Sunday, May 25, 2014

People looking at things: my short Godzilla review

I heard enough about Gareth Edwards' Godzilla to have my expectations set pretty low; I went to see the film more to spend time with my friend Alastair rather than any genuine interest in the movie. I'm afraid my thoughts on the film echo much of the criticism I'd heard.

Being that Edwards is a first-time director, you might wonder if he's any good. Having seen his film, I couldn't say - his background in visual effects serves him well as he spends most of the time creating set pieces. Otherwise, he's clearly a Spielbergian fellow - much of the film consists of people staring at things. Poor Ken Watanabe seems to spend 80% of his scenes with his mouth open like a guppy.

Spielberg also comes to mind when one thinks of his War of the Worlds picture (2005), an incredibly somber and truly post-9/11 film which took the excitement of an alien invasion and transformed it into depressing sludge. Likewise, Godzilla is somber and morose about the business of giant monsters fighting. 9/11 destruction porn is trotted out (as in so many films) against slow-motion footage of buildings collapsing while sad music plays; precisely what the Godzilla audience demographic wants to see, am I right?

The film frequently devotes its running time to establishing a set piece - the locale, the people, the cute kids in peril (re: Spielberg) leading up to the arrival of the monster at which point destruction commences - for about 1 minute, then it's back to slowly setting up the next action scene. It's quite a languid pace. When Godzilla made his first full appearance confronting one of the film's villainous monsters I began to grow excited - but then the scene pulled away and the fight was simply glimpsed on television. Consequently, when the film began setting up the next monster fight, it's hard to get excited. Godzilla and the other monster are going to have a rematch? I didn't even get to see the first fight! Oh, will it be another brief shaky cam action scene followed by 10 minutes of people talking? I wouldn't bet money against it.

In his review, J. Caleb Mozzocco described the cast of characters as "generic character types cut from an Emmerich-like disaster/apocalypse film." He's being far too kind; Emmerich's casts of easily-identifiable stereotypes and comic reliefs are deeply-honed figures of meticulous craft compared to the human cast of Godzilla; any attempt to recall the cast will only put you to sleep. I did find myself transfixed by Watanabe, but only because I assumed his character would eventually justify his presence in the film; spoiler warning: he doesn't. Did you ever see Red Letter Media's review of Star Wars: the Phantom Menace where he challenged people to describe the personalities of the film's cast without talking about their jobs or physical appearances? I defy anyone to do the same with the cast of Godzilla and come up with words other than "bland," "dull" or "sepia." The only dynamic character dies about half an hour in. Good thing Edwards is the next Star Wars director, huh?

What I liked: The atomic breath, both times it was used (I actually said "right on!" aloud when the Big G's tail began glowing the first time - I was afraid he might not use it in the film considering how it had been going); I liked that the film involved Godzilla fighting other monsters rather than being a Godzilla vs. army film; I liked a lot of the visuals, especially Godzilla's spikes sticking out of the ocean.


Exiting the theater, Alastair informed me there's new military technology which is proof against EMPs - he tells me modern military jets can survive an EMP without losing control of their vehicle; if he's right, that would have buried a lot of this film's "nothing stops EMPs" science.

My friend Craig and I have opined the real test of how good any Godzilla movie is whether the humans' plot is any good; if the human plot is terrible then the movie is lousy (Godzilla vs. Megalon); if the human plot is passable then the movie is good (Godzilla 1985); if the human plot is actually interesting, then the movie is great (Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla). In this instance, the human plot is dull; unfortunately, it's also 95% of the film. There's no sense of fun, joy, excitement...

...Wow, after seeing this I'm beginning to realize I really did enjoy Pacific Rim.

"I think Gareth Edwards' Godzilla is dead, but we should check for a pulse."

*shoots film in the head three times*

"No pulse."

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