What to watch: Movies
Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen (PG)
Godzilla has been missing from our cinema screens for 16 years and, judging by the pudgy figure he presents in Gareth Edwards' new adaptation, could do with stretching his legs. Conceived by Japanese filmmakers of the 50s as a metaphor for the unchecked terrors of the nuclear age, as re-imagined by Edwards the alpha lizard nowadays resembles a Tyrannosaur with a pizza addiction: when he eventually makes landfall it isn't his destructive rage that has you gripped – it's the fear his swinging belly might accidentally topple an adjacent skyscraper.
The unstated mission of the movie is to obliterate memories of Roland Emmerich's frowned-upon 1998 Godzilla, which jettisoned most of the Japanese mythology and had the super-sized saurian stomping around a rainy Manhattan, being annoyed by Matthew Broderick (amid the slickness of an FX tent-pole, the actor's studied guilelessness felt extra toxic – he had assuredly gone the 'full Broderick').
This time, Godzilla's foes are scientist Bryan Cranston (craggy, cranky) and his soldier son Aaron Taylor-Johnson (vaguely hunky, apparently fashioned from balsa-wood), with an underwritten Elizabeth Olsen as the latter's wife (her job: look adorable and place herself in needless danger). When his life is derailed by a giant monster rampage at the Japanese nuclear station where he is boss, Cranston becomes a crazed conspiracy theorist, with the standard obsessive compulsive gaze and a corkboard of newspaper clippings pointing to a global cover-up. Quite how the world's governments could obscure a dinosaur the size of Hawaii paddling around the Pacific is never addressed – nonetheless nobody believes Cranston, not even his recently demobbed son.
Following a fresh outbreak of attacks, however, the crazy dude with the scraggy beard is revealed to be sanest guy in the room. Here Edwards' grip on the movie falters, as he supplants his engaging Spielberg-isms (the motifs about the centrality of family to the human experience, close up shots of amazed passersby looking at something vast out of camera shot) with the standard explosions, CGI and ear-drum troubling set-pieces.
For all the very modern emphasis on deafening spectacle for deafening spectacle's sake, the film nonetheless feels like a throwback – as with JJ Abrams' (arguably more successful) Super 8 it comes off as homage to the late 70s early 80s wave of blockbusters. People do not initially run from the scaled and chitinous behemoths – they gawp in awe, the way they used to in ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. And when not crowding the screen with roaring destructosaurs Edwards allows the pace to slow to a meander, so that you can sit back and enjoy the thrill ride before the next sudden dip and weave.
The director, who has only one previous movie to his credit (the low budget Monsters), is also respectful of the Japanese source-material, locating key early scenes around Tokyo. How ironic, then, that Far East Godzilla fans are reportedly incensed by look of the rebooted beastie: that wobbly belly, the multiple chins that sluice down to the neck. In today's entertainment industry, it seems even the monsters are required to have bikini curves.
First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent