Mister Cinecal

Mister Cinecal

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Godzilla Good, Despite Lack of Godzookie

Remember how movies like Transformers 3: Moon Something Whatever and Man of Streel descended into third acts of constant destruction, battles that lasted forever and moved quickly from being risible into being absolutely mind-numbing? Or how Spielberg's decision to limit the shark's screentime in Jaws because it looked rubbish turned out to be a masterstroke in raising tension and audience's attention? Do you remember Matthew Broderick everybody? Perhaps I just tempered my expectations of Godzilla in the wake of all the criticism I'd heard of it, but I came out not really agreeing with the complaints of boredom I'd heard from others. Godzilla is good, fuck what you heard. Trust no one.

Except me, obviously.

The film opens in 1999, with scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), his scientist wife (Juliette Binoche) and their son Ford, the first of many blank-faced moppets in the film, all living happily and therefore doomidly in Japan. An apparent nuclear power-plant accident kills Mrs. Brody (and people complain about Godzilla's lack of minutes in this film, Binoche was in Three Colours Blue goddamit), sending Cranston's character off the deep end into conspiracy theories and creating an enduring estrangement between him and his son. 15 years later adult soldier Ford Brody (aka Block McFlexface, aka Duke Creatine, aka Aaron Taylor Johnson) leaves his wife Elizabeth Olsen and son Blank-Faced Moppet #2 in San Francisco to bail his crazy ranty dad out in Japan, before the two discover that there's a few giant monsters knocking around in this film. Monsters that crave tasty radiation and are taking a winding road to, of course, San Francisco.

We all know Cranston can do deranged ranting in his sleep but he gives his stock "I'm right, nobody believes me" character real gusto and is an engaging watch in the early going of the film. Aaron Taylor Johnson's rigid performance doesn't impress, I've never been that convinced by him except in small doses and he doesn't seem to be trying particularly hard here. You could swap in Jai Courtney or Sam Worthington or any of those meathead everyman actors Hollywood keeps trying to get over without making a huge difference. Talented actresses Elizabeth Olsen and Sally Hawkins, like Binoche, are underused. Often these days it seems blockbusters go for acclaimed talents like these to create pre-release buzz rather than them fitting the parts.

Mostly the humans work best less as compelling characters to be invested in and more frames of reference for the impressive size of the film's monsters. In visuals and the construction of the narrative, the humans are made to look insignificantly small. We are essentially watching ants hitting elephants with twigs, all the humans can do is just follow the monsters or run away from them for the whole film, their big plot to blow up the Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism's ultimately being an unnecessary afterthought. Amusingly, being the person we follow throughout the film, Johnson's soldier character isn't really the audience surrogate. That would be Ken Watanabe, playing a Japanese scientist who's dying to get a glimpse of Godzilla and wishes the stupid Americans would just let the big monsters fight each other already. For him and us though, Godzilla is an experience in delayed gratification.

Godzilla is a film where it seems we've constantly either just missed a load of destruction or pull back from it just as it gets going. Rather than finding this boring it just ensured that I was paying attention whenever something actually was getting destroyed and prevented the problems with action movies going too far in scale into meaningless destruction that I've talked about before. When buildings collapse in Godzilla, it has weight behind it. The time Godzilla is on screen is great, he looks extremely impressive, an impossibly huge force of nature. Director Gareth Edwards does a good job in building anticipation for Godzilla, who isn't present for all of the film but looms over most of it. And look. The giant monster shoots beams out of its mouth at the other monster. That's my jam. If I see that, I'm happy, even if it's brief.

This is only British director Gareth Edwards' second film after the 2010 independent film Monsters but he does a very good job here. As aforementioned, the sense of scale, with gigantic monsters barely even noticing the humans trying to take them down, is very well done. The scene from the teaser trailers, with paratroopers descending into a ruined city, is even better in the actual film, a fantastic sequence of tiny figures falling through billowing clouds, bright red smoke streaming behind them, as they arrive in the destruction below. Johnson's P.O.V., overwhelmed, heavy breathing, terrified. Eerie music on the soundtrack (the sound in the movie, easily overlooked, is very well done, particularly the noises of the beasties). This was a beautiful sequence that got me right on board for the climax of the movie, rapt with attention.

Ultimately I found Godzilla to be an enjoyable viewing experience, a film with big visuals and big sound, the kind of film that was made to be seen in the cinema. Contrary to complaints others have had, I was never bored, even if the exploits of Lieutenant Gormless weren't especially interesting. It manages to balance the fun goofy monster fighting of the Japanese films with a reverent tone, perhaps a conciliatory gesture after Toho's less then enthused reaction to Roland Emmerich's 1998 wet fart of an American Godzilla. And really, it seems like faint praise to say this effort could have been worse, but...

it could have been worse.

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