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Saturday, May 17, 2014

2014 Summer Movie Stomp Down: Godzilla

The blockbuster season is upon us, friends, and I'm making a promise right now that I will most likely break almost immediately, to see as many of the big ones as possible.  Why?  Because, dudes, I love movies just that much, especially the ones released during those lazy, hazy days of summer; films usually based on comic books or some other pre-existing property, and specifically designed to appeal to the widest audience (from the cinematically stupid to the summer movie cynical) as possible.  It can't all be Shakespeare and subtitles.  Sometimes I need to see things blow up real good, while shoving handfuls of buttery popcorn into my mouth. That's my plan for this summer, so get ready!  And I can't think of a better film to start the season off with than my personal Most Anticipated Release of Summer 2014, Godzilla.   

(Oh, hey, this post could possibly contain spoilers, so, you know, proceed with caution.  I'll try to avoid too many of them, but you should know that this review was created in a factory that does also produce movie spoilers)
"Ow, dudes.  Quit."

3 Sentence Plot Synopsis: Legendary reptilian super predator, Godzilla, emerges from his home on the ocean floor to assert his dominance over two giant insects who just want to get it on in peace (and in the biggest pile of rubble possible).  Unfortunately for mankind, but mostly the citizens of San Francisco, this results in a whole lot of death and destruction.  Bryan Cranston sports the worst wig in cinema history.

Stuff I Liked

Oh, man, there is a lot of stuff to like here.  First of all, the filmmakers got Godzilla right.  He is portrayed as a hero-of-sorts here, and that's how I like my Godzilla.  Godzilla is most likely unaware that he is doing anything heroic of course--as mentioned before, his motivation to engage in fisticuffs with the film's sex-crazed insectoid antagonists is largely to remind everyone of his position at the top of the food chain--but that doesn't stop the fact that, in the end, his actions cause a lot fewer deaths than a certain Man of Steel's I could mention.  This "Godzilla as hero" thing also makes the film's story 100-times more compelling than that of 1998's Godzilla, which, if you remember, is a colossal pile of MUTO shit.

All of the monster action--from the devastating collateral damage to the MMA-style behemoth beatdowns--are viewed from the perspective of the human beings that have unwittingly found themselves in the center of a beast war.  This naturally makes each set piece more intense, kind of like Jurassic Park if the velociraptors were each roughly the size of an ocean liner.  You are right there in the middle of ground zero with all the poor saps unfortunate enough to live in or be visiting the Bay Area.  In fact, one of my favorite shots in the movie is when Elizabeth Olsen is running with a crowd of frightened fellow San Franciscans to a subway station for shelter.  She turns around just in time to see Godzilla and one of the MUTOs clash for the first time just as the shelter doors close, obstructing her view, as well as, the audience's.  And that's all you get.  The film moves on.  It's a great little tease, which I poorly described to my filmgoing companion, Jonathan, as being akin to "having sex with your lady, and someone barging into your room and physically removing you from her vagina just as you are about to finish."  I was an English major everybody!

And, of course, I loved the monster fights.  I want to spoil the big final fight so much!!!  You know what, I'm going to.  Skip over this and go straight to the "Stuff I Didn't Like" section if you don't want to go in knowing the sweetest part of the film.

If you're reading this, I'll assume you've agreed to move forward.  Godzilla's finishing move on the female MUTO, after murdering the male with a tail whap to the chest, is to grab her by the face, force open her jaws, vomit radiation down her throat, and rip off her head.  It is glorious.

"Oh, God.  My wife.  And my wig."

Stuff I Didn't Like

In the grand tradition of the Godzilla films of the past, we don't get a whole lot of monster fighting until the final, I don't know, fifteen minutes of the movie, maybe.  That's fine and good, but it ultimately results in a movie that feels--and, well, quite frankly is--very, very slooooooow.  Godzilla's runtime is 123 minutes according to Wikipedia, and you feel every single one of them.  I don't mind a build up, but c'mon!  I thought maybe I was being unfair, sitting in my seat quietly, genuinely enjoying parts of the film playing in front of me, but wondering when it would "kick in" and "jump to the next gear" (I don't know anything about cars, but I hope I'm being clear enough), until I conferred with Jonathan during the end credits, which we sat through dutifully, being trained by Marvel to stick around for "stingers" (There aren't any.  Go to the bathroom.).  He too felt that Godzilla was slow going.  I no longer felt crazy and/or wrong for being bored during long stretches of Godzilla.  Knowing this helped me sleep better.  Well, that and the fact that I didn't get home from the theater until around 1:15 AM.

I mentioned how much I liked that the story was told from the human perspective (a la Cloverfield) up top.  I should mention, however, that I didn't particularly enjoy any of those humans from whose perspectives said story was experienced.  Bryan Cranston gives a great performance, despite the awful, awful wig they made him wear, which is a minor quibble I promise not to bring up again; and Elizabeth Olsen is good for the collective two minutes of screen time she receives (You couldn't give her more to do, Gareth?).  Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who plays Ford Brody, the Cranston character's son and our "hero," is kind of a non-entity who I never particularly cared about, and Ken Wantanabe, an actor I usually enjoy, basically just stands around with a "who farted?" look on his face while staring off into the middle distance.  And did Juliette Binoche owe the studio a favor or something?  Why would she agree to be in this?  Seemed like a total waste of her time.

Arbitrary Grade & Short Explanation: C+

I liked Godzilla, but I didn't love it.  And maybe that's on me.  As mentioned earlier, it was my Most Anticipated Release of Summer 2014.  The story was compelling, retroactively making 98's Godzilla look even stupider than you remember.  The monster fights--and the fact that there were monster fights, unlike a certain Godzilla movie from the late 90's I could mention but won't--delighted the 13-year-old boy inside of me.  But the characters (with the exception of Cranston's Joe Brody) were uninteresting, action figures shuffled SLOOOOOOOWLY from set piece to set piece.   In the end, I'd rather re-watch Pacific Rim or Cloverfield or Jurassic Park, three films Godzilla borrows from and, sadly, mishandles.

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