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Godzilla

Godzilla

What She said:

She

Wow, is it me or had Godzilla become even bigger and badder?  Shame of the matter is, in Godzilla, the 2014 reimagining of the classic film franchise, we don’t really get to see the namesake of the movie too much until the final act.  He’s huge, and moody, and is capable of breathing some sort of blue nuclear fire, but it’s a disappointment that we have to wait and wait for an hour and a half before our pal ‘Zilla really takes over the screen.  That would have helped push this film into the arena of summer blockbuster.  Instead, it’s a bit dull, despite ample action, and feels muted.

The movie opens in the 1999.  Two scientists from something called Project Monarch find a skeleton in a collapsed mine in the Philippines.  They also find these two pupa shell-things.  One appears to be dormant, and the other is broken open.  As we zoom out from the scene, we learn that whatever hatched must have been huge, because it’s left a huge trail through the woods.

Meanwhile, in Japan, we meet Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), a supervisor for the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant.  Joe is overworked, but he has a loving and supportive family with wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) and son Ford.  I guess Sandra also works for the power plant, because Joe sends her and a team of technicians into one of the reactors to troubleshoot an issue.  What they find is that the reactor has been breached and before you can say, “Holy monster!” there are explosions, a radioactive steam cloud, and just like that Joe’s wife perishes.  In fact, the entire darn power plant implodes.

Fast-forward 15 years, and we learn that the power plant and surrounding community have been quarantined.  Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has grown up and is now a U.S. Navy officer living in San Francisco with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and son Sam.  Ford has just returned to his family from a deployment when he’s notified that his father has been arrested for breaching the contamination zone back in Japan.  Ford has to go over there to bail him out and keep him out of trouble.  When he reunites with his father, he finds Joe a transformed, somewhat crazy man.  He firmly believes that what really happened 15 years earlier was covered up by the government, and is desperate to get to the bottom of it.  He convinces Sam to accompany him back into the forbidden zone to retrieve data from the family’s old home, but when they get there they realize that the area is not contaminated at all.  In fact, there’s a whole government scientific project set up in the area.  The two of them are detained, but while in captivity, all heck breaks loose again.  This time, Joe is not so fortunate to survive, and we finally get a glimpse of the giant monster wreaking havoc.  The thing has been dubbed MUTO for “Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism.”  We learn a little bit from some scientist about what they believe MUTO is, but I’ll spare you those details.  Just know it’s a ridiculously huge, bug-like creature that stomps around and causes lots and lots of damage. 

Godzilla

So, Ford wants desperately to get back to his family, but he also has this carnal urge to avenge his father’s death and serve humanity by helping to bring down the MUTO.  And, so that’s what he does.  But it’s not easy.  The MUTO seems to be heading toward the U.S.  Wait, where’s Godzilla you may ask?  Well, he pops up eventually.  It seems he’s got a little grudge with the MUTO, and so he wants to eat it/them.  Whoops, spoiler alert, there’s more than one MUTO, but not an unreasonable number that Godzilla and mankind cannot unite to bring them down.  Wait, Godzilla is a good guy?  Welllllll, I wouldn’t go that far.  He’s definitely a predator, and he frivolously destroys property and lives with little regard.  It’s just that he seems to have a taste for MUTO.  And it’s a good thing, too, because the humans are certainly having a heck of a time killing them.  They think the answer to the equation is bombing them with nuclear weapons, but the key to the puzzle here is that the MUTO actually feed on the radiation, so they’re only making them stronger.  Ok, I’ve already blurted more storyline than I’m willing to digest, and so let’s move on to my critique.

So, there’s a lot of plot to get through here.  Or should I call it backstory?  Because when we’re in the present, things actually seem remarkably dull.  I’m not sure how that’s even possible, considering my 1,000 word plot description above, but it just is.  There’s lots of explosions, and running, and dying, but I didn’t feel too much intrigue in what I was seeing unfold on-screen.   Maybe I was just tired and cranky, but I felt somewhat slighted.

I think part of the problem here is that this movie is serious.  I mean, come onnnnnnnn—you’re telling a story about a giant T-rex (fanboys, don’t yell at me for calling the Zillz that) and uber-scary praying mantises.  Have some fun with it!  I wanted this movie to feel a little more like Independence Day.  It needed a Will Smith to inject a little humor rather than Aaron Taylor-Johnson carrying the film on his un-proven acting shoulders.  This movie could have been so fun and campy, and still had a comparable level of action, but instead we simply have an overstuffed storyline and lots and lots of explosions.  That makes me sad.  And we definitely, DEFINITELY, don’t see enough of Godzilla on screen.  I should note that the final forty minutes of the film is nothing but a monster slug-fest.  I found that much more enjoyable to watch than the first two-thirds of the movie. 

Godzilla

On the upside, this movie has pretty good special effects, and both Godzilla and the MUTO are well-designed and executed.  They’re scary.  I’ll give them at.  If for no other reason than that they’re huge and highly destructive.  I also praise the film for its sound editing.  Plenty of bass here to test out the ‘ole home theater system.  In fact, when the film ended, we noticed that our subwoofer had moved a full two feet across our living room floor on its own.  Now that’s some bowel-shaking depth of sound. 

The acting in this movie was passable; however, I don’t like that Aaron Taylor-Johnson is forced to carry the film.  Joe Brody’s character had far more depth to it than Ford Brody, and so I think we’re hurt not to have Joe around for the entire film.  We just don’t know enough about Ford—nor did I care enough about Ford—to really want to get behind him as our protagonist.  And let’s face it, Bryan Cranston does more genuine acting in his half hour on screen than Taylor-Johnson does the entire film.  He’s just a far superior actor who was given more character to work with. 

I’ll only compare this movie to one other before concluding this review.  Think about Jurassic Park, and the amazing depth to the characters in that film.  That movie managed to tell us a lot about several characters and make us genuinely care about them, while still leaving room for a riveting and smart plot, as well as plenty of gore and action.  That’s how I wish the characters in Godzilla would have been developed, and I was hoping to walk away from this movie with a similar sense of wonder about what I had seen on screen.  Instead, I was just slightly disappointed and very fatigued.

Thumbs only half up.

Godzilla

What He said:

He

For the first time in a decade and the first time in sixteen years by an American motion picture studio, the big green guy is back. Godzilla has not been seen on screen since Godzilla: Final Wars and this is only the second time a U.S. based company has attempted to make a movie about the big guy (without help from a Japanese studio).  For that reason – and the fact that for the first time in a long time this was an attempt at a more serious movie – people were excited about this movie. I was one of them. I’ve never seen the original Godzilla. I hear it is quite good for its time. What I know of Godzilla is the hokey movies that followed for the next several decades.  Even the 98 American versions, which I do enjoy, was more fun than scary. This was an attempt to make a legit monster movie.

The year is 1999 and scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Wantabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) are investigating a quite unusual scene in the Philippines.  A mining company has discovered some unusually large caverns. The two scientists are called in to investigate and what they find is something that could be considered the biggest scientific discovery in history. They find bones – really, really big bones. They are from what they believed to be the biggest, most dominant creatures to roam the Earth, and they believe some of them still live.

Godzilla

Meanwhile, in Japan and American couple working at Janjira Nuclear Power Plant, is about to have their lives changed forever.  Joe and Sandra Brody (Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche) arrive at work for what will be the last day of the power plant’s existence. There is a nuclear meltdown and not everyone makes it out alive.

What we find out is that these two events are connected. A creature, referred to as a MUTO, has recently awoken being stuck in some kind of exaggerated state of hibernation for millions of years. The creature’s arrival at Janjira causes the power plant to go into a meltdown. Nobody knows it was caused by the creature though and it is assumed it is a normal catastrophe.

Joe knows this is untrue though, which is why he obsesses over the accident for the next fifteen years. Joe still lives in Japan, but no longer works for the power plant, which has since been quarantined and is controlled by the military. This doesn’t stop Joe from sneaking in and trying to discover the truth.

Joe gets caught and is forced to call his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to bail him out. Aaron is an explosives expert with the Navy and he has recently returned home for the first time in fourteen month; so the last thing he wants to do is travel to Japan to bail out his estranged father. Despite their strained relationship, Joe manages to convince Ford to go with him to the island where the nuclear power plant is, so that he can prove to him that something isn’t quite right there.

Joe and Ford get caught and are taken into custody Project Monarch, the secret organization Ishiro and Vivienne work for. Right around this time the MUTO emerges from it’s slumber. It turns out that it was feeding off the energy of the power plant and has grown to a tremendous size. The creature emerges, causes a lot of destruction, and takes off on an unknown mission.

Elsewhere in the world, another one emerges. The two of them are on the move, but nobody knows where or for what purpose.
Oh yeah, and there’s Godzilla himself too. He has emerged from the ocean and like the MUTOs, he seems to be headed somewhere and for a purpose. Where he’s headed and why, nobody is quite sure, but you can bet your ass the three monsters are going to meet up and break a lot of shit in the process.

Joe and Ford are quickly thrust into the process of solving what it is the creatures want and how to stop them. One of these creatures is big enough to cause mass destruction. Three could mean humanity will no longer be the most dominant species on the planet.

You might have noticed I didn’t bring up the green guy until now. That’s because he’s a background character for most of the movie. He’s seen in the shadows or pops up once and a while almost until the end of the movie – when he makes his grand entrance. This approach did not work for some people. The biggest complaint about the movie is that Godzilla was not in the movie often enough.  Director Gareth Edwards took an eerily similar approach to his previous monster movies: Monsters (review here).  I get why it bothers some people, and he does teeter on the verge of not showing enough, but for me it served as a great build up. It created suspense. It made you want to see Godzilla in all his glory. Plus, given that we had two other monsters who were laying waste to various areas around the world, there was plenty of action.

The biggest problem the movie had in this reviewer’s opinion was the two leads; one of whom I haven’t even mentioned yet. Aaron Taylor Johnson was not bad. Do not get me wrong. I was not turned off by his performance. He simply didn’t have a ton of charisma. He wasn’t the best leading man in the world. I didn’t hate him or “wish he would just die”, I just wasn’t drawn to him the way you hope to be. Elizabeth Olsen played his wife Elle. I haven’t talked about her, because there’s not much to say. She just sits there doe-eyed and always on the verge of crying (out of fear, she wasn’t whiny). She didn’t offer much. That doesn’t actually bother me the most. I don’t mind a damsel in distress type of character. She just wasn’t so great at it. I thought she was a little in over her head to be honest. It wasn’t a strong enough performance to be the leading man’s lady.

Godzilla

Luckily, Bryan Cranston and Ken Wantabe were quite good. They are simply better actors. When they were scared, you were scared. They were able to portray the emotion a lot better. They did something with Cranston’s character that I did not see coming, but it didn’t change the fact that I thought it was a good performance. Veteran actor David Straithairn, who played an admiral in charge of the attack on the creatures, is always good. I’ve always liked this guy. He’s not a star, but I always appreciated his talent and I think he’s managed to get the praise he deserves despite the fact he’s not known as a leading man.

I also thought the action was good and the monsters were scary. When the first creature emerged, I found myself muttering, “Woh” more than a few times. I loved the creature design, the build up to the reveal was great, and the effects were fantastic. These monsters looked totally real in my opinion. I love the variety of action too. You’ve got the military fighting the MUTOs, the military fighting Godzilla, and the MUTOs and Godzilla fighting each other. It’s a multi-layered conflict, which I liked. The movie might not have thrown Godzilla in your face non-stop, but it wasn’t lacking action. I liked the approach honestly. It felt like it had a good build up and a rhyme and reason to it. It had structure and purpose. It wasn’t just a bunch of guys in rubber suits (like the old movies) smashing each other and model cities. It was different, and refreshing honestly, from most blockbusters today. They just throw anything and everything in your face for two hours and you get numb to it. It gets boring. So many action movies are “too big” nowadays. Would I have objected to a little more Godzilla? No, a couple of his early fights with the MUTOs could have been longer. Did it make me want more when they finally did show all of it? You bet.

The best way to describe this movie is to compare Indepdence Day to War of the Worlds (the Tom Cruise/Spielberg collaboration). Both movies are about alien invasions, but the former is a lighter approach with more of a fun factor, while the latter is a serious approach to the very same genre. War of the Worlds actually feels like a war movie that just so happens to be about aliens. This movie is a more serious approach, whereas the 98 Godzilla is the Independence Day of American Godzilla movies. I don’t mind either approach when done right.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on September 22, 2014.

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