Friday, May 16, 2014

Godzilla 2014 Reviewed

Going into a film, especially one based on a preexisting property, I'm usually able to do 2 things.

1. Piece together a story line from the endless trailers, clips and still photos released by the studio. These puzzle pieces also enable me to imagine where the rest of the film will go. Often, this is setting myself up for failure as, at the heights of my ego, I enjoy my own version of the film better than what actually happens.

2. Putting aside the direction a trailer/clips/stills seeks to steer you in all together, I'm able to formulate what tone I am expecting from a property. This is more a gut reaction than anything else.

Godzilla was a film so shrouded in mystery, you could not possibly hope to work out a story line beyond "Monsters attack...we do our best to NOT DIE". That very basic assessment would prove to be more complete than I could have dreamed.

Our story kicks off with an American family struggling with typical problems we all face...or rather a problem that we've seen in films since the dawn of time. Dad works so hard he is neglecting his family while the mother insists he'd better stop and take notice before he loses them. This drama is mere fleeting foundation set down in no uncertain terms, giving way to the inevitable "life changing" tragedy. This is basic Mythology 101...only Godzilla is dead set on following no formula.

The film flashes forward and now the young man of the family is a fully grown soldier (Aaron Taylor-Johnson of Kick-Ass fame) with a family of his own...who don't get to see him often because of all the soldiering. (Cats and the cradle and all that.) Just as it seems he can settle into a normal life and watch his son grow up, he is called to bail his estranged father (Bryan Cranston) out of trouble in Japan. Instead of heeding the warning from his wife so many years ago and pulling his son closer, Joe Brody has gone full on "Conspiracy Theory", complete with a tiny living space and notes pinned to any surface available. It's clear he is an emotionally destroyed man seeking justification for the death of his wife, but we aren't allowed the time necessary for that realization to play out as Joe pulls his son into his hunt for the truth, and inevitably into the path of cataclysmic destruction beneath the heal of Titans reborn.

Without giving too much away, I'll just say the creatures in this film were always around and our probing into the Earth to harness its resources would inevitably awaken a terror we have no hope of stopping. Now we've taken a seat in a class called Horror 101! "Mankind, in their quest to show their dominion over the elements, will be shown just how insignificant they are!" Is this the tone the movie shifts to? Nope. Once again, defying formula, no overlying message to stop destroying the planet is laid bare. Instead, we have our soldier, Ford (I suppress the urge to snicker), doing his best to help out in whatever small way he can while his wife does the same in her location, with her son. Wackiness...ensues? NOPE. No wackiness.

To my shock and amazement, there are no extended scenes of people running for 15 minutes as disaster seems to be right on their heels. While Ford does manage to find himself at the center of the action most of the time, always 3 seconds away from death, this isn't a forced feature with blaring action music fueling your adrenalin and funny one liners to punctuate every near miss. There are no adorable pets remaining loyally by their master's side in the face of unspeakable horror, and no meeting of opposite personalities who must find common ground and join forces to save the day. Hell, even the explosions aren't gratuitous. Michael Bay weeps silently in a room somewhere. Not one famous landmark is eaten by a monster just because it looked at him funny. What we are left with is a remarkably somber film that takes its time to let events unfold in a logical manner with no real gratuitous monster destruction OR battle until the very end. It's a head scratcher!

At the start of this review, I mentioned what pieces of information I often go into a film with. In this case, my childhood was filled with hours of a man in a somewhat cumbersome monster suit going head to head with a parade of imaginative creatures hell bent of the destruction of the human race. The roles were always very clear, if not sometimes blurred as Godzilla might topple some buildings and kick around the military for a bit just to show them who's the boss (and because they were shooting at him..fairs fair). In this new Godzilla, we are totally and utterly insignificant....not even important enough to be counted as a food source. The MUTO monsters (for all purposes, our antagonists), for the most part, seem to bear us no malice until we attempt to hurt them, painting them in an oddly sympathetic light. Their end game becomes even more relatable as we reach the film's finale. On the flip side, we are given very little insight into Godzilla's motives beyond a borderline laughable suggestion that he exists for the sole purpose of balancing out the scales when massive creatures seek to make the Earth a home. It's his calling. OK then. One day he may have a little Godzooky who insists on becoming an artist because DESTINY IS NOT WRITTEN IN STONE!! That would make for an excellent sequel. He follows his dreams and moves to New York. Perfection.
Godzilla is a perfectly fine movie. It's good...doesn't feel too long..and make no mistake, there are some mind blowing spectacles that a die hard Zilla' fan will get giddy over. It's just not much fun. Strip away the insane Hollywood trappings we've come to expect from megabudget action films and we are left falling back to content. The padding of the classic Godzilla movies where he dies and gets back up and they set up a laser tank for 20 minutes is replaced by changes in location allowing for various settings to reveal our monsters and give them some reason to destroy. It's all a delivery depth. The film makers don't even go for the obvious heart string pull as we watch Ford realize he might be a lot like his father, which makes him fight all that harder to return to his family. Nope. Ford is sort of steadfast...kind of resolute..somewhat determined, but definitely heroic....which made me only "kind of" like him. Say what you will about Nicholas Cage in Con Air, but that dirty, battered, sweaty guy delivers that fucking smoldering bunny to his daughter and as the music swells, we just know everything is going to be OK. Heavily manipulated emotional response? Of course...but it's a response of some kind. Amid countless astonished looks on character faces, I was consistently left flat...not even taking away that "we are a speck of dust in the scheme of things" feeling from their acting performances. Credit to one little actor in a bus who sounded like he was losing his mind as Godzilla roared overhead. THAT is the correct response to a creature so massive you aren't even as big as a scale on its body. YOU LOSE YOUR DAMN MIND. Standing there, jaw agape, is not acting. Mom would call that "catching flies". Did I want a screen full of loons drooling from madness as their fragile minds snapped under the weight of knowledge that they could be snuffed in seconds? more often than not, the reactions didn't fit the action, and so I was left feeling I was watching soldiers battling a green screen.

With no over-the-top action or snappy dialogue to laugh at, no heart wrenching drama to keep us glued to the screen, and a massive monster brawl that only surfaces in the films final moments when, inexplicably, the cinematography reaches new heights of beauty, I'm left with a film I am completely indifferent toward and certainly unmotivated to explore further. I'm absolutely positive I'm going to be in the minority on this one, as the reviews seem to be astonishingly positive...and it's one of those moments when I just want to stop people and ask them to tell me what they loved so much. I WANT to enjoy myself as much as they did and so, perhaps, through a series of interviews, I can unravel the mystery and change my brain so that I, too, can be satisfied. For now, I need more than an excellent musical score and a killer finale to leave me happy.

Click HERE to check out Diamond Select's Classic Godzilla Figural Bank
Click HERE to see all of Bandai's awesome Godzilla 2014 toys

1 comment :

  1. I don't think you are in the minority, Paul.
    My friend and I went to see it Saturday and left feeling the same way, disappointed. With the movie being titled 'Godzilla' it sure feels like we were robbed of him. I found myself very indifferent towards Ford, the man character, which is sad really because the movie is all about him. The middle feels drawn out and adds nothing to the overall story (remove the whole train sequence). The way I explain it to my friends is, "Go in expecting Battle for LA, not Pacific Rim."