Sunday, May 25, 2014

Godzilla review; a new take on an old character

When a Godzilla remake was announced a few years ago, I thought to myself, 'It can't be any worse than the 1998 film starring Matthew Broderick'.  That film damn near ruined the character's future in film and put monster movies in a terrible light.  But, time has passed and we've seen some great monster movies the last few years.  JJ Abrams brought us Cloverfield and Super 8, and just last year, we were rewarded with Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim.  All of these films were inspired in some way shape or form by Godzilla.  So it's nice to see the grandaddy of them all getting his own reboot.  Is it any good?  Read on to find out.

What I liked about the film:
The Director
Gareth Edwards doesn't have a long resume as a director, but I think he did a great job with Godzilla.  The tone of the film is very unique for a monster film of this nature.  The film is dark and it's vision was obviously well thought out.  I really liked the way Edwards built up the tension before the big reveal of our starring character.  Hollywood has taken notice of Edwards and he's already been attached to a Godzilla sequel as well as a Star Wars spin off film.  I hope to see a few more of his films in the near future.

It's Different
I really liked how the movie showed us things that are very different from monster movies past.  For starters, Godzilla is a good guy!  Imagine that, the infamous reptile like creature is here to protect mankind against MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism).  There is more that's much different than other films.  The MUTOs (there are two) are in search of one another for the purpose of reproduction.  The fact that their motivation is not just flashed across the screen, but that it is up to the audience to piece it together, is a welcomed changed from Summer movie blockbusters.  The filmmakers do this with another aspect of the plot involving EMPs (Electro Magnetic Pulses).  We get what they do and we thank the writers for not forcing exposition on us (more about that later).

Lastly, the fact that Godzilla is revealed in broad daylight is just awesome.  I enjoyed Pacific Rim, but most of the fights were in the rain, in the dark, and it just wasn't as clear as I'd wish.  I was going to write an entire paragraph about how great the special effects are in this film, but I will leave that nice little caveat for when you watch the film.  Trust me, it's got some great special effects, you won't be disappointed.

What I didn't like about the film:
The Writing
Godzilla is Max Borenstein's first screenplay, and I'm sorry to say, it's a stinker.  While I believe Edwards directed the best that he could with the material he was given, it's ultimately a good story we go to the movies for.  The plot and the toying with the mythology of the character is commendable, but Godzilla essentially plays a supporting role in his own film.  I'm probably not the first person to write this, but why wait so long to debut the main character?  And if you're going to wait that long to do so, why wait another 20 or so minutes to show him again?  The bad writing manifested several other complaints I had about the film too.

The Characters
I. Don't. Care.  It's unfortunate, but true.  I didn't care about a damn human in this film.  We were all duped into thinking that the great Bryan Cranston was the lead actor in this film; let me be the one to spoil it for you, he's not.  He's barely in the film.  So if Cranston is not the lead, who is?  Well that's Aaron Taylor-Johnson's character, Ford Brody.  Yes, I'm serious, the character's name is Ford flippin' Brody.  They give the character a unique set of skills that JUST SO HAPPENS to come in handy later in the film.  But I didn't care about him as a man, or as a human in general.  What drives him is not given enough time to be flushed out, so we're left to believe he's doing so much for the sake of his family, who we've only seen for mere minutes in the film.  Cranston and Taylor-Johnson are just two examples of many actors' wasted talent.

Elizabeth Olsen plays Taylor-Johnson's wife in the film.  And while I think she's a gifted actress, she's given absolutely nothing here.  She essentially ends up being the damsel in distress.  There's more.  Juliette Binoche is a wonderful actress, and she's not in the film for more than a few SECONDS.  David Strathairn is an Oscar-nominated actor, but he basically plays a figurehead for a military that is so obviously useless against these monsters.  Last but not least are Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins, who play scientists in the film.  They are in the film for nothing more than exposition; a devise to bring the audience up to speed on what's happening in the film.  Did I mention they too are both Oscar-nominated actors?

If we don't care about the human counterparts to these monsters, there is nothing emotionally attaching us to the events on the screen.  The film is supposed to be grounded in some sort of reality but the carnage and the loss of life is outrageous.  Man of Steel and Star Trek: Into Darkness got a lot flak for their depiction of entire cities being brought to the ground; Godzilla puts those films to shame.  San Francisco is brought to its knees and in the end the people of the city applaud Godzilla?  Like he's a basketball star walking off the court after sinking a game winning shot?  It's just silly.

The Verdict:
I. Didn't. Care.
I'll say it again, I didn't care for any one particular character in this film.  I didn't care what happened to anyone, and I believe it's the writing who's at fault here.  Gareth Edwards appears to be a great director, with a very promising future; but nothing he could do would overcome this writing.  Same goes for so many gifted actors involved in this film.  Cranston, Taylor-Johnson and the others did the best they could with the material they were given.  But ultimately it's the words on the page that dictate the audience's emotional commitment to the film.  While there were great new spins on a familiar genre, it wasn't enough for me.  Skip this one folks.

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