Saturday, May 17, 2014
The summer movie season has begun with the release of GODZILLA, the second American re-boot/reworking/re-imagining of Toho Studios' world-famous giant monster.
The reviews I have read of this film, by professional critics and regular moviegoers on the internet, have been all over the place. Some say it is one of the greatest giant monster movies of all time, others say that it is a disappointment. I guess I would have to say my impressions upon seeing it are somewhere in between--it's not a great film, but it's not terrible.
What director Gareth Edwards has done is graft a 21st Century big-budget disaster film on to a giant monster flick. He tries to individualize the massive destruction by focusing on a small group of characters and how they interact with the on-going events. GODZILLA features an above-average cast (Bryan Cranston, David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe), but in all honesty I wasn't very interested in the human drama. The real leads of the film are Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, and in one of those incredible movie coincidences their roles happen to be an Army explosives expert and a nurse--which means they have a reason to be where all the action is, instead of running away like most normal people would do.
Johnson and Olsen (Olsen & Johnson?) are a pretty generic typical young couple, but you really don't spend your time at a movie like GODZILLA wanting to worry about them. (At least, I don't.) The real reason for a new GODZILLA is to...see Godzilla in action. The problem is....Godzilla doesn't really have much to do here. Edwards teases us throughout the majority of the film by giving us a few brief glimpses of him. It isn't until the end that we get a real good look at the 2014 King of the Monsters--and even then, most of his scenes are at night and in the rain (an old FX trick to make the CGI look better). He is impressive...but I have to admit he looks like he's been using steroids.
The real stars of this film are brand new kaiju called Mutos, who have way more screen time than Godzilla (or any of the human cast, for that matter). The Mutos are giant winged insect/bat-like creatures, and they are realized very well--but after awhile I was starting to wonder if the movie's title should have been MUTO.
Godzilla battles the Muto, but the fight scenes aren't as great as they could have been. Just when one of the fights is getting good, Edwards obscures our view of it, or switches to another scene. I understand what Edwards was trying to do--he wanted to save all the "good stuff" for the end--but this is a Godzilla movie, after all. As a matter of fact we don't get to see a lot of destruction--instead we are mostly shown the aftermath of destruction.
I know I sound like I hated this movie. Trust me, I didn't. There are a lot of nice things in it--the production design, the FX, the scope of the film, and just the fact that you get to hear an actor like David Strathairn say the line, "Where's Godzilla?" Most of the things I liked I can't really tell you about, because I'd spoil it for you if you haven't seen it.
It's just that I wasn't really blown away by it. All the "urban apocalyptic" backgrounds that we see in this picture are things that we've now seen numerous times before in recent years, in everything from THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW to I AM LEGEND to the remake of WAR OF THE WORLDS to the recent MAN OF STEEL. Major CGI destruction is now almost a prerequisite for any major summertime blockbuster, and I've seen so much of it lately that it just doesn't have a major effect anymore.
Guillermo del Toro's PACIFIC RIM was a modern monster movie that I really enjoyed. That movie was made for geeks like me, and that's probably the reason why it did not do all that well at the U. S. box office. The new GODZILLA is made for a more mainstream audience. If you enjoy the typical modern summer blockbuster, you will like this film.