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Godzilla

Movie Information

The Story: Godzilla rises from the watery depths to do battle with new horrors. The Lowdown: It's solid and good looking, but it's also overlong and suffers from too many uninteresting humans and not enough monsters — plus, it lacks the crude power of the 1954 original.
Score:

Genre: Giant Monster Sci-Fi Action
Director: Gareth Edwards (Monsters)
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn
Rated: PG-13

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Here we have this year’s latest Next Big Thing, and except for the fact that no one wears Spandex, it is largely in the same key as the earlier Next Big Things we’ve seen. By this I mean it’s loud, looks expensive, contains a lot of property damage and it will be, I’m sure, financially successful and almost instantly disposable. Is it better than Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla? Yes. I’d also say it works better as a giant monster movie than Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013) — if only because it makes its action more visible, while giving us a better sense of the size of these bad-tempered behemoths. On the other hand, Godzilla lacks Pacific Rim’s sense of humor. Actually, it lacks any sense of humor whatever. Of course, the same can be said of Ishiro Honda’s 1954 original, but Honda’s film was straightforward, completely lacking this one’s typical 2014 bloat, had memorable characters and was almost immediately mythic. I doubt the new one will ever be mythic.

 

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I’m not quite sure how to approach Godzilla. It’s not really a remake — though in a nice touch it does give Ken Watanabe’s character the name Dr. Serizawa, which was the name of the tragic hero of the 1954 film. The somewhat confused screenplay almost acts like — or suggests — the events of the original actually happened. The film itself has more in common with later entries in the series, since it’s firmly in the realm of a monster smackdown — something that didn’t crop up till the cheapjack 1955 sequel Godzilla Raids Again (which was released in the U.S. as Gigantis the Fire Monster in 1959). The idea of Godzilla as a good guy monster doesn’t appear until Honda’s 1964 film Ghidora, the Three-Headed Monster. This film, however, goes an extra step by making Godzilla take down two new monsters in a case of nature balancing itself. (The makers have clearly seen Koyaanisquatsi (1982) and applied the idea to giant monsters.)

 

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The new Godzilla is not a bad movie in itself, and if you haven’t seen every blockbuster that’s come along, it’s probably even better. It is, however, too long. It takes 40 minutes to get to its first monster, and the film is half over before we really see ol’ Godzilla himself. To a degree, that makes sense. It is typical of the genre to keep the monster offscreen for a while — dating back to King Kong (1933). But this pushes the idea too far, and the material leading up to the monsters is less fun than that leading up to Kong. It’s also largely devoid of the growing dread in the 1954 Godzilla. The big — or biggish — name cast has little to do between the film’s “nuclear accident” opening and the main action, and most of the characters are not very interesting. The two most interesting ones — played by Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche — are done away with very quickly. Watanabe takes up some of the slack with his Dr. Serizawa and his memories of Hiroshima. But most of the film is given over to “action hero” Aaron Taylor-Johnson (whose neck — somewhere between 2009′s Nowhere Boy and this — has become larger than his head). It isn’t that he is bad — it’s that he’s given nothing interesting to say or do. His role, like those of Elizabeth Olsen and Sally Hawkins, is charmless and thankless.

 

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The film’s saving grace is the big knockdown battle between Godzilla and the two flying horrors called M.U.T.O.s. While it isn’t all that different than the battles between Spider-Man and his various foes — or what have you — it has a certain personality to it. It also has one truly original moment involving Godzilla’s radioactive blast. On the other hand, the M.U.T.O.s feel generic and are not nearly as clever in design as any of Godzilla’s admittedly cheesy earlier foes. Godzilla himself is a mixed bag for me. Yes, he’s certainly more realistic than his Japanese counterparts, but something is lost in the translation to modern CGI — his gravity perhaps. It’s all very solid and professional, yes, and Alexandre Desplat’s score at least has something that suggests Akira Ifukube’s Godzilla theme. (At other times, it sounds like imitation Danny Elfman — and a little borrowed György Ligeti thrown in.) Regardless, the film is expected to end up north of a $100 million gross opening weekend, so expect sequels. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

27 thoughts on “Godzilla

  1. Ken Hanke

    No. It’s a retrofit job of 3D anyway. Plus, it’s quite dark enough without the glasses.

  2. Edwin Arnaudin

    Other than Johnson’s bad case of “Brad Pitt in World War Z convenience syndrome,” I enjoyed it. I don’t think it’s a game-changer like many suggest or even “the best pure blockbuster in years” (that’s still The Avengers for me; as you note, humor helps), but the way TV footage is used as a substitute for the typical overlong battle scenes is pretty creative.

  3. Ken Hanke

    In how many years? And what defines blockbuster? Can it be a failed (financially) blockbuster?

  4. Edwin Arnaudin

    That’s just one of those broad statements. It’s technically been two years since Avengers, so that may be it.

    Yes, what is a “blockbuster”? A film that costs over $100 million? One that’s pricey and is expected to make a bunch of money?

  5. Ken Hanke

    If that definition works, I enjoyed The Lone Ranger ever so much more.

  6. Chris D.

    Just got back from seeing it in 3D. It should have been retrofitted to reverse 3D, as I think I saw more things falling away than at me. I think the biggest 3D moment is when the kid is being tickled and kicks at the camera.

    Overall, I liked it. As a lifelong fan of Godzilla, all I ask from a Godzilla movie is that they advance the “franchise” in some way, and I see this one as the first serious attempt at what I call a “Godzilla-versus” movie. I like the alternating representation of Godzilla as blowback from some sort of human mistake who doesn’t deserve to be destroyed (but destroy him we must) and as a savior (when he fights something else for us). In this case, the “bad” monsters were fed by human mistakes in handling them, so that merged the two dynamics. I sort of liked the dark rendering of this one, but I love apocolyptic visions.

    If I could choose one director to do a Godzilla movie, it would be Neill Blomkamp. I think he could incorporate a poignant element such as the original had.

    • Ken Hanke

      I think I saw more things falling away than at me

      That seems to be common with retrofits. You can apparently add depth, but you can’t really bring things forward. That dates back to Nightmare Before Xmas 3D paintjob.

      If I could choose one director to do a Godzilla movie, it would be Neill Blomkamp. I think he could incorporate a poignant element such as the original had.

      That, I think, I could get behind.

      • Edwin Arnaudin

        Big Blomkamp fan here, so I’ll third that choice. I’m still surprised people didn’t take to Elysium (which I would also add to the top blockbusters list…the financially failed ones, too), but have a feeling it and The Lone Ranger will win viewers over in time. Once people’s ridiculously high expectations (Elysium) and illogical dislike of all things Depp (TLR) wear off, maybe they’ll be able to enjoy these two films as the grand sophisticated entertainments they are.

        • Ken Hanke

          I don’t know that I had ridiculously high expectations for Elysium, but they were definitely higher than the film delivered. It was better than it was generally regarded, but it sure hasn’t stuck with me.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            With the good-not-great (Gravity; The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) and mediocre-to-poor (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) spectacles that have followed, Elysium to me looks even better than it did last August.

            Well, maybe not Jodie Foster’s accent, but the rest of it.

  7. Edwin Arnaudin

    Well, in addition to the aforementioned titles, I prefer the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter films, the Bourne films, the Dark Knight trilogy, Casino Royale and Skyfall, Inception, the last two Mission: Impossibles, Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, X:2 and X-Men: First Class, Star Trek, Iron Man, both Thors and Terminator: Rise of the Machines.

  8. Ken Hanke

    Well, in addition to the aforementioned titles, I prefer the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter films, the Bourne films, the Dark Knight trilogy, Casino Royale and Skyfall, Inception, the last two Mission: Impossibles, Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, X:2 and X-Men: First Class, Star Trek, Iron Man, both Thors and Terminator: Rise of the Machines.

    The problem for me is it’s not hard to find films I prefer to Godzilla, but I’m also burned out on a lot of these. Much as I liked the LOTR pictures — especially, the first one — I really have zero desire to see them again, for instance. Ditto on Thor movies, StarTrek, Iron Man. I’ve never been that keen on the Bourne movies, the Daniel Craig Bonds, the Nolan Batman trio, and never saw Gladiator and never liked Terminator: Rise of the Machines. I do prefer the Harry Potters (esp. Azkaban and Half-Blood Prince), X-Men, X2, X-Men: First Class and all of the Pirates movies to Godzilla.

  9. Steven

    “Let’s get one of the most talented actresses alive… and kill her off within two minutes of her appearance.”

  10. DrSerizawa

    *Spoilers*

    When the reviews said they spent too much time with human characters (as if ciphers can be considered such) I figured, “Well, it’s a Godzilla movie. 60/40 would be usual. 70/30 human/monster would be way too much.” I never dreamed it would be 95/5. How monumentally annoying. The instant it starts to get interesting the camera jumps back to the boring characters. By the 90 minute mark I was hoping that the hero and his wife would get offed so that the camera would quit following them. And as if one kid in a movie isn’t enough they try to tug the heartstrings with 3!

    BTW, if a wall of water was rolling down Waikiki Blvd it would do no good to duck into a glass faced building. I guess the fact that 3 kids and a dog escaped while hundreds of thousands die is supposed to make us feel better. And a thermonuclear warhead detonated after an only 5 minute run on a Coast Guard ship would still vaporize most of San Francisco. (Psst. It had a mechanical trigger. All they had to do was hit it with a hammer.) And even the 1954 version didn’t send masses of troops with rifles after 200 foot monsters.

    On the plus side I never saw Hank Azaria once. I didn’t see Sally Hawkins either, just some throwaway character. Sorry, it was a huge disappointment to me. And it didn’t even end, just cut the picture after Godzilla swims away. Yuck. The movie is named “Godzilla” not “Generic Ciphers in Trouble”. That means there should actually be some decent Godzilla in it and not a Godzilla relegated nearly to a minor character. People watch a Godzilla movie to see Godzilla. That was the name of the movie. Did anyone making this ever think of that?

    How did that dog get untied from the tree anyhow? Movie Magic!!

  11. stephladder

    Took myself and (grown) kids & a couple of their friends to see it. I was looking forward to it. Very disappointed… boring. Without a doubt the 1954 version was the best… even with the ‘man suit’. Saw it in 1957 every night for a week on Million Dollar Movie. The music and ‘thrill’ holds up to this day. I’d like to see it again – except this time on the big screen! ;-) Hopefully they’ll let the big guy go back into suspended animation and rest in peace.

    • DrSerizawa

      Yeah, I made my parents and brother watch it all week on Million Dollar Movie. I think they finally said, “Enough” on Friday.

  12. Ken Hanke

    The 1954 version is unquestionably the best, but, frankly, I’d even take Terror of Mechagodzilla over the new one. I am interested to see two people who liked it less than I did. I suspect I went in with more diminished expectations, though.

    • DrSerizawa

      Actually I would even take War of the Gargantuas over this. At least that was very entertaining, though unintentionally.

      Godzilla2000 was more true to the original and had somewhat engaging human characters. I even found JJ Abrams’ Cloverfield much more engaging than this. And it also focused more on human characters. It shows that a decent remake could be done, just not by Gareth Edwards. I notice that his highly overrated Monsters also followed humans around exclusively and was boring.

      This quote from Edwards really frosts me:

      Edwards stated that he wanted Godzilla to work as a standalone film with a definitive ending, and he opposed suggestions that the ending should leave the film open for a sequel. He states that he has no problem coming back to do a sequel if the movie does well, but his main concern was delivering a satisfying experience with the current film: “I want a story that begins and ends, and you leave on a high. That’s all we cared about when we were making this; just this film. If this film is good, the others can come, but let’s just pay attention to this and not get sidetracked by other things.”

      Really? It doesn’t end. It is set up and intended as a sequel. This is the worst sort of prevarication. Ah well, it made a passel of $ so far, so expect the sequel soon.

  13. Ken Hanke

    Not so fast there. It took a horror movie sized drop in its second week. And by my reckoning was yet to actually break even.

    The further away I get from the film, the less I like it. Maybe I shouldn’t have subsequently watch Godzilla vs. The Thing, Ghidora the Three Headed Monster, Invasion of the Astro-Monster, etc. afterwards. Cheesy as they were, they were more entertaining. I’m still waiting for a poster of the new Godzilla with “Does this movie make me look fat?” printed on it.

  14. Dionysis

    I had been psyched to see this since the first preview aired, but decided to hold off a bit before plopping my money down at the box office. The review and comments here leave me really disappointed. Maybe I’ll catch it during the second run (Asheville Pizza and Brewing, maybe?), but based upon the commentary here, I guess I’ll re-watch the original Godzilla, and maybe throw in Atragon and The Mysterians for a full Japanese sci-fi fix. Drat.

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