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Godzilla (2014)
Director: Gareth Edwards

review by Antony Mann

Okay, I admit it. I've been known to sleep through large chunks of films. Usually animated movies for kids, the next-in-line of whatever Pixar blockbuster my daughter has wanted to drag me to during the holidays. Can you blame me? Cinemas are dark and warm, perfect places for napping, and after you've seen 50 of them, one Pixar film tends to blur into the next. So what if you miss the second act? The ending is always the same self-affirming nonsense that mainstream American culture seems so desperately to need to believe in.

I was surprised though, to find myself drifting off during Godzilla. I was fortunate I guess that I had my daughter - old enough now to watch creature features - talking incessantly beside me, keeping me awake. She doesn't usually chat during movies, so I asked her afterwards, why was she so distracted? Had she been bored? She told me it was because nothing had happened in the film.

Weird, huh? A mega-million dollar CGI extravaganza, replete with skyscraper-tall monsters going toe-to-toe amidst the smoking debris of decimated cities, and nothing had happened..? Yet in a way, she was right. Despite the carnage, despite the destruction, despite the big beasties - and they are big - bugger all occurs in Godzilla.

So an archaeological dig disturbs the bones of a massive Godzilla thing, but something else is disturbed, a giant egg sac to be precise. Soon the escapee, a Mothra-type number with a penchant for feeding on radiation, is high-tailing it to Japan. Here it causes a reactor meltdown and settles in for the long haul, 20 years of gestation, feeding on atomic energy, while silly mankind watches it grow, afraid that it may release all that pent-up bang into the world and make bad things happen.

Bad things happen anyway, of course - as it awakens, causes havoc, and then calls to a dormant mate across the Pacific in America. This scenario has apparently tipped the world 'out of balance', so colossal restorative Godzilla rouses from his oceanic sleep and hunts down the gargantuan glow-bugs, leading to some nice CGI fight scenes in which the people are entirely irrelevant.

And that's the problem, I guess. Godzilla is storytelling by numbers in the direst Hollywood tradition. Every beat and motivation has been carefully plotted to excite just the right amount of shallow and artificial sympathy for these non-characters who in the end cannot save Godzilla from itself.

Brian Cranston makes an appearance as the nuclear scientist-come-madman who knows exactly what's going on but of course no-one will listen to him, not even his son, but as soon as he is knocked off - far too early - all we are left with are a bunch of two-dimensional ciphers that all too easily live up to jaded expectations. The earnest scientists, the gung-ho general, the soldier son looking for redemption and a way to make it home to his wife and child, trapped of course at the epicentre of destruction.

Nothing they do has any effect on the outcome of the story, which is resolved in an extended city-blasting biffo between the 'good' Godzilla and 'bad' MUTO things, who are really just forces of nature, and maybe that's the point. But if it, it is a point made very badly, and in such a way that little girls are bored and grown men fall asleep.


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