By Danny Sarnowski
So...I have seen worse movies than Gareth Edwards's Godzilla. I have seen movies that are much worse. Heck, I have seen worse Godzilla movies.
But not many.
Let me also say, right up front, that I do not believe that the world needed another Godzilla movie. We simply did not need one. I think anything important that could have been said through a Godzilla movie has been said before. This movie has been re-booted and re-made and had so many sequels that it has been come the definition of generic. The character's ubiquity has robbed him of any significance. He has been reduced to a computer-generated image. Nothing more. There is a scene from Friends where Tom Lovitz says the word "tartlet" so often that it loses all meaning. That is what has happened to Godzilla. He has become a tartlet.
When Toho Co. LTD debuted Godzilla 60 years ago, just ten short years after the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it must have been elementally scary. The vision of a city-destroying force created by nuclear power and raging against their country must have terrified Japanese movie goers. Then the character was co-opted by Hollywood, stripped of that power, and packaged as a movie monster like something from the video game Rampage.
I had hoped that Gareth Edwards and his team had a good reason for doing this movie. That they would be putting a fresh spin on it. I had hoped that the cast, headlined by Bryan Cranston (fresh from Breaking Bad glory) would give us great performances to ground the movie. I had hoped that the monster fight scenes would improve upon the bar set by Pacific Rim last summer. Ultimately, I simply hoped that this movie would be more than a CGI mess of falling buildings. These hopes were raised by the incredibly good trailer (check it out HERE).
Well, you can hope in one hand....
This movie is a disappointment from the get go. There are flashes of originality and genuinely frightening images, but they are few and far between. The movie attempts to be earnest and moody and gritty but just plays as boring and obtuse. By the time we get to see monsters destroying cities, we are already checking our watches wondering when it will be over.
All the standard cliche tropes are there:
- Characters pensively staring out of windows whilst caressing antique pocket watches? Check.
- Characters who say things like "It's not the end of the world," "I'll be right back," or "let's make this quick" right before something awful is about to happen? You bet. (Note: "something awful" does not necessarily mean "something exciting.")
- The U.S. military offering up ideas that have no hope of solving the problem and are almost guaranteed to cause more harm and kill more innocents? Yup.
- Talented actors slumming it, hoping to fill the void of a poorly-written script with pure gravitas? Oh boy, yes.
- Fresh-faced new stars launching their careers and establishing their resumes with a blockbuster under their belts? Ummmm.....I guess so?
Unfortunately, all of the standard script and story limitations are there as well. Every beat of the script is obvious. Every character is skin-deep and meant to move the story along (only Cranston makes his paper-thin character interesting). Every step along the way is meant to drive us closer to monster mayhem. The filmmakers, in an effort to tease out Jaws-like suspense hold back on any monsters for almost half of the movie and they don't reveal Godzilla himself until well past the 60% mark. This effort fails and only slows down the fist half of the movie.
Plot holes are, I suppose, besides the point with a movie like this. But they sting just the same. Why kill off a marquee character so early? Why set any scene with monsters at night? Or in the rain? Or in fog? Or surrounded by smoke? Are the filmmakers ashamed of the monsters? They should be. Why use TV news broadcasts as such a crutch to move the story forward? Why rely on every single disaster movie cliche ever but try to make yours slightly more highbrow (and fail)?
Why have a cast of about four characters who must be in every scene? For example, Aaron Taylor-Johnson is the star of the movie. Oh, you don't know who that is? Tell me about it. You didn't see him in the trailer linked above? I know. Well, actually you did. He is in exactly TWO shots in that trailer. Anyway, he is the star, not Bryan Cranston. So, after arriving home in San Francisco from active military duty he heads to Tokyo (where he meets a monster), makes a stop in Hawaii (again, monster), travels to Nevada (to fight a monster), before returning home to San Francisco for the big monster showdown. Why make this one character do all of that? It makes every single transition ridiculous. (How long does it take to fly from San Francisco to Tokyo? I checked. The average is about 15 hours.) Why give his character a child? The kid does nothing in the story. He adds nothing to the story. I don't recall if he has any lines other than "Daddy, will you be here in the morning?" Spoiler alert: he isn't. Also, if you do the age math on Taylor-Johnson's character and try to determine how old he must have been when his son was born it is seriously icky. Really. Not good at all.
Stupid spoiler alert - The filmmakers do make two genuinely new, unexpected, and unappreciated changes with the story. First, they kill off Bryan Cranston before Godzilla even hits the screen. And they make Godzilla the HERO OF THE MOVIE. That's right. He's not the villain. The villains are a pair of giant radiation-eating M.U.T.O.s (don't ask) intent on breeding a colony of radiation-eating monsters. Godzilla is an ancient alpha predator who slumbers within the earth only awakening to "restore balance to nature" by killing these giant monsters. Then he goes back to sleep.
- There are a few genuinely creepy visuals.
- An image of a pilot silently parachuting through a forest of skyscrapers and fog before his plane smashes into a building.
- Bryan Cranston.
What doesn't work:
- The plot.
- The monsters, or M.U.T.O.s, or whatever you want to call them. They look horrible. Like I drew them.
- The TV news headline "King of the monsters: savior of our city?" I could actually feel the audience all growing dumber for having read it.
- The idea of this movie as a franchise starter. Godzilla will just wake up, beat the monsters, and head back to bed each time.
As a moody, highbrow monster epic: D-
As a scary, blockbuster summer monster movie: D+
Special note: Mike and I will be using this movie and the 1998 Godzilla film by Roland Emmerich to discuss re-boots, re-makes, and sequels on an upcoming episode of The Spoiler Alert Podcast. Feel free to leave any suggestions, comments, or questions in the comments section of this post.