Sunday, July 13, 2014

Godzilla: A Movie Review of the Reboot.

I’m going to tell you up right up front that I have been a Godzilla fan since the first time I laid eyes on The Man in The Rubber Suit. Will Rogers has absolutely nothing on me: I’ve never met a Godzilla I didn’t like. And in that vein, I have to confess I loved this Godzilla! I’m not saying this was a perfect movie. But, Godzilla has circled the cinematic world 32 times, making him a more prolific character than Dr. Who doing Die Hard movies. So give the guy a break.

Sure, I could wax poetic on the underlying themes of Godzilla as a metaphor for nuclear destruction, science run amok, environmental catastrophe and all that tripe, but that would distract from the awesome Monster Mash appeal at the surface of this reinvented, yet still Old School King of The Monsters flick. In my opinion Godzilla kicks ass…where according most to early reviews, the humans don’t. Aaron Taylor-Johnson of Kick-Ass reportedly fails to gracefully even put one foot in front of the other character-wise. The other characters led us not to give a tinker’s damn about them at all amid all the chaos. That is what I first read at least.

After watching the movie, I agree there may some truth in that notion, but I suspect it may have been by design. There was just too damned much two-dimensional character constraint for that to have been by accident. After a bit of hammering those hammy depictions home it bordered ever so slightly on the comical. Even satirical. But enough of the literary dissection. Who are the players?

The Players:

In the position of eccentric, post traumatic disorder conspiracy nut, Bryan Cranston. This man needs no introduction after Breaking Bad and he does a pretty damn good job as an engineer who goes nuts after losing his wife Juliette “Chocolat” Binoche in the opening scenes.

The only problem with Cranston’s character is there is too little of him later in the movie, and there is very little of Juliette at all, who also came off as a fully formed 3D person. Cue Aaron Taylor-Johnson (described by critics as Cranston’s wooden son channeling Pinocchio) taking the reins as lead character and allegedly driving it into the freaking ditch.

I disagree. Aside from a few awkward opening scenes between Aaron and his wife played by Elizabeth Olsen (soon to play his sister in an upcoming Avengers movie) Aaron’s performance was probably understated. As a man carried into the events of the story by chance, he did a fairly good job of not overworking his scenes. He’s a bomb disposal expert after all, cool and calm in the face of the possibility of instantaneous death. But that’s just technically explaining his demeanor away.
I actually liked his subdued depiction better than the Bruce Willis style histrionics. Plus, his close up with Godzilla was far superior to Broderick’s. It even had a bonding aspect.

His wife…his sister…his wife… played by Olsen was merely a plot place keeper, a personal reference, another person in peril. Their son (Carson Bolde) was serviceable in the role and how much do you really need to know about him in a Godzilla movie anyway? Olsen really wasn’t given much to do except look worried, but to her credit she did give good face.

Ken “The Last Samuri” Watanabe’s character amused me the most. His depiction as the monster expert clearly belonged in a Godzilla movie from the 60′s. His single minded spouting of catch phrases about the balance of nature was so melodramatic I had to check my calendar.
It was almost laugh out loud by the 50th time I watched him gaze off into the distance to deliver dialog dripping with ominous foreshadowing. That’s when it began to occur to me that this director was just jacking with me.

Sally “Blue Jasmine” Hawkins was the other scientist strategically inserted with Wannabe to make the points about electromagnetic pulses and restoring the balance of nature. Stereotypically as they were written, Sally managed to pump a bit of personality into her character. But as paper thin as her camera time was, burst capacity was kept at a minimum.

Last but not least playing the position of director is Gareth Edwards. Edwards is a relative new comer to the world of digital effects, previously known for 2008′s Heroes and Villains. That same year he won a London based 48 hour film challenge and went on to write and direct Monsters. Edwards personally created the special effects for Monsters using off the shelf equipment, two actors and a five man crew. The movie was made on such a small budget that the solid box office results got him noticed. Director Ed Wood would have been proud. Godzilla is his first major studio project.

Honorable mention goes to Thomas Tull, chairman and CEO of Legendary Pictures, most recently known for last year’s Pacific Rim. Tull had the difficult task of negotiating with Toho for the rights to produce another American made Godzilla and not screw it up like 1998’s ill-received version. Legendary will distribute the newly vamped Godzilla world-wide and collect the booty while Toho will distribute the film in Japan.

The Stars

Cue Godzilla. Godzilla? Not yet. How about an appetizer of MUTO while you wait? MUTOs (Massive Unidentifiable Terrestrial Organisms) are running all amok over San Francisco. And if that wasn’t bad enough, they’ve got larvae.

The stage is set for Godzilla to enter, stage left. But…not yet. The back story on the creatures was intricate and kept the story from stalling while we waited. Grotesque and destructive, the numerous military squirmishes with them was the bridge the audience had to cross to get to Godzilla.

While that might appear at times to be a long, slow slog, in hindsight it was a deliberate forced march through considerable mayhem, destruction and human peril. If the ensuing chaos following the Creature’s use of its EMP weapon isn’t enough to keep you amused, perhaps the Creature diving into the sea for its dinner is.

The Verdict

Godzilla movies generally are known for deep philosophies, human drama and cheesy monsters.
I think the director altered the balance of nature in this remake, making the humans 2D instead while the monsters are the three dimensional, fully fleshed out stars.

One issue I had with Godzilla is it’s a lot like “Waiting for Godot”. When’s that monster going to get here? Not for two-thirds of the film, at least in all of his glorious splendor. But believe me, it’s worth the wait. Not only does Godzilla prove his tactical prowess in self-defense and unarmed combat, he certainly knows a thing or two about urban renewal.

And I was pleased to see that this was no cake walk. If you make it this far into the film you will be rewarded by a fight scene of…monstrous proportions…and unparalleled special effects. The echoes of the distant battle match the visuals giving a sense of scale bordering on awesome. After all this is precisely why you go to a monster flick: to watch wholesale destruction on a massive scale minus The Avengers. Screw The Hulk’s damage ratio! Godzilla can clear sizable chunks of real estate and save the world, too. But that should be no surprise: he’s the undisputed King of Monsters.

If you are a Godzilla fan, you will enjoy this movie, even with the “Godzilla Strip Tease” in the middle. The movie played well to its fan base. Not a fan, no problem. Watch the set up, skip out for an hour then drop back in for the fight. I give the flick an A- as a fan, a B+ as a critic. And I’m hoping the sequel is a A+. I think Edwards can do it.

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