Monday, May 26, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

Starring: Ken Watanabe and MUTOs (with cameo appearances by Godzilla and Bryan Cranston)
Director: Gareth Edwards

Well, it has all come down to this: the new Godzilla movie. So, what is the verdict? Well, this is Cinema Freaks, so here is Nicolas Cage acting out how I felt while watching this movie:

And this is him acting out how I felt after it was over:

Yeah, this is going to hurt...

Let me start off with the plot. In 1999, a mysterious cave-in at a mine creates worry for a scientist named Dr. Serizawa (sound familiar?), played by Ken Watanabe (I am just going to call him by his real name to distinguish him from the original character).  Not long afterward, a nuclear power plant disaster in Japan unfolds, with tragic consequences for an American family by the name of Brody. Fifteen years later, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), now a married father serving in the Navy, returns to Japan to help his own father, the former plant supervisor Joe Brody, played by Bryan Cranston. Cranston (I am just going to call him that by his real name too because…it's Bryan Cranston) believes there is more to the disaster than officials are letting on. But what they find is beyond their wildest dreams…

…or mine for that matter. I was expecting Godzilla, but instead I got…*sigh*…let me explain…

Okay, I…have some problems with this movie. Now, I cannot really explain all this without going into the important plot details. I will not give away the ending, but you may see some of these details as spoilers. Sorry, that it is the way it is going to go.

First, there is the big one: it has other monsters in it besides Godzilla. It turns out that the military has been keeping an egg inside the supposedly contaminated zone around the former nuclear plant; we know from the beginning that it was found by Watanabe's team fifteen years earlier. The egg hatches and a giant creature emerges from it. Classified as an Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism, or MUTO for short, it is hard to describe and I do not think it is based on any previous Godzilla characters, but it sort of looks like a mixture between a bird and a praying mantis. Anyway, a different MUTO from the same nest is also on the loose. Why did no one has ever bother to look for it despite obvious evidence it was alive? Why did no one even find it by accident in the fifteen intervening years? Those are valid questions…that will never be answered…Anyway, the two of them are set to breed, which would result in more of these creatures coming into being.

Gee, THAT sounds really familiar, doesn't it? Except instead of Godzilla the Hermaphrodite, they have two other creatures procreating...through incest. Gross.

Under other circumstances, this would not be an issue; all but a handful of the old Godzilla movies have him fighting other monsters. But Godzilla was always the main attraction. In this movie, however, the MUTOs actually take up more screen time than he does! I have heard some complaints beforehand that Godzilla gets pushed out of his own film. Well, I agree with them. Stealing screen time is one thing; stealing the whole movie is another. And in my mind at least, this was not suppose to be an ordinary Godzilla movie. This was the anniversary American reboot that was suppose to celebrate sixty years of the big guy, and quite frankly make up for the disastrous '98 version. Putting other monsters in there would have been a big distraction no matter what. They could have saved them for the (almost inevitable) sequel or at the very least held them off until near the end. Really, though, it should have just had him.

Speaking of not showing up very often…Bryan Cranston. He is in this movie. Sort of. What do I mean by that? Well, after he loses his wife in the nuclear meltdown, he spends the next fifteen years hanging around Japan, getting arrested and coming up with all these conspiracy theories about what really happened that day (and yet somehow does not age at all during this time period). When he is reluctantly assisted by his now-grown son, they are arrested by the military and conveniently end up at the detention center where the first MUTO hatches. When it does, it creates havoc and Cranston is seriously injured in the chaos. Watanabe realizes his potential and recruits him to help deal with the dangerous threats. Cranston responds by…dying. Oh, you mean they fake his death to keep his existence a secret so that…no…he just…dies.

Okaaaaaaaaaaay…so all that build up hinting at a big Godzilla vs. Walter White showdown? Yep, that tease goes nowhere. By the time Godzilla is even mentioned, Cranston is already in a body bag. Great…just…great…

Honestly, this two minute fake trailer is better than the actual movie.

Oh well, we still have Ken Watanabe  right? Well, yes, but his main job in the movie, besides staring alarmingly at the events unfolding, seems to be to tell everyone about how Godzilla is nature's OxiClean: he moves in and wipes away the problems caused by other powerful forces. In other words, he is suppose to destroy the MUTOs and restore balance to the world, so we should just let him do his job. Watanabe is kind of like Dr. Yamane in the originals, but while Yamane was sort of a wise elderly professor of the field, Watanabe comes off as presumptuous for some reason. Maybe because he happens to be wrong: when Godzilla and the creature first encounter each other on-screen, they roar at one another for a few seconds, before they CUT TO THE NEXT SCENE! Seriously, they go from night to day with absolutely no transition at all! And this is not a stand alone error either; this is done a handful of times throughout the film, if less blatantly. Anyway, I like Watanabe as an actor and I might have had a different take on his message if the rest of the movie held up, but as is, it does not work. AT ALL!

The rest of the cast does not help matters. There are no real bad performances, per se. It is just that none of them really do anything. David Strathaim plays a military guy who keeps telling people how understanding and open-minded he is, only to shut them down afterward if he disagrees with them. Elizabeth Olsen plays the wife of Ford who lives in San Francisco, proving that San Francisco is never safe when an Olsen sister is around!

Ha ha ha, I made a "Full House" joke. I could have been on my tenth "Breaking Bad" reference at this point, but I guess that was not in the cards...

As for Ford Brody, he is the supposed hero in this movie, and he does do some stuff: he assist in the fighting against the monsters and takes part in some of the planning. However, none of what he does could not have been done by anyone else in the military. He does do one thing at the end which is courageous, but even that is undercut by the fact that is done in vein. The only reason why he is really in this movie is to connect the dots between the beginning and end of the movie. This is done in a lot of films, of course, but you still have to be able to make the narrative flow seamlessly. In this film, you can see all the mechanics at work, so there is no real suspension of belief.

In some sense, I understand why the people got overshadowed. The Godzilla series has always been about the monsters, and the human characters were not written to be on the same plane as those of Shakespeare. But they still played roles: they fought against or with Godzilla and their personal strengths and weaknesses came through in the storyline. If they did not, the films would just be constant fighting, which would honestly get boring after a while. While it was not quite like that in this film (frankly, there should have been more fighting, not less), it did treat the human characters like they were useless, as if they mere pawns to be shown so that the producers could remind themselves not to blow the entire budget on special effects. I get that this was the message of the film, to let nature take its course without human intervention (I know because Watanabe told me so). However, to take it so far as to reduce almost all the human characters to cardboard cutouts really makes the movie look hallow.

So, is there anything positive about this movie? Well, Godzilla himself is cool. He certainly comes across as very powerful and intimidating. Some people have complained that he is too fat, but while I suppose going on the Atkins diet would not have hurt, there is no doubt in my mind that this is Godzilla (what little I saw of him). I also liked some of the little tributes they paid to the original: naming Watanabe's character after Dr. Serizawa  commenting on events happening in the year 1954, reminding the military of Hiroshima, etc. I even liked when Watanabe says Godzilla's name for the first time: he totally mugs for the camera and its pretty cheesy, but it's fun nonetheless. And believe it or not, I liked some of the parts I just critiqued. The MUTOs themselves have a neat design and the whole message of nature taking its course is really not a bad one at all. I just think they were either misplaced or not done very well in the context of the film (okay, I admit, Godzilla's finishing move at the end of his fight with the biggest MUTO is pretty awesome!).

Now for the last part: how does it compare to the 1954/6 and 1998 versions? Aside from the obvious advances in technology, it falls short of the originals on almost every level due to everything I just mentioned above. As for '98…overall, this movie is better. The characters, as one dimensional as they are, do bring a bare basic level of emotional turmoil and are not as annoying as some were in '98. In addition, there are fewer plot holes (though there are some noticeable ones) and Godzilla actually puts up a fight as opposed to hiding all the time. In other words, it at least tries to take itself more seriously. However, there were a number of moments that reminded me of '98, and not in a good way. So, it is a superior film, but almost by default than anything else.

And that is 2014's "Godzilla." Man, what a disappointment!

Didn't think I would have this again so soon…

Look, I was not expecting a masterpiece: I just wanted a good, solid Godzilla movie. This was the American movie they were suppose to get right, yet I did not get it. Honestly, I feel robbed! So if you are a real die-hard Godzilla fan or just a big action movie junkie, you might like it (actually, you have probably already seen it at this point either way). But if you are an average movie goer or just someone like myself who wants something a little more out of the franchise, I do not recommend it. I heard they are already planning a sequel (shock) and maybe that one will be better. I am not that hopeful at the moment, but, eh, stranger things have happened. Until then, stick with the originals!

By the way, I realize this was a terrible Memorial Day post. If you want something more appropriate, check out my review of Twelve O'Clock High here.

The pictures and videos in this post are copyrighted by their respective owners and are being used for entertainment purposes only. Please do not sue me.