Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Final Countdown: Godzilla (2014) Review

     Okay, lemme get something out of the way before we get started.

     Lemme just regain my composure here and let's get on with it.  Sunday night, the two year wait finally ended as my son and I hit up the theatre and we caught Gareth Edwards' Godzilla.  As you can tell from the mini-gif library above, I found it was worth the wait.  My brother actually joined us as well and he's not really a Godzilla fan but even he was impressed.

     Let's get to the finer details.  I'm not entirely sure what everyone knows about this movie so just to cover my ass, minor spoiler alert.  In 1999, a paleontological discovery is made that also ties in to a nuclear power plant accident that kills the wife of plant supervisor Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad).  Cut to present day where Joe's estranged son Ford (Kick Ass' Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a US Navy Bomb Diffusion Expert, is called away from his wife Elle (Oldboy's Elizabeth Olsen) and son (Carson Bolde) because Joe has been arrested for trespassing in the quarantine zone.  Again.  Ford meets up with his father and Joe convinces him to help him with one last trip to their old home for seismic data from that day so that Joe can prove that it wasn't a natural disaster.  They retrieve the data, only to be captured and interrogated at the remains of the plant.  There, they witness a discovery that not only puts the world in peril, but brings the planet's one possible hope to the surface...

...and it has a thing for neck workouts.

     Since the movie has been out for a few days, I'm sure you've heard plenty of feedback regarding it.  Godzilla has gotten fairly mixed to positive reviews online and it's nice to see that an American studio has given their spin on The King Of The Monsters with much better results than the last time.  That being said, there's a lot of pissing and moaning about this movie that I can't help but wonder what these people were expecting or whether we saw the same movie.  I'm not here to say that these people are a bunch of wrong whiners because different strokes for different folks and all that, but I will provide my own personal counter arguments to some of the common complaints that I keep hearing and hopefully this will provide you with some insight on the film.

     #1: The Movie Focuses Too Much On The Boring Humans And Not Enough On The Monsters
     Any creature feature knows that the best ones are the ones that focus on the human characters so that you root for them to survive and not just for the creatures (be them saurian, kaiju, undead, etc) to rip them apart.  Godzilla is no exception but just because other films have done it before and done it "better" doesn't make Godzilla's terrible in its own right.  Hell, even many of the original Toho films follow this same formula so it shouldn't come as a shock to anyone who has seen them.  Much of the negative feedback that I've heard in this sense is that the film's main focus is Ford, who Johnson portrays "with as much enthusiasm as a mannequin."  I actually appreciated that his performance may have been "held back" because Ford didn't feel like an action film archetype spouting off tough-guy one-liners but rather a real, average, run of the mill family man who just so happens to be in the Navy.  One of the big things that director Gareth Edwards was trying to do with this film was to treat it as if this were to actually happen so it made sense that our main focus would be a believable family man trying to get back to his wife and son as opposed to some hunky chiseled cocky man (although to be fair, Johnson's not a terrible looking fellow) who wants to go toe to toe with giant monsters.  This more or less applies to the rest of the cast.

Johnson & Cranston goofing off at San Diego Comic-Con.
     #2.  Godzilla Doesn't Show Up Until An Hour Into The Film
     To tell the truth, much like the last point, I think anyone who says this is a bad thing obviously has not seen any of the originals (serious or campy).  Say what you will about this one, but you cannot say that it doesn't pay tribute to the originals.  In 1954's Gojira, the titular creature doesn't make its first good look appearance until the 27 minute mark of the approximate 90 minute run-time and is only in the film for a grand total of 14 minutes.  Proceeding into the franchise, a lot of the cheesy movies don't really have that much of Godzilla in them in the grand scheme of things.  It's usually main character set up, other monster arrives, military tries to stop it,  main characters see military fail, other monster wreaks havoc, Godzilla intervenes, punch punch roar fire breath, Godzilla wins.  For fuck's sake, people, even the awful 1998 film didn't have (God)Zilla make landfall until half an hour in, and then it took another half hour for the full reveal so this should come as little to no surprise.  Edwards and screenwriter Max Borenstein took the approach of classic Spielberg movies like Jaws, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Jurassic Park of holding the monsters back and showing them and their abilities as little as possible so that when they ARE on screen, their presence is that much more powerful.  Was I a little disappointed that after Godzilla's full reveal, we didn't get a detailed fight against the other monster?  Well, at first but at least we got a little bit of it on the news screen and the final thirty minutes made up for it, which is a damn sure sight better than the battle between Michael Cera and Chris Evans' stunt doubles in Scott Pilgrim vs The World.  Just stop and ask yourself this, "If the movie had been two hours of nothing but Godzilla and the other monster(s) whaling on each other, would you have been invested the entire time?"  No, that would've gotten old pretty fast and then the movie would've been blasted for being nothing but mindless action.  This movie takes its time to deliver the goods and doesn't fuck on the first date.

     #3.  Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe Are Hardly In The Movie
     Don't get me wrong, I really dig Cranston and Watanabe, not just in this movie but in general.  However, to say that they're "hardly in the movie" is just silly.  Ken Watanabe plays Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (the name is a nod to both Gojira director Ishiro Honda and character Dr. Daisuke Serizawa, the man who creates the Oxygen Destroyer that kills the first Godzilla) who helps investigate the discovery in the Philippines and insists that Godzilla is not there to cause mayhem on the human race but to restore balance to nature.  He is advising the military for pretty much the entire film and makes his scenes count whenever he's onscreen (including a squeal-inducing-Hallelujah-blaring namedrop of the titular creature in his native tongue).
     The same can be said about Cranston, despite having less screen time than Watanabe.  Cranston's Joe is an obsessive conspiracy theorist who is adamant in finding out the cause of the seismic activity that lead to the core breach and the death of his wife.  When he and Ford are taken to the remains of the Janjiri Power Plant to be interrogated for their trespassing, you get the whole "You are not fooling anyone" tangent that was in the trailers and it is far more chilling and emotional to hear it in it's entirety.  When Cranston is onscreen, he owns every scene, much like Tom Hardy's Bane in The Dark Knight Rises so yeah, he may not be in the film for terribly long and I think this would only be a legitimate complaint if Bryan had top billing in the film, but he doesn't.  Look at this poster and tell me whose name is first.  Not Cranston's.  Besides, *HIGHLIGHT FOR MASSIVE SPOILERS* it's kind of difficult to give lines to a guy after he dies, don't you think?  Perhaps some day we'll get a movie of Cranston and Watanabe bantering with each other and I'll be all for it.  However, today is not that day.
     Actually, this kind of leads me to the next point...

     #4.  The Trailers Seem To Advertise A Different Movie
     Seriously?  This is a legit complaint people have about the film?  In the off chance that you haven't seen the trailers for the movie, they do seem to focus more on Bryan Cranston's narration and with the exception of the Asian trailer, do a fairly good job of hiding the fact that Godzilla isn't the only monster in the film.  While some may take this as a bait-and-switch-middle-finger-to-the-audience play, I'm totally okay with it because like I said earlier, Cranston doesn't even have top billing and it's nice that there was a film that was marketed without the entire thing pretty much given away in the advertising (like The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and the stuff that wasn't shown in the previews still keeps you engaged in the story (unlike Zombieland) and at least Godzilla feels like you are watching a Godzilla movie.  After hearing so many complaints of various movies over the years giving away too much in the trailers, it baffles me that this one reared its head.

    I'm not really sure what else to say about this movie.  Given how this movie met my expectations that were built up by two years of anticipation, plus the best effects in the series to date as well as a very emotional feeling throughout that while powerful wasn't overwhelming (unlike TellTale's The Walking Dead game), I'm going to outright say that Godzilla is the best film I've seen thus far this year.  While Captain America: The Winter Soldier had a lot of heavy stuff with Bucky as well as Steve still adjusting to the modern world (not to mention what was really going on within S.H.I.E.L.D.), there weren't too many scenes that really hit you in the feels or make you gasp and say, "Oh my God," the way Godzilla does (the tsunami and bridge scenes, just as a couple immediate examples).  I'm not saying this to be biased, I genuinely mean it.  Gareth Edwards' Godzilla packs a whallop in this department and is arguably the best entry in the Godzilla franchise since Gojira, marking a welcomed return to form for The King Of The Monsters.  I think a lot of people were expecting something more like Pacific Rim but really, Rim has NOTHING on Godzilla.  Even Toho Studios expressed their satisfaction with Legendary and Gareth Edwards.

     In closing, while it may not be what many were expecting, I had a superb time with Godzilla and I really hope that the other monsters in the film get adopted into Toho's library for use in future media.  The characters were easy to relate with, Godzilla himself has never looked better, Alexandre Desplat really emphasizes the tone of the film and it didn't drag on leaving you wondering where the ending was.  When Gareth Edwards and company went through Canadian Customs to film in Vancouver, upon discovering what movie they were actually shooting (the cast and crew were told to use the code word "Nautilus"), two Customs Agents flat out told Gareth, "Don't fuck it up," even holding him there for twenty minutes to say what had to be and couldn't be in the movie.  Whoever these guys are, I think they can rest easy.  In closing, I'll tell you what I told my son and brother once the credits started to roll, "And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is how you make a fucking Godzilla movie!"
     Check back later when I'll rewatch and review Gareth Edwards' previous effort, Monsters.  Hopefully, there'll be no distractions.

     -The Cynic

     BONUS STORY: Before my son and I went to the movie, we zipped up to Wal-Mart to see if they had any of the toys because his birthday's coming up and I wanted to grab him some stuff from the new movie while they were still in stock.  We skimmed the aisles really quickly and didn't see anything so we asked the lady stocking toys if they had any Godzilla toys in stock.  Now, she had what I believe was a German accent and she looked to be in her mid-thirties so given the fact that y'know, he's been a worldwide phenomenon for the last sixty years she'd be able to help but the rep looked at me and said, "Godzilla?  Vut...vut is zis Godzilla?  I've never heard of zis Godzilla..."

This is what went through my head.

     I politely told her that we'd keep looking and went on my way, muttering to myself, "What do you mean, 'What is Godzilla?'  He's only been around for sixty fucking years, how do you not know who Godzilla is mumblemumblemumble."

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