Thursday, July 24, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

The Toho Company has produced 28 films featuring their star of stars, Godzilla.  The 1954 original was the first of its kind; a movie about a giant creature that's come to destroy us all, born out of the fires of our own self-destruction and brought to cinematic life through a guy in a lizard suit smashing miniature buildings and airplanes.  At first, Godzilla was a symbol of nuclear holocaust and echoing Japan's suffering after World War II,  But, as time progressed, Godzilla became sort of an antihero in his own movies, taking down other creatures that have come to destroy Earth.  They can be a lot of fun, especially if you watched them as a kid (which I did, if you couldn't tell).  Unlike the '54 original, these are generally not very good movies, Japanese original or American recut/dub.  Some of them, such as King Kong vs Godzilla (1962), are so bad they're good, and others like Mothra (1962) are pretty entertaining, even unironically.  However, few of them resonate the way the original did, no longer portraying Godzilla as a hulking, unstoppable, mysterious, and even frightening force of nature.

The very first all-American Godzilla came out in 1998, and at first, it seemed like it would be the one to brought the titular character back to the big screen as a genuine walking disaster.  As it turned out, walking disaster better describes the movie itself; bad CGI, pointlessly tedious human drama, lame jokes galore, and a horrible performance from Matthew Broderick all sunk the colossal critical failure, (though it turned a healthy profit).

So finally, here we are in 2014, and what a trailer we get!  Here he is; GODZILLA (with awesome Japanese characters in back of the title).  He's coming back to the big screen to end civilization as we know it!  The trailer sells the film like a horror; bleak color palette, incredibly eerie sound design, a voice-over by new Best Actor Ever Bryan Cranston... Ho. Lee. Shit. You could say I was excited, or you could say I had literal crap in my pants.  "Godzilla as a horror film? The way it should be?  The way I've wanted it to be for a long time?" I thought.

Therefore, maybe my ultimate dislike for the film comes from that it is so not that.  I thought I was getting Godzilla: The Terrifying Monster and we got Godzilla: He's a Superhero! It's a disaster film, sure, but not one done in the style of the original film; dark, sobering, and scary, only with today's visual effects.  Its tone may be that of a serious drama, but the story is more like the cheesier Godzilla films of the '60s and '70s.  Spoilers ahead now; there are monsters attacking, and Godzilla has to stop them.  While it seems like Godzilla is here to destroy us at first, one Japanese scientist (Ken Watanabe) is convinced that Godzilla exists to bring balance and destroy these monsters that threaten our world.  The monsters themselves are not, I believe, based on any existing Toho monsters. They seem to be made just for this film, and frankly, I don't really like their design.  And that's a huge problem, because we see much more of them than we do Godzilla.

The first act of the film is really pretty solid.  Bryan Cranston plays the scientist that no one will believe (an essential part of any disaster movie), and one day at the nuclear power plant he works at, a strange earthquake has adverse effects on the entire facility.   The scene is really quite good, and I was really on board when I thought that Cranston would be our main character.  It turns out that like Godzilla, we actually don't see a lot of him.  We do, however, get to see a lot of his young adult son.  He snatches main character status away from Cranston after the opening prologue, a development that I'm sure upset many a Breaking Bad fan.

The son is played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, a soldier who spends a lot of time onscreen, but doesn't have much of a story or character arc.  Did the original film have characters with extensive character development? No, but their screen time was limited.  In addition, that film is only about an hour and a half vs this film which is over two hours.  That extra time we spend with Taylor-Johnson and his family just feels like padding.  I'm not going to bash his performance like I've been seeing others do; he might be a bit wooden, but his acting is not bad.  He's just not given much to do.  Neither is the cast around him, but they're all trying pretty hard to fight against the boring dialogue they've been given.

There's even an entire mid-movie subplot where a little boy is separated from his parents at a train station and Taylor-Johnson protects him during a monster attack.  You're thinking, "Ok, now the movie's plot starts.  He's going to have to stay with and protect this boy, and hopefully he will be reunited with his par... Oh, there they are. Huh."  It lasts about 20 minutes, and there go the last chances of this film having any real tension or human emotion.  The movie needed a little humor, a little color, and a little more mystery.  Things are constantly being explained and people are always saying what they're doing and what they're gonna do.  It's not The Last Airbender bad, it's just a bit lifeless.

While I'll give Godzilla's final showdown credit for finally delivering on some pretty awesome giant-sized fight scenes, it felt like too little too late.  I'll admit I saw this in a lousy theater, with hardly any base to the sound system and a screen that was just too high up for comfort.  Did that detract from my experience? Maybe.  Did my expectation dampen the film that was before me? Definitely. So needless to say, I'll be giving this one another chance when this hits the home market.  But for now, I'm just not impressed, and more than a little disappointed.