The film industry reacted to the wartime bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the creature feature. Pulpy sci-fi tales (of varying budgets) featured humans, insects and reptiles mutated to gargantuan sizes stomping over towns and cities, all thanks to pesky radioactive leaks and misuse of science and technology. The subtext – an updating of the Prometheus myth and the dreaded realisation we finally had the means to our own mass destruction – was explored in genre films throughout the 1950s.
Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is a Hollywood monster movie whose traditional appetite for destruction is countered with a melancholic temperament. It has united the origins of Ishirō Honda’s 1954 film to 21st century events such as 9/11 and Fukushima. Stylistically, it is superb. Painterly, widescreen compositions – all billowing smoke plumes, dust and debris, dead bodies strewn like discarded litter, scorched earth and the mangled stumps of once tall buildings – reflect the horror with weighty, real-life resonance, and this in a genre (the blockbuster) that often relishes mass destruction spectacle as a UPS. When Godzilla enters the film proper the stately haunted impressionistic grandeur dons combat fatigues. JMW Turner becomes Robert Capa.
Godzilla is packed with apocalyptic visions and a humbling sense of awe. Nature is all about checks and balances. We screw with nature and it will screw with us. The Pacific Rim is transformed into a sprawling atrocity exhibition. Just like Hiroshima, Nagasaki, etc. In other words, Edwards wants the audience to engage emotionally with the death imagery as much as savour the majesty of Godzilla. Neither is it po-faced about such matters.
Unfortunately, the plot is missing the vitality of the subtext and aesthetic accomplishment. The cast, especially Juilette Binoche, Elizabeth Olsen and Sally Hawkins, are given very little to do. The men, however, get involved in large-scale action sequences around the toes of the battling monster. Everybody is playing second fiddle to a CGI lizard, of course, but it's shoddy and Godzilla does suffer. The major 'human' focus is on Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s luckless bomb disposal expert – he’s just back from a tour of duty – wandering Ulysses-like around the Pacific Rim trying to get home to worried wife and standard-issue moppet.
Images via Grapevine Digital
This review originally appeared at New Empresss magazine website