Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elisabeth Olsen
The Indian Express ratings: **1/2
Japan doesn’t care much for all the remakes of Godzilla over the years, and there have been 29, including the much-ridiculed 1998 version by Ronald Emmerich. This one taps into Japan’s nuclear fears that spawned its first “Gojiro” (1954), but given how the country is trying to calm down the fears of its population regarding nuclear plant safety, it won’t appreciate the timing of this one either.
Edwards’s Godzilla does more than feature a nuclear plant blast, it also sees tsunami-like waves sweep into islands and put many, many people in danger. Japan won’t be ready for that one either.
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However, as often happens when you put a Hollywood man behind the camera, Japan doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things except in the perpetually creased-brow form of Ken Watanabe. The celebrated actor even puts David Strathairn, playing the general commanding the USS Saratoga and leading the offensive against the creatures rising from the sea, to shame in his exaggerated solemnity.
But this is a film whose only redeeming feature is that Binoche and Cranston shoulder part of its acting line-up – but just partly. Taylor-Johnson and Olsen cringingly pale before the big man, and that is despite the fact that Godzilla is nowhere in the picture (literally) in the first half.
Still, while Cranston is around, and the script is playing with “what lies beneath” and “what lurks inside the quarantine zone”, Edwards handles the tension well. More a special-effects guy than a director (his only other feature-length film being 2010’s appreciated Monsters), he surprises you with the angles at which he captures the length and breadth of the dangers trampling the city.
Cranston is Joe, an engineer working in an n-plant in 1999, when an accident happens, kills his wife and leaves him forever wringing his hands over the strange tremors that preceded the incident. His son Ford (Taylor-Johnson), then a boy and now a US soldier trained in disposing of explosives, has failed to convince Joe to let past be past.
Soon after he has returned from some war zone abroad, Ford is hauled to Japan, to bail out Joe who has been arrested. Joe had been trespassing into the quarantine zone around the nuclear plant that broke down. Joe’s passionate arguments convince Ford to at least venture into that forbidden part of town with its crumbled, ash-laden buildings and its mangy dogs, before they tumble onto the secret.
It is MUTO, or Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism – and didn’t you know they would call it that? It actually is not terrestrial anymore but air-borne, but MUAO just doesn’t have the same ring. Never mind, MUTO is actually a parasitic spore that fed on Godzillas and consumes radiation to survive. That’s why the love for nuclear plants.
Once unleashed, the MUTO invariably makes its way to the other side of Pacific for radioactive food, specifically Hawaii, trailed by – “yes”, “no it can’t be”, “yes of course it is”, “my god can you believe it!” — Godzilla.
Watanabe’s Dr Serizawa is amazed, and his stuck-like-a-glue sidekick (Sally Hawkins) is forever on the brink of tears. But Strathairn keeps a straight face and a straighter back as the creature reveals itself – US has seen worse.
You may not have though, and that’s the best compliment for this Godzilla. Amid the destruction, the sad humans around him, the crumpled buildings, the irritably irregular MUTOs and even the nuclear warheads, he keeps his head held 350 ft high.
Purists have complained about the small limbs, the voice, the gait, the scales. But there is no escaping that the world has come a long way from 1954’s man in a rubber suit zipped up back, flailing around miniaturised buildings. Somewhere inside, that man must be happy his iconic images can still get $160 million into a project.