The Movie Scab Reviews: "Godzilla."
"The scab you're picking at is called execution."
--American film producer Scott Rudin.
Godzilla: Ack! Ack! Ack!
Monkey Boy gives Godzilla 3 Acks! out of 5!
Full disclosure: I wanted to like this movie. Monkey Boy wanted to like it too. We have a soft spot for Godzilla and so we went to the theatre with our fingers and tails crossed, hoping against hope that Hollywood hadn't screwed up again, as they are wont to do. My mother joined us. She's been my monster-movie-buddy for years and years. She's a monster movie fan. She saw the black and white Godzilla, King of the Monsters--in a movie theatre--in 1956. And she's been in love with the big-green-lizard-god ever since.
I am happy to announce that my mother, Monkey Boy and I are still in love with Godzilla and we liked the movie.
Godzilla is, nonetheless, a flawed movie. Not flawed enough to destroy it. But this is why Monkey Boy gave Godzilla three Acks! instead of five. He so wanted to give it five out of five, but alas, it was not meant to be.
Why? I will let my monster-movie-loving mother tell you. This is what she said as we walked out of the theatre to the car:
"What was going on in the first part of the movie? Did I miss something? I feel like I missed something. What was the big, glowing curved thing that made that dreadful noise, going 'zat-zat-zat, zat-zat-zat'? What was that? That silly looking monster came out of it, the flying one, but... I guess I missed something. I didn't care about the father. I hope that doesn't sound mean. I just didn't care about his story at all. I didn't care about his son either, although he had lovely eyes. Who was that blonde woman, the one with the child? The son's wife or was she just a nurse or a babysitter or something? I couldn't be bothered with any of them, to tell you the truth. Oh, but when Godzilla showed up, now that was some epic monster movie-making."
My mother is a smart movie cookie. She's seen a lifetime of movies. She knows a thing or two about storytelling, and let me tell you, she nailed it. The first half of Godzilla is muddled storytelling and, worse yet, you don't connect in a way that matters with the human characters, but the second half--when Godzilla shows up--is some of the best monster movie-making I've seen in years, everything you want a monster movie to be and it is epic.
So what happened? I have to guess the screenwriter, Max Borenstein, has a split personality. I don't say this just to be a jerk. I say it because I am a jerk and there’s a ton of throwaway expository dialogue in the movie coupled with some of the dumbest lines ever. Like this winner delivered by the talented (and totally wasted) actress Sally Hawkins as she responds to a comment made by Ken Watanabe, something about he "...thought they took care of everything" or whatever. And her reply? The answer that might explain the mystery?
“I guess not.”
Bwahahahahaha! I laughed out loud. Monkey Boy laughed so hard he fell off the seat and into a bucket of popcorn with loads of extra butter. My mother laughed too.
Yet, in the center of all that novice screenwriting mediocrity, elegant and succinct lines like this show up: "Let them fight." Watanabe delivers the line after a short monologue about the arrogance of Man, suggesting that we have no power over nature. The truth is, Watanabe tells us, that it’s really the other way around. Nature will take care of itself, so we should stop trying to intervene, step back and… “Let them fight.”
That really is brilliant screenwriting.
But, come on, what was with the needless exposition?
"We better run because the monster is coming. See it coming? It's coming. We better run. And while we're at it, we should pick up a gun and maybe help those people over there. See them? Those people over there? We should help them as we run. Let's pick up the gun and run and help those people at the same time! The monster is coming! Look! There it is! See it?"
They bury the first half in needless exposition and info dumps. The second half is better, but still—God help me—every now and then the monster of needless exposition raises its ugly head.
For that to happen in the same movie? The only thing that makes sense to me is that Max Borenstein is two writers in one, a novice and a super monster genius.
As to the human element, all I can say is, I know they tried very, very hard to make it work, and I know the actors tried very, very hard to make it work too—and I applaud them all for trying—but Cardboard cutouts have more depth than these characters. The entire first act is crap. Great ideas. Badly executed.
Now, it’s true that on a good Godzilla day the people in a Godzilla movie don't matter, but it's even worse for the people in this Godzilla movie because they really, really, really don't matter, so I say, it would have been better if Godzilla just stepped on them. Way more fun to watch their wonder-filled eyes go wide and then pop right out of their heads as a giant foot flattens them like a pancake. Squish them! Pop their wide eyes out! It's a monster movie!
But why didn’t I connect with the characters in a way that matters? Why? Why? Again I ask, why?
Perhaps it’s because this is Godzilla’s movie and he’s playing second fiddle to Aaron-Taylor Johnson, the human hero. Perhaps they tried too hard to push the human story. Perhaps it boils down to a passive human protagonist in the first half of the movie, i.e., our unmotivated human hero stumbles into his adventures. He goes to Japan to help his dad and then his dad tells him he doesn’t need any help. After he accomplishes nothing and the military learns he doesn’t know anything, he’s sent to Hawaii because he’s useless. At that point, all we’re doing is following this guy around who doesn't know anything and hasn't done anything—thank God Godzilla shows up and lays waste to Waikiki and gives our human protagonist some motivation!
The truth is, Godzilla almost shows up too late to his own party--because he's playing second fiddle to Aaron-Taylor Johnson, a decent young actor (Kiss Ass, er, I mean, Kick Ass. And, oh, hey: a couple of Stanislavski acting classes on Method might not be a bad idea, Aaron-Taylor Johnson--just sayin'.) And because the director pushed Godzilla's appearance to the very last second before it got stupid and I walked out.
And, of course, that’s when the movie changes gear in a big way and continues to get better and better: when the real protagonist finally shows up, a.k.a., Godzilla. Did I connect with Godzilla in a way that matters? You bet I did. I cheered for Godzilla! And my eyes misted up when I saw how much he gave to protect humanity and keep the world in balance. And I even started to care about our human protagonist too, who had, at long last, become highly motivated (to save his family).
As I said, there is less dialogue in the second half which explains why it's so superior to the first half. What we’re left with is director Gareth Edwards visual genius and epic monster-movie-making skill. It is beauty to behold, powerful, thrilling images and music, and a monster protagonist that stomps the bad guys but good, and wrecks San Francisco while he's at it. Talk about pay-off and satisfaction.
It just takes half the movie to get there. But. When it gets there, boy, does it get there.
My rating: Go to the Bar High Five in Tokyo and ask bartender Hidetsugu Ueno to make you a White Lady. Imbibe slowly. Afterwards, order the beer: a bottle of Asahi Kuronam, a can of Orion, then a Yebisu, Ginga Kogen Komug, Asahi Super Dry, finishing off with Morimoto Soba Ale. Order one of the Bar High Five’s famous hotdogs. At that point, you should be in the right frame of mind to thoroughly enjoy Godzilla!
- Godzilla | Official Movie Site | Now Playing In Theaters
From Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures comes 'Godzilla' Now Playing In Theaters!