Tuesday, May 20, 2014

“Godzilla” – Heyyyy! I was watching that.

Before I get into the latest remake of Godzilla, I’d like to remind you what I look for in movies and why I write these reviews. First, you should know that I am a bit of a perfectionist and like things to make sense. I’m not going to complain about sparking bullets, people crashing through windows and not getting so much as a scratch, or large robots somehow transforming into small vehicles. But I am going to complain about things like making a sinking car float by filling up bags with air from the tires from said car, aliens who are deathly allergic to water invading a planet made up mostly of water, or everything in the movie Gravity. Second, I read books and watch movies and television shows because I like good stories and good characters. Like most of you, I watch movies to escape for a while and it’s no fun to escape to crappy places like After Earth, which feature vapid characters and an empty plot. Most importantly, I just want the story and characters to make sense so I don’t spend the film trying to invent new cuss words.

I started writing reviews because I believe most people think the way I do and should know what they are about to spend their money and time on. If you are like me, you get excited about a lot of movies that are coming out and are equally as angry when they turn out to suck. The first review I wrote was to verbalize precisely that after seeing Jumper. I wanted people to know why a normal audience member hated a movie instead of why the typical film snob/main-stream media critic hated it. But, I also have reasonable expectations when it comes to certain movies. Pacific Rim had a fairly ridiculous plot and didn’t spend much time developing characters, but I loved it because the plot fit the movie, the events made sense in the film’s universe, and the film delivered on what it promised – giant monsters fighting giant robots. So, when a similar movie like Godzilla is announced, I know right where to set my expectations – as long as Godzilla is stomping on cities and/or fighting other monsters, I’ll probably be happy.

The two most recent comparisons to Godzilla are Cloverfield and Pacific Rim. Cloverfield is much more reminiscent of the original Godzilla (1954) in that it’s about a giant monster appearing out of the ocean and destroying a city and its inhabitants for no reason other than it’s a giant monster; that’s what they do (yes, I know the original Godzilla is an allegory about nuclear weapons, but not on the surface). Pacific Rim is much more like later incarnations of Godzilla in which they battle other giant monsters to preserve humanity. At least, I think that’s why Godzilla does it, though it may just be because trampling on humans gets old really fast. This new Godzilla wants to be a little of both, but is really just Pacific Rim-lite. There are fewer monsters, there’s only one giant protector of mankind, there’s an absurd human story that doesn’t matter to the plot even a little bit, and far less monster mayhem and fighting. But, the fighting and action scenes that are there – niiiiiice.

I know that movies like this aren’t supposed to have great plots and Godzilla keeps that streak going. The film starts off with historical footage of nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific Ocean and we’re later told that they weren’t tests at all, but instead were attempts to kill Godzilla. This is important because later in the movie the plot will shit itself when the U.S. Navy comes up with a plan to kill Godzilla (and the other monsters) by, you guessed it, nuking them. Not only is Godzilla immune to nuclear blasts; the other monsters (called Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms or MUTO’s) literally eat radiation for sustenance. This wouldn’t be so bad if they hadn’t TOLD US DURING THE MOVIE. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After the opening montage, we’re introduced to two great actors playing out thankless roles – Ken Watanabe as a scientist studying MUTO’s and Bryan Cranston as the former supervisor of a Japanese power plant destroyed by MUTO’s who is convinced that the Japanese government is covering up the true cause of the catastrophe. Cranston only appears in the first half hour of the movie and serves no purpose other than to be the reason his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) ends up spending the entire movie trying to get back to his wife and son. Watanabe’s sole purpose in the film is to be ignored by Admiral Stenz (David Strathairn) and insist that Godzilla is “the world’s natural balance.” We don’t know what makes him think this, but he’s the only Japanese person in the film so he must be a giant god-lizard expert. Anyway, he’s part of a team that has kept a spidery MUTO thing captive at the ruins of the plant for fifteen years and that thing escapes just in time to ruin Ford’s day. This is the theme for the rest of the film – Ford goes to another place on his journey home and the MUTO screws with his plans. Of course, this movie isn’t called Ford’s Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day so we don’t really care. What we care about is when does Godzilla show up?

A couple of other reviews have given kudos to the filmmakers for keeping Godzilla under wraps in a sort of homage to Spielberg’s Jaws. While those reviewers make an interesting point, it’s really not the same thing. At no time during Jaws does Spielberg show you Jaws jump out of the water about to eat a boatload of people, then cut away to some guy on a Coast Guard cutter looking at the ocean through binoculars. In Godzilla, we get our first full look at the title character, about to mix it up with the MUTO, when the film inexplicably cuts away to Ford’s boy watching the news. My exact reaction was “Who changed the damned channel?” In a movie with a much more developed and interesting plot, cutting away from this might make some sense, but not in a movie where we paid to see monsters fight. This is the equivalent of going to a strip club and when the stripper is about to take her bra off she punches you in the dick instead.

Fortunately, the rest of the film makes up for this terrible gaffe and we get the mayhem we paid for in spades, including a second MUTO that is much larger than the first. It doesn’t matter that Godzilla can somehow track the MUTOs no matter where they are. Or that the humans keep shooting at them with small arms fire even though all that accomplishes is drawing the attention of the MUTOs’ mouths. Or that the MUTOs eat Yucca Mountain for its nuclear waste even though Yucca Mountain has never actually stored any nuclear waste. All that matters is the battle royale between the three monsters in San Francisco at the climax of the film is freaking awesome. And every scene in which a MUTO tramples on cities and humans alike, including an eye-popping scene in which the flying MUTO dive-bombs a destroyer. These scenes are so fun that you almost forget that some inane human is trying to get back to his equally inane family.

A lot of people are going to compare this film with 1998’s abysmal Godzilla and think it’s great, but it should really be compared with Pacific Rim. Both movies are expensive showcases of uber-monster battles, but Pacific Rim never cuts away from the action it promises, tries not to dwell too much on the petty problems of its human protagonists, and comes up with a plausible reason for the actions we are witnessing. Here’s hoping they fix these problems with the already greenlit Godzilla sequel.

Rating: Ask for two dollars back. There was never a time when anyone was glad the channel changed from Breaking Bad to whatever the hell was on the Lifetime channel.


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  2. "This is the equivalent of going to a strip club and when the stripper is about to take her bra off she punches you in the dick instead."

    This actually happened at a bar in Tijuana once when I Was in the Marines so so long ago....the guy was drunk and tried to rip her panties off before she got to the interesting part...she punched him the balls. Then the bouncer showed up....

  3. Oh, Good review; although I'd ask for more than $2 back. :)