Subtlety and restraint aren’t words you tend to associate with tentpole blockbusters, particularly not those featuring hulking great monsters. The latest incarnation of Toho’s iconic kaiju might be the tallest ever, clocking in at around 350ft, but the movie itself isn’t afraid to build to the stomping with baby-steps, favouring tension over excessive VFX money shots, and the human characters over the headline creature.
Director Gareth Edwards won the director’s chair off the back of Monsters, his micro-budgeted creature feature that, by necessity, put human characters at the front of the drama, leaving the titular beasties mostly just hinted at through incredibly subtle background CGI. It’s heartening that, given this film’s reported $150m-plus budget, he’s stayed true to that movie’s central tenets even when playing with a much bigger train set. Perhaps Godzilla 2014’s greatest achievement is that it doesn’t feel like it has been churned out on a Hollywood production line. Refusing to adhere rigidly to the prescribed beats of the blockbuster formula, it often feels surprisingly low-key for a film in which major cities are levelled and destruction spans continents.
To give too much detail on the film’s most impressive set-pieces would be to spoil their impact (despite the recent glut of trailers and clips doing just that). Given Edwards’ POV-heavy visual instincts (much is glimpsed through visors, car windscreens, news reports), Godzilla – despite having his name on the poster – almost feels like a supporting character. While that in itself might leave audiences raised on a cinema diet of instant gratification feeling unsatisfied and yearning for just a little more destruction, when the climactic moments do come, they’re felt on a much more appreciable scale than, say, the casual cityscape-flattening in Man Of Steel. The globe-hopping feels grounded, and justified, and you’re actually invested in the chaos and monster smackdowns. For that reason, Godzilla feels like a noble endeavour, and one that deserves to be savoured on its own terms.