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Disclaimer: I do not have a history of watching Japanese “Godzilla vs. King Kong”, or “Godzilla versus The Flying Beast from Outer Space”, or “Godzilla’s Babies” or “Some Japanese Scientists Throw Nukes at Some Godzilla Clone” films. Never was a fan, I am a man of good taste, you know. Hence the only film that I ever liked that I considered to be a Godzilla movie was “The Beast from 20 000 fathoms”, which technically is not a Godzilla film, but a film about a beast from 20 000 fathoms. It also has Lee van Cleef in it and a monster made by Ray Harryhausen, consequently it is way above the actual Godzilla  paygrade.

Still, for some reason the Godzilla myth is part of my cultural DNA. To what degree that is the case I only realised when I saw Roland Emmerich’s weird 1998 film, where the monster tends to grow smaller and larger depending on whether it is about to squash a skyscraper or squeeze through a subway tunnel, and looks like a leftover from Jurassic Park anyway. Not a good film, I was disappointed and still hold a grudge against Jean Reno for this. I don’t know why, really, because I do not remember what part he played, but he was the only actor I knew in that film, so here we go.

And now, I slightly panicked when I realised that after a couple of days, Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla film was already on its way out of the theatres. Having heard about the supposedly quite splendid sound design, this was worse news than it had any right to be. I needed to see this film, and on the big screen with the Dolby system amped to 11. It seemed that this Godzilla person was something to be reckoned with. Because it is has been part of my early wasted years somehow, and because Gareth Edwards made an interesting film about Monsters before. Not as good a film as many hold it to be, I think, but still an indication of technical and narrative skills.

Edwards’ Godzilla is not a film I will hold in eternal esteem as part of my “Camp Pantheon”, such as, say “Terminator”, “Independence Day” or “Escape from New York”. It is too normal for that, in a way, too straightforward. But I thoroughly enjoyed most of it nonetheless. Gareth Edwards has seen too many monster films, I think, and he knows exactly what can go wrong about them. So there is an early divertion with a monster that is awoken by accident, etc. etc., only to turn out NOT to be Godzilla. Nice move, I think, even though that particular monster’s design I did not find very inspiring. When we do get some Godzilla proper later on, what I did enjoy in particular is the casual way in which the perspective moves about, looking away from Godzilla and its little winged frenemy Motu (is that the name?) just when they engage in battle. As long as possible, actually throughout the film, Edwards tries to avoid full attention to the fight scenes. He learned a lot of lessons from a lot of terrible movies (most of them “Transformers” variations, I would reckon): as soon as you focus on something very ridiculous, such as a fist-and-teeth-fight between a giant lizard and a giant Spider-ish-thingy, there is imminent danger of that set piece getting very boring very quickly. How many ways are there a lizard can bite a wing, or a spider can stab a lizard (or a robot can hit another robot, or a hobbit can kill an orc)? Exactly! Edwards knows that (Bay does not, and will never learn), and consequently, most of the time, those fights are in the background, on tv, or only the aftermath is shown in the form of seriously redesigned city landscapes (I have some friends in Honolulu, need to check with them whether they got out ok…). That is clever design within the limits of what you can do in a monster movie, and it reflects Edwards’ philosophy of directing “Monsters” some years ago. That film was very economic with monsters, maybe because of budget limits, but maybe because of the recognition that even the most perilous things lose their peril once they are on camera for too long.

The frantic and desperate American scientist, the cool and composed Japanese scientist, the separated and reunited family, the military apparatus in motion, the ambiguity about a morality to the monsters… I think there are not many ways in which such a Godzilla revamping could be done better. It’s not the execution of the film that left me a bit emotionally reserved, it was rather the genre as such, which comes down to tanks shooting at monsters, while they are biting and hitting each other on the snot. There are some artistic limits to that…, But what about coming back to the original idea of “Monsters” and showing what life would look like once Motu has more babies (say a couple of billion) and the monsters take over? “World War Z” meets “Monsters” meets “The Road”? I would pay for that!

(Side note on the actors: Juliette Binoche is in that film for about three minutes screen time, and she looks spectacular! Bryan Cranston is in the film a bit longer, and does not look so good. But at least he’s got hair again… The hero person is unbeknownst to me and looks like a regular action hero in B movies. Godzilla plays him- / herself and is doing a good job and recommends him-/herself for a return in a sequel.)

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/godzilla_2014/

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