Godzilla thunders back onto screens

Cert 12a | By Alex Dymoke
Three Stars

SKYSCRAPERS haven’t come in for this much abuse since Prince Charles started sounding off about contemporary architecture. Brit director Gareth Edwards’ take on the classic Japanese B-movie doesn’t so much reimagine the original as inject it with growth hormones. It’s a monster of a monster film, with massive ambition and a massive budget.

In an age when human weapons can lay waste to entire cities, how do you retain the threat of an oversized lizard? Surely no beast can match the fearsomeness of humanity’s own creations? Edwards gets around this by casting Godzilla, not as a giant reptilian wrecking ball, but as a semi-providential beast who supervises planet earth from his perch atop the food chain. When things get chaotic, Godzilla wades in from the Pacific and restores balance.

It starts with some scientists in the Philippines stumbling across two Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms that look like a hideous consequence of Alien and Predator’s make-up sex. The MUTOs head straight to the nearest nuclear plant (which happens to be in Japan) because they feed on radioactive material – these things literally eat nuclear warheads for breakfast. Having gorged themselves for 20 years, they multiply tenfold in size and come stomping onto the land, crushing human civilisation under foot. The outlook is bleak for mankind until Godzilla thunders in and takes the MUTOs to task.

As you might expect from a director who started out as a visual effects expert, the action sequences are spectacular. Disaster never looked so disastrous. Or beautiful: cities collapse with catastrophic grace under glowing skies and biblical downpours. Heaven and earth collide and create a hell. At times it looks like an apocalyptic wasteland, at others it looks like a John Martin painting; luminous clouds bathing humanity in light before they meet their maker.

But stare at something open-mouthed for long enough and your tongue starts to get a bit dry. Spectacle has a short half-life. There needed to be a story, an emotional core if this was ever going to transcend its B-movie source material. Despite an embarrassment of acting riches, this is essentially a film with no characters; instead, it has a few vaguely sentient human-shaped things who roll around on the floor avoiding falling masonry. Juliette Binoche was not put on this earth to say “there’s been a breach, we’re heading back to the containment zone”. The considerable talents of Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston and Sally Hawkins are also wasted on hurriedly sketched non-characters.

But why spend time building three dimensional characters when there’s a Hobbesian theory of human nature to construct? This Godzilla contains more pseudo-philosophy than Alain De Botton’s Twitter feed. Sombre pronouncements about the “arrogance of man” seem absurdly po-faced when set against a boxing match between a giant lizard and a MUTO.

For all the thrill of the action sequences, Edwards gets lost in the no-man’s-land between The Dark Knight and Eight Legged Freaks. If only it showed the same irreverence toward Christopher Nolan as it does toward San Francisco tourist attractions.

Shaftesbury Theatre | By Melissa York
Three Stars

THE last musical to open at the Shaftesbury Theatre, From Here to Eternity, closed after six months and lyricist Tim Rice used its demise to herald the end of the public’s appetite for new musicals. Now, he argued, people just want “old songs repackaged.” Since then, the Shaftesbury has become home to The Pajama Game, a West End transfer of a Chichester Festival Theatre production based on a Broadway revival of a 1957 Doris Day film that was adapted from a novel called Seven and a Half Cents. The story’s been told more times than the nativity – a guaranteed success then, if Rice is to be believed. It documents the romance between Babe Williams (Joanna Riding pictured), a unionist at the Sleep-Tite pajama factory, and the new superintendent Sid Sorokin (Michael Xavier pictured), who find themselves on opposing sides of strike action after the boss refuses his workers a seven and a half cent pay rise. Tough girl-next-door Babe is subsequently wooed by smooth lothario Sid against an industrial backdrop of scaffolding and sewing machines. Scene changes are cheap and quick – for a picnic scene, two cardboard trees are simply wheeled in front of the factory.

The loudest laughs (and, tellingly, the most enthusiastic applause) were reserved for members of the faultless supporting cast, who inject some much-needed mischief into an otherwise pedestrian narrative. But even the slapstick sags under the weight of ten minute dance numbers at the end of almost every scene. A musical about an industrial dispute should have no trouble feeling modern and relevant, even if it is set in the 1950s. While the cast bring a lot of exuberance and skill, the production feels dated and strangely lightweight in our modern theatre landscape.

Cert 15 | By Alex Dymoke
Two Stars

ITALIAN cycling legend Marco Pantani’s story is remarkable because of the adulation directed towards him on his ascent to the top of the sport and because of the desperately sad way in which it came to an end.

Elite cycling in the 1990s and noughties was awash with illicit performance enhancers. Not even the Libertines’ 2004 visit to South America threatened the Tour De France’s status as the druggiest tour in the world. Before becoming infamous for injecting EPO into his bloodstream, Pantani was famous for injecting some much needed glamour into the dull world of 90s cycling. The sport had become bogged down in a nerdy preoccupation with hundredths of seconds and aerodynamic technology. It was crying out for a personality. With his bleached goatee, bald head and earring, he was a character in a sport populated by robotic ubermensch.

It helped that he was a brilliant cyclist. As one of talking heads says, drugs or no drugs the gifted Pantani was always going to have some say at the top end of the sport. In 1998 he won the Giro D’Italia and Tour de France in the same year, a feat not even an artificially enhanced Lance Armstrong could achieve.

I really wanted this to be a better version of Alex Gibney’s 2013 documentary The Armstrong Lie, mainly because I could have started this review “Pantani: the Accidental Death of a Cyclist is like The Armstrong Lie on steroids.” Alas, it isn’t.

It’s impossible not to be moved by the story of the diminutive italian, but the documentary itself lacks any of the style or zip of its subject. It feels like a 1997 episode of Panorama, punctuated with shoddy reconstruction scenes reminiscent of the mystery guest round on a Question of Sport. Documentaries must do something extra to earn their place on the big screen – this doesn’t.

The best parts come from Pantani’s mother who speaks movingly about the son she lost. Seeing Pantani don the yellow jersey “was like watching the sun rise,” she says. Her words repeatedly paint a more compelling picture than the documentary as a whole.