Godzilla review: messy monster reboot lacks bite

Godzilla lays waste to San Francisco. Photo: Supplied Bryan Cranston keeps viewers entertained before the monsters turn up in Godzilla. Photo: Supplied

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First, the good news. Godzilla, in 2014, looks exactly the way he should.

For this reboot of the legendary Japanese monster series, British director Gareth Edwards and his team of computer animators have done themselves proud, coming up with a creature design that’s both fearsome and true to the original: the ridges running down the back like a spiky mountain range, the pathetically grasping forearms and tiny bewildered eyes. His clanging roar, as if he had just swallowed a steam train, sounds both familiar and arrestingly new.

The climax, which involves Godzilla and a couple of his rivals laying waste to San Francisco, is spectacular enough to send any monster fan home satisfied. This is fortunate, because otherwise the film is a bit of a mess.

Visually, Edwards has picked up a good deal from Steven Spielberg, especially the trick of making shadowy, receding spaces feel both solid and mysterious. But he has little knack for emotionally cohesive storytelling, and seems unable to decide whether he’s making a militaristic techno-thriller or a fairytale nightmare in the vein of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. More jarring still, given the generally earnest tone, are the occasional moments of broad absurdity: the comic trashing of Las Vegas is straight out of Mars Attacks!

The script, credited to Max Borenstein, is filled with clumsy exposition. While it’s to be expected that the human characters play second fiddle to the monsters, did they need to be quite so dull? As a naval bomb disposal specialist who travels to Japan to revisit the site of a family tragedy, Aaron Taylor-Johnson supplies even less personality than Charlie Hunnam as a similar jock hero in Pacific Rim. In the wife and mother roles respectively, Elizabeth Olsen and Juliette Binoche are both wretchedly wasted.

The only cast member who gets to put on a show of his own is Bryan Cranston as the hero’s nutty scientist father: essentially his role is to keep us entertained before the monsters turn up, by recycling his patented Breaking Bad expressions of gritted-teeth anguish.

A couple of shots hint that he might be seen as a kind of monster in his own right, and that Godzilla, in turn, is the ultimate Big Daddy. It’s too bad that Edwards never found a writer capable of working through the implications of this theme – or any other.

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