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Godzilla - The King Returns
I have been a fan of Kaiju films for as long as I have been a fan of films of any kind. Some of my earliest and fondest movie memories center around monster movies. King Kong, Jurassic Park, and of course Godzilla were among my favorites. The recent American remake/reboot of Godzilla has caused a bit of controversy as most movies, especially those where the hardcore fan-base is primarily nerds, tend to do.
In this hub I hope to offer a review of the new film as well as offer some words in its defense as I feel the negative reactions are tainted with cynicism and entitlement.
Return of the King
Let's start with the basic main review. I'll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum for this portion as I recognize the fact that many will not have seen the film yet. I will also say that while I feel the film has its flaws it IS WORTH SEEING in the theater, especially if you can afford to see it in Imax or other large screen formats. 3-D is optional however I saw the film in 2-D.
The film's main flaw is in its lead actor, or perhaps in the caliber of the director who was directing him. This has led to many claiming that the movie is at fault in its focus on the human disaster-movie element rather than focusing solely on the monster fights and copious scenes of city-wide destruction. We as the audience should FEEL something when our main character is in danger but due to the expressionless almost Kristin Stewart-esque acting of Aaron Taylor-Johnson its hard to get fearful for his character.
Obviously he's the main character (he's not, however, the hero, Godzilla is) so he's likely to survive the ordeal we are witnessing just as most movie main characters do but most movies we suspend our disbelief to allow us to believe the protagonist is in real danger. In movies in which we have trouble feeling something for the main character it is harder to get pumped up or sad when emotional situations happen to the character, especially when the actor portraying them has almost the same facial expression discussing his dead Mother as he does every other scene in the movie.
His actual character, while somewhat bland and ordinary is never offensively cliché but the problem stems from the fact that he is meant to be sympathized with and yet his acting merits almost no emotion. Even when the lives of his family depend on his actions and he drops in to take the fight to the monsters he barely shows any emotion despite his actions indicating his anger and frustration at being kept from his family. His motivations are clear and yet I as an audience member fail to care as much about him as I do about the monster fights that are about to unfold. I care far more about Godzilla and the Japanese scientist rooting the titular monster on.
When we do get to those fights however they are beyond jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, the stuff of legend that Godzilla fans have dreamed the new age of CGI would eventually bring us. Gone are the days of Roland Emmerich's Godzilla, cheap-looking and with no size or scale to his movements, now we have an ancient behemoth waking to restore the world to balance. Scenes with Godzilla are absolutely stunning and even when the scientist, Dr. Serizawa, speaks of the big green beast its enough to inspire any Godzilla fan or movie-fan in general to get behind the true hero of the movie.
Godzilla is a King, but he is also a FORCE OF NATURE. Despite Cranston's character's suggestions to the contrary the MUTOs (Godzilla's equally ancient insect enemies) and Godzilla himself ARE NATURAL DISASTERS. When Godzilla comes to shore we don't just get ripples, we get a Tsunami! He is a massive catastrophe for anything that threatens the balance of nature, be it man or giant mantis-bug-thing. He is treated with majesty, awe, and respect, as well as fear.
As previously stated although the lead actor gives a boring performance the part written for him actually isn't that bad, sort of a crossover between the wrong-place-at-the-right-time of Die Hard's John McClane and the standard I-have-to-get-back-to-my-family-Father of countless other disaster films. There are also plenty of things and characters around him to keep your mind off how vanilla his performance is as Serizawa and the military attempt to keep the monsters from making an anti-Kaiju wall of life a necessary investment.
The monster fights are the real highlight and the teasing little bits of fighting we get before the final showdown set us up for a climactic payoff that absolutely left me satisfied with my purchase. If you're the kind of movie-goer who hates characters and dialogue, favoring instead that we get action scene after action scene after action scene you'll probably hate this. If you're going in expecting constant Kaiju destruction from opening to credits you're definitely going to hate this. Me, I think it's a really solid way to reboot the Godzilla franchise and is a good film overall, it could have been better but its a solid blockbuster as is.
Would be 3.5 if hubpages had more subtle ratings
A Shark a T-Rex and Kaiju Walk into Theaters
From here Spoilers will be more thorough...
The obvious recent film to compare this to is Pacific Rim and I've heard both positive comparisons and negative ones. Both Pacific Rim and Godzilla 2014 have fairly cliché bog standard plots the highlights of which are fight scenes involving giant monsters. However the main complaint here is that the only full on fight we get is at the very end and its not as lengthy as many Kaiju fans had hoped for. This has led to a fairly over-used comparison of the new Godzilla to Steven Spielberg's classic thriller JAWS. Jaws teases us with bits of the shark until the very end, the final fight, it makes us sit through the struggles of a small town and a police chief who is afraid of the water despite living in a beach resort town. Jaws draws us in slowly until we've taken the bait, then pulls us under all the way.
While both of these are fine movies to compare and contrast Godzilla 2014 with I can think of one that would be much better for comparison that I think will put why I like the new Godzilla into perspective. That movie is one that I absolutely adored as a child and which I still think is a great fun thrill-ride but which my opinion of has become more nuanced over the years. I'm talking, of course, of Jurassic Park.
Jurassic Park is one of the most lauded block-buster creature-features of all time sporting some of the earliest and best CGI effects in movie history and essentially catapulting special effects into a new world the same way Star Wars had a decade and a half before it. What many don't know is that Spielberg's film, and its sequel, work in several homages not just to Kaiju movies but to monster movies in general. Spielberg is one of those filmmakers inspired into movie-making by pulp fiction, old adventure serials and monster movies.
In Jurassic Park the arrival of the T-Rex is always heralded by thundering foot-steps, in the opening music and credit sequence we hear a loud base drum foreshadowing this effect. This is an obvious homage to the opening of the original 1954 film Gojira (in which the titular Godzilla makes his first appearance) which features a similar drum effect.
I like to think that Spielberg was basically tipping his hat to those that had come before him and acknowledging that he was ushering a new age of monster movies with the updated special effects now available. However the film was not polluted with constant CGI battles of dinosaurs, no cities were destroyed, and although the scenes with dinosaurs are exciting, intense and awesome they take up a relatively small portion of the film when put in perspective.
None of the characters in Jurassic Park are all that interesting. Don't get me wrong the film is full of memorable lines and wonderful moments and its lead, Sam Neill, does a far better job than Aaron Taylor-Johnson but if you look back on Jurassic Park the characters were all simple sketches of people with no real depth. In fact you might say the most interesting thing about ANY of them is the fact that they were being attacked by dinosaurs. They're one-dimensional. A weaselly lawyer, an eccentric mathematician, an Indiana Jones wannabe who hates kids, and some woman who's just kinda there (I guess she's a scientist too but who cares she doesn't do much in the plot)... and of course the standard Spielberg KIDS IN DANGER.
As a kid Jurassic Park seemed too good to be true, what young boy doesn't love dinosaurs? We're talking about the closest thing to real life monsters as you can get, although when this movie first came out I probably still believed in real monsters. Looking back on the movie as an adult however while I still love it and can quote it like second-nature there are a lot of aspects about it that just seem kinda weird. For example how they built this obviously dangerous facility in the middle of the tropics and it apparently never occurred to them that this scenario might happen. They've engineered all the dinosaurs to die out without the amino acid lysine and made sure they are all female (although its never explained where they got the FIRST dinosaur egg, I prefer to think that Nedry laid it to help pay off his debt) but they haven't planned for a bad storm?
The point is that Jurassic Park is not perfect and also that, while the dinosaurs are the highlights of the movie and completely own the screen and outshine the humans they are not actually on screen in all their glory for that much of the movie. The same can be said about the new Godzilla film. Movies, yes even massive blockbusters, have budget constraints as well as time constraints. Movies also have to at least attempt to tell a story.
No Monster is an Island
While the new Godzilla might have benefited from a few more center-stage monster battles I simply don't feel its fair to call it a bad movie based on the quantity of the fights. Non-stop monster fighting with no plot or explanation might win over the more die hard kaiju fans and leave them thirsty for more but it would be far too expensive and leave mainstream audiences frustrated. The quality is more important, and the final battle was simply a stunning thing to behold.
Many complain that the human part just isn't interesting, but the monsters are always there, we cut to them often albeit briefly and at one point the MUTO is dismantling a set of traintracks right on top our would-be human hero. I've even heard fans nitpicking about the insectoid enemies themselves but this seems ridiculous to me given the hilariously goofy and rarely intimidating or logical monsters that Toho has conjured up over the decades of Kaiju films that come before this.
Others complain that Bryan Cranston is underused and I will agree with that sentiment, I would have preferred him to team up with Serizawa and drag his son into danger leaving his son torn even farther between his love for his Father and getting back to his wife and son. However this would have likely left the movie even more cluttered with human characters and the fans have clearly spoken that they don't want that and apparently just want to see shit get wrecked.
If you want that sort of thing go watch 2012 again and see what poorly written cliché disaster-porn really looks like, you'll come back hailing Godzilla a masterpiece.
The Hollywood Monster
I think the problem stems from two places. First, audiences feel that they are ENTITLED to the movie fulfilling their wishes. Both Jurassic Park and the new Godzilla are working from existing source material (a novel, and the original 1954 Godzilla film respectively) to tell stories that, in one form or another, have already been told. They both must pay homage to their origins while attempting to please the fans and this can be a very difficult thing.
And lastly there is a sense of cynicism that has seeped into the minds of many movie-goers, from professional critics to the average Joe many feel angry and hopeless due to the endless stream of remakes and reboots and fan-service films built on nostalgia (many nostalgia for properties that aren't even that old). I understand this cynicism and yet I don't understand why it has allowed films like Avengers and The Dark Knight to bypass it while films like Godzilla are torn to shreds or not given credit where credit is due.
I'm not saying Godzilla is perfect, hell its definitely NOT on par with the Avengers, my point is that Hollywood is churning these things out at a phenomenal rate and I feel movie fans should give all adaptations and reboots a fair chance to stand on their own merits and then, and only then, can they judge them harshly. Do you really think Marvel, owned by DISNEY, is making good films on purpose? Even if the movies sucked they'd still be churning them out, just look at what Sony is slowly doing to Spider-Man. The fact that any of these silly over-the-top ideas, from Kaiju to super-heroes and beyond, is material that filmmakers can make GOOD movies out of is amazing in and of itself.
Godzilla is back from the dead, this movie has breathed life back into the deified atomic lizard as a major cinematic property and an all around good time at the movies. With all that said, with all of my defenses for the movie laid out you are still free to hate it if you wish but please do so for the right reasons. Don't just declare it bad because every moment is not an exciting battle royale between skyscraper sized monsters.
It ain't perfect, its messy at times, it drags in a few places, and the lead actor needs to be reminded what its like to feel something beyond the hollow emptiness of being a teen vampire trapped in a bad novel but overall its a good movie. It has a great score that conjures the right emotions (very important when the acting fails), it portrays Godzilla has one part natural disaster and one part rightful King of the Monsters and every moment he is mentioned or is on screen he owns the movie.
Its worth seeing, especially in the theater, where Godzilla's roar will leave you breathless, and his breath might just leave you radioactive. Thanks for reading!