopefully everyone invited is expecting a really great time. You’re excited. Finally the night in question arrives; what all that meticulous crafting has been leading up to. Except when it finally comes, you realise that simply following the recipe doesn’t equal a successful meal. The starter’s a bit iffy. Your guests of honour leave after the first course, making everyone feel a little awkward, and then the main just isn’t cooked properly. The ingredients are all wrong. The remaining guests exchange glances. Thankfully the dessert is delicious, but it just can’t save the evening. Nobody’s coming around to your house again. Everyone leaves and you can’t face clearing up.
That’s essentially the new Godzilla movie, directed by Gareth Edwards. Edwards has proven himself previously with the light touch of 2009’s sleeper hit Monsters. That film also featured gigantic creatures, so the step on to Godzilla is fairly logical. The problems here are not to do with Edwards’ competency; he shows time and again that he has the chops to handle big budget spectacle, especially during the impressive final showdown. No, Godzilla’s problems run deeper than that. The blame for this interminable mess lands largely on the shoulders of writer Max Borenstein.
It’s just awful. From the hammy, cliché ridden dialogue to the rote characters to the completely shoddy, tiresome and often plain boring storyline which ambles along without any sense of particular urgency or direction for the better part of 90 minutes, Godzilla 2014 resolutely fails to engage or excite, even when it attempts to pull the rug out from under the audience by dispatching characters you expected to go the distance.
That kind of unexpected swerve can really light a fire under a movie if handled correctly, or more importantly if it’s in service of something better down the road, but here these moves feel like cheap tricks with nothing to back them up. They don’t impress, they merely aggravate, as each one renders what remains less interesting than what had gone before. A zero sum which leads, yes, to some pretty awesome effects come the last half hour, but by then… who cares anymore?
Edwards understands that less is more; the shark was barely on screen in Jaws (Spielberg is clearly idolised throughout this film), the xenomorph only ever slithering in the shadows of Alien, yet those movies excel because of the superb characterisation and coherent plotting that hold them together. Edwards keeps his titular monster under wraps for most of the movie, but he doesn’t have the film to sustain such deft maneuvering. Or the leading man.
If you thought from the trailer that said leading man was Bryan Cranston, you were wrong. Sure he’s there, along with Juliette Binoche (they’re married and have matching hair), but it quickly emerges that the lion’s share of the burden here is going to fall on the shoulders of blank-faced man-chunk Aaron Taylor-Johnson; an actor apparently being groomed for A-list status without the necessary confidence, charisma or talent. He’s terrible. Just as frustrating is the waste of better resources; David Strathairn, Elizabeth Olsen and Ken Watanabe are all marginalised as stock characters reciting their lines dutifully.
You can see where the money’s been spent here, you can see the attention to detail in those jaw-drop effects shots, yet what utterly dumbfounds is that nobody seems to have questioned the movie being made in the first place. The end result is genuinely comparable in quality to the recent Asylum output for the Syfy channel, one that just happens to have been blessed with some serious financial backing. Tonally it’s all over the bloody shop, careering from po-faced seriousness to batshit stupid. You wonder whether Edwards and his actors are in on it and know how ridiculous they sound churning out this nonsense. More often it seems as though there’s no self-awareness at all. Thunderously disappointing.
There are little touches here and there; the kind of fun easter eggs that blockbuster movies dutifully hand over to the viewers to catch if they’re paying attention. But these little moments are the only pleasures on offer, not just cute asides. More often we’re shoveled cringe-worthy subplots or characters that just don’t ignite (one involving a small child on a monorail is so cack-handedly resolved that it evoked derisive laughter).
I accept that the idea of a goliath monster rising up out of the Earth to wreak havoc is an inherently preposterous idea; that you have to take things like this with a pinch of salt, enjoy the lunacy of it and ride that wave for all it’s worth. I’m just not sure that the producers of Godzilla accept it, or even thought about it.
An even bigger turkey than this year’s RoboCop reboot, which is almost impressive in its own sorry way. Save your money and your time. Maybe throw a dinner party instead.