At the turn of the century the destruction of the Japanese nuclear power plant caused by an supposed Earthquake has a number of conspiracy theorists arguing that it was something else all together. None are more active than a Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), a former worker at the plant, who is desperate to find out what really happened, much to the distain of his son, Ford (Aaron Taylor Johnson). What he finds, however, is beyond what he could have possibly imagined, a monster of tremendous, terrifying and towering proportions and it isn't the only one on the planet.
Ishirō Honda's 1954 original of the legend of Gojira (Godzilla) played a major part in the theme of nuclear anxiety in Japanese cinema, particularly in the 1950s. Japanese cinema was heavily influenced by the August 1945 Atomic bombings of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the years following the attack. Continuing on from films such as Bells of Nagasaki and Children of Hiroshima, Gojira seems to take the view that Japan was victim of the war, even arguably absolving itself of guilt in anything relating to the war.
Gojira is allegory to the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the firebombing of Tokyo, Gojira is a beast born from American activities as the beast rose from the seas as a result of American testing of the hydrogen bomb. The theme of nuclear anxiety is commonplace in Japanese cinema, Akira Kurosawa directed two films (I Live in Fear and Rhapsody in August) which dealt exclusively with such a theme, but Gojira arguably contained some anti-American themes of which were cut out of the American version of the film which, as a result, caused the American cut to lack the depth of the Japanese original.
Gareth Edwards' 2014 version of Godzilla certainly acknowledges the brilliance and levels of depth of Honda's 1954 original, but never strives to go as deep. Certainly there are concerns surrounding nuclear power and the threat of radiation (the destruction of the nuclear power station at the start of film is very relevant to recent events) but there is less discussion of anxiety concerning potential nuclear attacks. Though this is perhaps because anxiety may have moved from nuclear attacks to cyber attacks. Edwards' film is more about the destructive power of nature, the rampages of the gigantic monsters resemble damage caused by earthquakes and Tsunamis (refugee scenes in Hawaii evoke memories of the Boxing Day Tsunami in the Indian Ocean). It is an interesting change of direction by Edwards, but one is left wishing he had fleshed this theme out further.
The lack of depth in relation to themes in Edwards' version of Godzilla is more than made up by the staggering spectacle. Even though the spectacular sight of Godzilla is held back until at least the halfway point of the film those expecting colossal beasts as high as skyscrapers are likely to feel their money was effectively spent. Working on a budget considerably larger than that of Monsters, Edwards' previous film (well worth checking out), Edwards and his special effects team create a jaw dropping beast that resembles the Komodo dragon and as the monsters do battle it brings back memories of the stunning spectacle of Del Toro's Pacific Rim.
Edwards knows how to create impressive beasts as shown in Godzilla and Monsters, he even adds a touch of humanity to them. One scene in which the two MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) display affection for one another is a direct copy of the final scene in Monsters. However, in contrast to Monsters, the characters in Godzilla are lost within the spectacle. The relationship between Ford (Aaron Taylor Johnson) and Ellie (Elizabeth Olsen) is ok at best and characters such as Sally Hawkins' Vivienne Graham end up be forgotten amongst the carnage. Aaron Taylor Johnson is fine in the lead role, but the screen is stolen by Byran Cranston who delightfully hams up almost every scene he is in as he does a superb job in portraying his character's emotions, most notably in the opening act.
However, it is unfair to claim that Edwards' reboot of Godzilla is totally devoid of depth, there is still an element of nervousness surrounding the effects and dangers of nuclear destruction, but once the madness begins and cities are levelled the film descends into very fun carnage.