Review: “Godzilla”

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I’ll summarize this movie by saying it was good, but not great. That said, let’s jump into it.

Note: There’ll probably be spoilers below. I’ll try not to give away too much, but they’re there.

The premise of “Godzilla” is that a pair of MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Objects) have once again resurfaced after causing quite a problem fifteen years earlier. They threaten the world in a number of ways and it looks like nothing might be able to stop them. Until “he” comes along.

Yes, “he” is the titular monster of our movie, the big G himself: a relic of a time even before the dinosaurs, when creatures of ridiculous proportions walked the earth, feeding off of its highly lethal radioactive atmosphere. How, then, could such monsters continue to exist when the earth has cooled and millions if not billions of years have passed? By embedding themselves at the bottom of the oceans where even the technologic eye of mankind cannot see, and where they last in some type of unexplained form of hibernation, taking sustenance from the radioactive energy produced by the earth’s core.

When two of these atom-loving MUTOs break to the surface of the earth as it currently is, and of course cannot be killed by nukes as they feast greedily on the nuclear energy, then the balance nature’s power is thrown off kilter. It is at this point of fawning revelation that the Scientist (Watanabe) delivers a predictable and cliched set of lines to the stern Admiral (Strathairn) about humanity’s arrogance toward nature and concludes it with “Let them fight.”, setting up the battle du jour. Our titular hero then takes matters into his own hands by rising to the surface of the ocean to do epic, skyscraper-crushing, San Francisco ravaging battle with our “villians”.

When you go to see a monster movie, you expect to see monsters. And you do in this film, pretty early on. The movie isn’t trying to trick you or tease you about the monsters themselves. There is some teasing in the beginning of the film, but before you’re even halfway through, the monsters have presented themselves and the mayhem has started. However, if you want to see a good monster fight, then you will sit through a hour and forty-five minutes of a two hour movie. The fight (we can see) is only at the tale (get it?) end of the movie. This makes a certain cinematic sense given that, if it happened in the beginning, the movie would last twenty minutes.

And what a fight. Godzilla versus two MUTOs was a great battle, especially when the notorious B-I-G-odzilla breaks out his signature move. Really, all of the action sequences involving the monsters are stellar. It’s the rest of the movie was a let down

The characters drawn on the screen were as two-dimensional  as if they were literally drawn on the screen. Each of the actors looks as if they were given a five word sentence about their character and told to make the best of it: grieving scientist turned conspiracy nut (Bryan Crantson); stoic family man and solider (Aaron Taylor-Johnson); panicked triage nurse and mother (Elizabeth Olsen); stern-faced admiral with a plan (David Strathairn); concerned scientist with a permanent frown (Ken Watanabe). I have to assign the blame to for these characters on the screenwriters, who simply didn’t spend any time developing them. And where they did, the character continuity was list to serve the greater plot. I swore I could hear a snarky version Taylor-Johnson’s internal monologue in my head in certain scenes, with things possibly like “Sure, dad, I’ll follow you into a quarantined area and risk getting arrested like you did earlier and put my entire US military career in jeopardy. Not out of character at all.”

To an extent, the people in a monster movie of this size are typically incidental, which is always a shame. And it surprised me quite a bit, given Gareth Edwards debut was a movie called “Monsters”, a deeply human movie with all of the focus on the humans and very little on the monsters themselves. I felt that “Monsters” was the best monster movie since “Jaws”. But “Monsters” and “Jaws” focus on the human relationships, with the monsters themselves bordering on macguffin. In a summer blockbuster monster movie, your monsters,unfortunately, can’t be simply a motivating factor. They must be the stars.

And Godzilla very much is the star of this show. When he’s on the screen, he is absolutely front and center, and for a CGI character, has a surprising amount of charisma. His foes, while they don’t have as much charisma, do have one scene that shows more heart than than what was written for much of the rest of the cast. But unlike, say, a “Transformers” movie, “Godzilla” is the result of a monster movie taking itself too seriously. It has no humor. While Gareth Edwards does human relationships better than a big Michael Bay brainsucker, a Michael Bay movie will always have some humor, almost in a teasing way that acknowledges the crazy-bigness of the movie without dropping you out of the story. There was nothing humorous in “Godzilla”, nothing to balance out the “end of the world as we know it” tension of the movie.

So, to sum up, I’ll simply restate how a friend of mine described it: “That was silly. But fun.” That’s about right. Good, but not great.

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