Godzilla 3D ****

godzilla

Marauding super monsters sent to remind Man that nature needs to take its course sometimes (and knock our cockiness down a few pegs) is the terrifying stuff of many an epic monster movie, as they wade through our cities like a toddler through LEGO structures. It’s easy to just repeat endless scenes of destruction and cause an assault on the eyes at the same time (Transformers, for example).

Godzilla (2014) has a ‘different’ take; one that has more significance and thought behind it, one that almost builds a character arc for the leading beast himself. Intriguingly, even though we don’t get to see Godzilla, one of the M.U.T.O. (massive, unidentified, terrestrial object) until a good 40 minutes in, standing tall in his full scaly glory, low-budget Monsters (2010) writer-director Gareth Edwards teases us with visual snippets to get a sense of every anatomical part of the beast in and out of water. The result is an exhilarating build-up – with not quite the storyline you initially expect (even though it’s the standard ‘saving the day and mankind’ variety).

The film begins in Japan, where scientist Joe Brody (Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston) who works at Janjira nuclear plant near Tokyo, picks up unusual tremors that don’t follow the usual pattern of an earthquake. His superiors are not keen to discuss. Brody suspects they and the Japanese government are hiding something bigger and more worrying, resulting in an accident that leads to personal tragedy. Returning 15 years later to the supposed radioactive site to follow through his theory, Brody gets arrested. His now adult son and US Army bomb expert, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) – who has a young family of his own back in the States – is asked to come and collect him. However, the pair uncovers more than they bargained for and mankind is under threat.

Edwards has put his special effects background to highly commendable use here, having honed his skills in the £250k Monsters that roused thrills in its suggestion of sinister monster activity, without visually showing everything. He does the same here, but wisely uses the far, far bigger budget, leading with the personal dramas of the main human characters to actually drive the story, rather than theirs being an after-thought while we wait for the next monster action scene. The best thing about Edwards’ version is he reverts back to the original production company, Toho Co.’s tale of linking global nuclear testing with covering up something bigger. Hence, Man’s arrogance at scientific superiority is challenged by nature; our punishment for that is the M.U.T.O.

Cranston is excellent as the obsessive, paranoid Brody; we get a real sense of his professional frustrations and personal pain. He’s also the man against the corporate machine, the non-conformist we all like to egg on to uncover the mystery. Where Godzilla feels like every other disaster movie is the inevitable US military might in force – as you might expect, considering where the film’s set. Even so, rather than all guns blazing – thought there are a lot, Edwards still manages to keep things focused on the personal angle, with Taylor-Johnson as Ford guiding us through his own familiar struggles while trying to save the West Coast. The schmaltzy ending is a given too. However, this can be forgiven because Edwards delivers on everything else.

As for the M.U.T.O.s, it’s like watching a nature programme rather than a ‘crashing n bashing’ action movie. We get a very real sense of how they function and reproduce and their objectives. At the end, we have an unlikely hero that is set to ride the wave of success on this obviously lucrative franchise from the open ending.

Godzilla (2014) is an epic monster movie reboot that looks great on an IMAX screen – though, again, it’s questionable whether 3D does anything of grander note in the apocalyptic-styled, gloomy design than add a bit of depth and more cost to the price of a ticket. Its focus on the characters’ personal journeys makes it far more satisfying. Better still, its monsters have a purpose other than providing target practice for the gun-ho military. There is even a sense of niggling injustice as man decides who is more important in the pecking order, stirring any animal welfare feelings in the process. Species verses species it is, but who has the right to decide who is more important in nature’s game? Yes, you can get more than a little philosophical after watching this, but don’t miss the start of greater things to come…

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Monsters – 4*

For a film with such an emotive title that conjures up all kinds of stereotypical sci-fi imagery of Earth being taken over by extraterrestrial life forms, Monsters by documentary film-maker Gareth Edwards is quite the opposite. It’s actually a surprisingly tender relationship study between two humans that blossoms amongst nature of the Earth and alien kind, here on this fair planet. It also helps that little-known leads Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able (All The Boys Love Mandy Lane) are a real-life couple, too, making their union on the screen seem all the more stronger and believable, complete with the inevitable highs and lows.

The sci-fi element that you would come to expect from the film gradually develops into a peripheral factor that intermittently thwarts the couple’s path to true love, like ‘a sci-fi obstacle course’ that strengthens their resolve. But fear not; this is not a ‘rom-com in an alien disguise’ either. It’s just a very personable journey with two intriguing characters that has alien dangers to it, but what the real danger is, is apparent in the end.

Edwards’ style of ad-libbing certainly pays off, and which also highlights his documentary roots. As his first feature film was always going to be a gamble at the box office, it’s interesting to speculate whether the strong relationship factor really was Edwards’ original intention, or whether this film is a taster for an intended saga, with Monsters establishing the characters, and a more revealing sequel about the alien life on Earth to follow? Certainly, those expecting a pitch battle between humans and aliens will be disappointed. The closest our couple get is a Jurassic Park-style encounter with some Triffid/Martian-like creatures that results in man being more brutal than the former.

That’s the beautiful ambiguity of the title: Who are the true Monsters – us or them? There are lots of parallels flagged between ‘aliens’ and US immigration issues on the Mexico/US border – much like the ‘illegal alien invasion’ parallels in District 9. Although this is a well-trodden film topic, Monsters does well not to dwell on the matter because the relationship is key, and how our leads learn to respect and live alongside another race.

The alien segments are undoubtedly homage to James Cameron, from pulsating, luminous wildlife in the trees, as in Avatar, to illuminated aliens straight out of The Abyss. This appears to be Edwards’ self-indulgent aspect of his film, allowing an insight into the creator’s mind of what might have been produced with a bigger budget to hand – although bigger is not necessarily better. Edwards’ credit here is just what he’s achieved in atmosphere and tension with very little finances.

The chosen pseudo-documentary style seems to be becoming the norm for this genre, as in District 9, as though any other cinematographic style would not be credible anymore. But the pace is a graceful, almost serene, especially in the jungle river scene, which is reminiscent of Werner Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God, allowing us to get a feel for the territory that the couple invades and disturb.

Monsters has déjà vu elements for certain, but it also has a unique style that feels slightly alien in itself. It’s often very relaxing to watch, like an extraterrestrial wildlife expedition from remote jungle land. The couple’s chemistry is genuine, as are the events like the parades in the film that justify Monsters being described as ‘the most realistic monster movie ever made’. For fans of the genre, it’s definitely one to catch and respect for its low-budget film-making values. In fact its success may be to Edwards’ detriment, should he have planned another, as money may give birth to a Hollywood monster instead.

4/5 stars

By L G-K