How do you solve a problem like Godzilla? A giant radioactive lizard born out of Japanese fears of nuclear war, but in the current climate of Gritty Realistic Reboots, big monsters aren’t exactly on trend. Peter Jackson barely got away with King Kong by turning into something of a love story, but that approach isn’t going to work here, and producers Warner Brothers must’ve felt a united shudder when their giant monster movie Pacific Rim was greeted with a massive shrug last year. They needn’t have worried though, as WB are also the guys who managed to take the giant rubber suit man from Batman & Robin and convinced the world to take him seriously again.
Their first masterstroke was hiring director Gareth Edwards, the man who made the smart and emotive Monsters for $800,000, and then gave him $160 million and told him to go outside and play. Smart man that he is, Edwards then filled his cast with superb character actors, all playing staples of the monster movie, from scientists (Cranston, Watanabe, Hawkins, Binoche) to doctors (Olsen) to soldiers (Taylor-Johnson, Strathairn), and giving them all reasonable excuses to put themselves in the path of a giant radioactive lizard. Too often characters are just left wandering about in these movies, so that when we are presented with great actors playing realistic characters and it comes time for them to run and scream, it makes it all that more believable and relatable.
The final act of genius in the making of this Godzilla movie is by not making it a Godzilla movie. Having more in common with horror/disaster movie hybrid The Impossible than anything else, this doesn’t feel like a giant radioactive lizard movie. For the first time since Jurassic Park, you’ll be struck by the wonder that only big screen cinema can create for creature features, but whereas those on Isla Nublar were full of awe and joy (at least at the beginning), here the world just wants to survive. The overbearing feeling that we’ve unleashed something we can’t control, and could potentially end us all, is painfully palpable and for the first hour that consta-tension will have your chest in a vice.
All of this perfect build-up comes at a cost though, and like the world’s best foreplay session, the climax kind of pales in comparison. The teases and half-glimpses and views of the aftermath are astounding, but as with every giant radioactive lizard movie, there must come a time when we arrive at a big city and a few hundred skyscrapers get knocked over, and it’s here that the movie slightly suffers. As with Man Of Steel, it’s a necessary evil for there to be a CGI-porn finale, but with the rest of the movie being so smart and inventive, it would’ve the cherry on top for that to have carried on through to the end.
It’s not enough to distract from the massive accomplishment Edwards and co have given us here, though. Breathlessly exciting and hugely entertaining, the big-daddy of monster movies is back!