Friday, May 16, 2014

GODZILLA (2014)

No screens.  As you know, MONSTERS director Gareth Edwards was selected to helm this second shot at an American Godzilla.  And it sure shows.  People expecting wall-to-wall demolition and monsters trading facepunches are going to be a little let down.  As with his previous film, Edwards focuses on the human characters in the wake of monster mayhem and so Godzilla gets treated as kind of an afterthought in much of GODZILLA.  Like OCULUS, it's a good movie from a director I like, but-  Let's get into it.

Since this is a good movie, I'm not going to totally spoil the plot, but here's what to expect.  Pay close attention during the inventive opening credits.  We get all sorts of teases that are quickly blotted out (I caught the word Illuminati during an executive producer credit or something).  Then we're into the meat of the film, with an accident at a Japanese nuclear facility leading to several deaths.  One of the dead is married to an engineer who then spends his life trying to uncover what really happened.  His son, Ford, who now lives in San Francisco with his own son, is annoyed by this (and the constant arrests).  Maybe a third of GODZILLA is about this plotline.

Then come the monsters.  We meet the M.U.T.O., which is a Gyaos-like bat-type beast with little dangling T-Rex arms.  I'm not in love with the design, but it's okay, certainly not as bad as some Godzilla foes.  The M.U.T.O. begins its rampage across the lands of the world and, incredibly, coincidentally, Ford keeps crossing paths with it as he tries to return home to his family.  A little iffy on the believability index, but we are watching a Godzilla movie. 

Speaking of, Godzilla finally shows up.  For forever, we see only his spinal ridges as he's swimming underwater, just like a shark.  When he emerges, he looks a lot like a cross between old-fashioned Japanese Godzilla and the cringeworthy '98 American version.  But I like the look, especially how much girth and heft he has.  The battle scenes, as I said, are really abrupt, but they are exciting.  Things don't get as explodey as, say, THE AVENGERS, but there are some neat toppling building effects and flashes of intense monster MMA.

WHAT WORKED: The look of the film is interesting. It's pretty restrained with color, so we get kind of a grim or foreboding feel that really suits the material.  I loved the exteriors and establishing shots, especially the Honolulu Airport, which just looks gorgeous here.  Godzilla looks great and should be exhilarating to watch in the sequels, when he'll hopefully have more screen time.  

WHAT DIDN'T: This has an A-list cast (Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe), but it sort of doesn't need one.  The acting is solid all the way through, but, for a film that's focused on human characters, the script really doesn't provide a lot of opportunities for human emotions and relationships to build.  I thought Elizabeth Olsen was pretty impressive (and pretty pretty) as the beleaguered Mrs. Ford, though.  A lot of my problems with GODZILLA are script problems, since it seems like it doesn't fully capitalize on things that are right there, like a theme of families broken by disasters.  That's explored a little bit, but not enough to keep me caring more about potential widows and orphans than about monsters bickering.  It also could've used more monster diversity.  We spend so much time building up to the Godzilla/M.U.T.O. battle (which is resolved very quickly).  Would have been nice to see an opening-act monster get decimated.

Worth your time, but don't let the hype raise your hopes to unreachable heights.

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