Godzilla review #2

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Check out our first review here.

Out of all the stories filmmakers can revisit ten, twenty, thirty times, it’s a story about a giant “reptile” that’s among the most popular. There’s something about a big monster destroying things that fascinates people. It’s why we had a boatload of Japanese Godzilla movies, followed by an American version in 1998 and now a second American version in 2014 called, you guessed it, Godzilla.

From the intriguing previews to the film’s first act, you get the impression that this version is going to be something special, something more than just a two-hour special effects exhibition. After all, any movie that uses music from 2001: A Space Odyssey has to be a near-masterpiece. Not quite.

The film starts in 1999 with scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) investigating a gigantic skeleton and two egg-shaped pods in a quarry in the Philippines. It’s an impressive and chilling scene, like something out of Alien. We’re also introduced to Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), a plant supervisor living in Japan whose power plant is experiencing seismic activity. Some ‘thing’ causes an explosion and a radiation leak, and Joe loses his wife during the incident.

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Fast forward fifteen years and Joe’s son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a Navy officer, is living with his wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and son in San Francisco. When Joe is arrested for trespassing in a quarantined zone which was established following the power plant incident, Ford travels to Japan to help his father. To Ford’s dismay, Joe is still investigating the true cause of the incident.

Joe’s become a little unhinged, but his aggressive rants are validated when the monsters show up, two MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) and one Godzilla. And that’s when the movie becomes one seemingly never-ending monster hunt. The screenplay, written by Max Borenstein, sets up some interesting storylines concerning a middle-aged man trying to uncover the truth about his wife’s death and a son who has to deal with his deranged father and the death of his mother. It would’ve been great to see these relationships amidst the mayhem caused by the over-sized creatures, but they’re lost in the dust and rubble.

The film also suffers from a lack of Bryan Cranston, one of the film’s strengths and major selling points when you consider his rising stock in Hollywood following the critically and commercially successful Breaking Bad. Instead, we get Aaron Taylor-Johnson who, I suppose, can run around and fire a gun better than Cranston, but can’t carry a major motion picture. Simply, he’s just not a very good actor and you feel no sympathy for him.

I suppose if you’re looking for a bunch of big monsters beating the crap out of each other than the movie succeeds. The special effects are superior. This isn’t the first time cities have been bombarded by gigantic monsters, but the monsters have never looked this realistic and threatening; they’re integrated perfectly within the setting they occupy. And the film definitely has its share of ‘wow’ moments. When you finally see Godzilla in full and he lets out a scream you think might shatter the screen in front of you, it’s the kind of image for which movies were created. It’s a powerful moment.

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The problem here isn’t the direction. Gareth Edwards does great work with what he’s given; it’s like watching a child build a mansion out of a tiny ball of Play-Doh. He knows how to create suspense and he infuses an artistic quality rarely seen in a disaster movie. You can see him almost forcing his artistic vision in some scenes within the corporate blockbuster such as when a group of soldiers sky dive toward the chaos on the ground, leaving red streaks of smoke in the sky, set to the eerie chanting from, again, 2001: A Space Odyssey. And he’s never shy about actually showing the monsters.

But, as hard as he tries, he can’t mask the lack of an engaging script. The film starts out as an intriguingly eerie picture with at least one great performance and characters with which we can invest our time, but forgets about most of this in the last two acts in exchange for relentless chases and monster fights. Again, the action and effects are impressive, but that’s all there is at the bottom of this top-heavy film.

Did I mention Elizabeth Olsen was in this? The talented actress is wasted here, relegated to the ‘worried wife’. If you want to see Olsen at the top of her game, see Martha Marcy May Marlene. This picture doesn’t do her justice.

elizabeth olsen

As for Godzilla, it’s a movie you dream of when you’re a teenager yearning for more shots of the monsters, a larger variety of monsters and more fighting amongst these monsters. But, an adult audience yearns for a balance between this and the human aspect, something this film approaches, but never completely achieves.

Rating: 3/5 Atoms

NR 3 Atoms - C

 

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Glen Ilnicki
Glen Ilnicki 271 posts

Glen has been reading comic books and playing video games his whole life. His unhealthy passion, however, is for film. He currently resides in Ottawa, Canada.