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"Where is Godzilla?"
on August 25, 2014
There is a line of dialogue spoken in the last half of this year's GODZILLA that encapsulates the film so well it must be cosmic karma. The line is spoken by David Strathairn, who grimly inquires of his aides, "Where is Godzilla?". This sums up perfectly the flaws of Gareth Edwards' otherwise rather breath-taking monster movie. The movie is _called_ Godzilla. The trailers _showed_ Godzilla. We came to _see_ Godzilla. So where in the heck IS Godzilla? So, before we embark on my review on Godzilla, let me remind you that this is just my subjective opinion on the movie, and I'll try not to lose you, because this could get really deep.
First off, the saddest part is that Godzilla could have been so much greater. The trailers certainly showed us the potential (Godzilla, in my opinion, had one of the best marketing campaigns in recent memory). Here was a chance to make a movie that was epic, awe-inspiring and fast-paced, packed with action, humor and the kind of insanity you'd expect from a movie about a 400-foot monster with radioactive breath, fighting other monsters that look like the lovechild of H.R. Giger, a cobra and a butterfly. Instead we get a long movie (that feels much longer) saturated with a thick sense of doom, a convoluted plot that moves at a glacial pace, a collection of dour performances, a sprinkle of jaw-dropping fight scenes and apocalyptic imagery, and a little something thrown in on the side about...scientific hubris? nature out of whack? And all the while things are missing: a sense of fun and adventure, action, and namely, Godzilla.
Let's start with the plot. The way I remember it, GODZILLA is about these evil, flying MUTO's that Godzilla has to fight. Everything else, from the romantic subplot to the military subplot, to the symbolism to the setting to the ridiculous leaps of the imagination that are asked of the viewers is utterly secondary. The film moves at the pace of a lumbering behemoth, as characters go places, talk about things, and make you wonder why they're in the film at all. On the side, there is some action thrown in there. And you'll be happy when it comes, because it is utterly awesome, in the truest sense of the word. More on that later.
Let's talk a little about the acting. Consider last year's monster movie: Pacific Rim. A sincere and often goofy ode to kaiju, in every frame of the movie, every actor and every crewman is having fun. Characters have names like Hannibal Chau and Newton Geiszler. Godzilla has characters with names like Joe Brody and Ford Brody. Everybody plays their roles with grim faces and serious intonations. The only one having fun is Bryan Cranston, who chews the scenery with relish and gets all the best lines. The humans are utterly secondary to the monsters, and some of them have little to no impact on the plot at all. I'm certain there's at least one scientist or soldier who did zilch to advance the plot.
Now, I'm perfectly happy to not see the monster for a while, a la Jaws. We don't fully see the T-Rex or King Kong until almost 45 minutes into their movies, and we feel satisfied. But it works because in the meantime we're spending time with interesting and cool human characters like Alan Grant and Carl Denham. In Godzilla, talented actors like Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, and David Strathairn play cookie-cutter, thick, white bread characters that interest nobody. You'll be aching to see more than the monster equivalent of a little ankle. But maybe all of this works out in the end. Because when Godzilla goes the full monty, we are so pumped.
And that's where Godzilla gets good. That's why you should see the movie. Because when director Gareth Edwards finally gets room to gallop, he freaking gallops. The man has an eye for a stunning image, and he scatters the movie with the kind of jaw-dropping, terrifying, beautiful imagery you expected from the trailer. An abandoned city, given over to nature; a giant kaiju wreathed in smoke; trails of red smoke over a fiery San Francisco, the sheer bulk and might of Godzilla unleashed in the moonlight...these are images that will stay with me. Speaking of our titular character, when he DOES show up, he's unbelievably impressive. Edwards and the visual effects department have conjured up what might just be the best-looking Godzilla yet. They've captured a creature of immense bulk and weight and size, a force of nature...an "alpha predator" that makes the might of Uncle Sam's war machine look like ants carrying little sticks. His foes - the MUTO's, look equally impressive: a vaguely Giger-esque cross between a butterfly, praying mantis, cobra, and bat. They have glowing red eyes and crooked limbs and they fly like your worst nightmare. When these kaiju fight, they fight! The battle between Godzilla and the MUTO's is a hugely impressive action scene. It has weight and gravitas - this ain't the flashy glitz of Transformers or Marvel - this is big, scary, epic warfare that will leave you in awe. I wish we saw more of Godzilla, and less of...Ford Brody.
In conclusion, Godzilla does have some amazing action scenes and is visually stunning. When Godzilla is on the screen, the movie inspires awe and wonder. When he's off - and unfortunately that's for a major portion of the screentime, the film collapses under the weight of its dense, slow-moving plot, cookie cutter characters, and lack of action. But while Godzilla has its impact lessened, it is by no means a film you should avoid. I recommend the movie as a collection of unforgettable and gorgeous images and action scenes, separated by dense filler. If this Godzilla isn't the King of the Monsters, he's at least an Archduke. Maybe a Count. Or a Prince Regent.
Godzilla, Prince Regent of the Monsters, gets 3 stars from me.
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