Godzilla Is the Most Fun You’ll Have at a Bad Movie All Year!
A friend asked me shortly after I exited the theater this past weekend if I liked ‘Godzilla‘. My answer? “Yes. I loved ‘Godzilla‘. The hour and a half without Godzilla? Not nearly as much.” Director Gareth Edwards took such painstaking care to get the details right on his biggest star, he sacrificed a lot of character development in the process. Therein lies the Achilles heel of what could have been a great summer blockbuster. What seemed at times to be a loving nod to the classic Toho iterations of the Godzilla franchise unfortunately, at times, also feels as if it wants to pay homage to Roland Emmerich’s 1998 debacle.
If you’re going to force us to consume three quarters of a Godzilla film sans Godzilla, we damn well better have some humans to give a crap about. Instead, we endure underwhelming characters ripped straight from the pages of the Big Book Of Hollywood Cliches. As these people plod through endless paint-by-numbers blockbuster tropes, the wait for the big guy’s grand entrance starts to feel longer than necessary. I am reminded of, and will repurpose Jeff Goldblum’s line from ‘Jurassic Park‘…”Eventually, you do plan to have Godzilla in your Godzilla film, right?”
I actually wouldn’t have minded the slow burn approach Edwards took in building up to the big reveal had his human story been somewhat engaging. It’s something I felt he did effectively in his low budget ‘Monsters‘ flick from 2010. Screenwriter Max Borenstein does him no favors here, constructing bland characterizations even the talented cast cannot overcome, forcing Edwards to rely on overdone blockbuster conceits to keep his audience entertained until he’s ready to unveil his centerpiece. There’s never been a mundane narrative that couldn’t be remedied by the placement of a little girl and a dog fleeing a tsunami. Pass the popcorn, bitches!
The opening credits serve to evolve some of the classic Godzilla concepts into a more contemporary setting- sidestepping Hiroshima analogies in favor of a “force of nature” thought process. Turns out those nuclear tests we were doing back in the day did not result in a giant radioactive monster, but were instead an unsuccessful attempt to destroy it. No firm explanation is given to the fact Godzilla has been trolling the seas, unknown to the general population, since the 50’s, nor is it clear how any of the other creatures that show up in the film, known as MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) came into existence, other than to proclaim they are ancient creatures that need to feed off of radiation. As the Earth’s surface level radiation diminished over the years, the MUTOs were driven deeper underground to satisfy their needs. Sure, why not.
What’s with all the Humans? Wasn’t this Supposed to be a Godzilla Movie?
In 1999, we are introduced to Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his assistant, Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), who have been called to an excavation site in the Philippines to analyze some egg shaped formations. Dr. Serizawa determines the findings to be an indication that MUTOs are once again about to become a problem, as if he’s some sort of MUTO whisperer. And we’re talking destroy a nuclear reactor level problem, not how do you remove ants from your windowsill level problem. As for Vivienne, she carries a clipboard around like nobody’s business. Seriously, all of those trolls up in arms over the casting of a single new female in Star Wars should watch this flick. It’s handling of female characters sets Hollywood back to the Stone Age (said in Cranston trailer voice).
Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is convinced the Japanese government is covering up a dark truth. He knows a supposed earthquake that destroyed that nuclear facility 15 years ago is a convenient excuse to hide a much bigger secret. Since that disaster also resulted in the death of his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) – dispatched by the slowest moving cloud of radioactive gas ever (it’s in the trailer, chill) – Joe’s motivation in finding the truth is clear. Cranston is the only one given a semblance of character personality, albeit it in the guise of a kooky old conspiracy nut cliché. Heisenberg has the chops to at least make Joe Brody interesting. As for Juliette Binoche, well, she isn’t on set long enough for her morning coffee to cool.
Enter Kick-Ass, or in this instance, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), as Joe’s son, fresh from deployment with the Navy where he serves as an EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) officer. Ford was also in the vicinity of that nuclear “accident” many years ago, but since he was just a kid, he’s pretty much moved on from that trauma. Since the writers didn’t feel compelled to add any lingering effects from that childhood event into Ford’s present day character, it was necessary to insert a loving wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and child (who cares) scenario into his life in order to establish a dramatic connection once the real shit hits the fan later on in the film. Taylor-Johnson is largely disinterested in what he’s given to do, which is to broodingly bounce between one blockbuster calamity to the next, generally unaffected emotionally by these events and inexplicably surviving like Adam Sandler’s career. Olsen is nothing more than a plot device- a princess locked in a tower cliché with little direction other than to clutch her son and stare up in awe when the moment calls for it. Never mind she’s also a nurse, which proves oddly irrelevant as her city lies in ruins after the climactic monster mash. Substituting the wife and kid for a couple of pet gerbils wouldn’t have impacted this story whatsoever.
Filling out the two legged cliches is Rear Admiral William Stenz (David Strathairn), head of the USS Saratoga, tasked with following Godzilla and the MUTOs, looking stern, and threatening to carry out orders to nuke San Francisco if any of these other wooden indians can’t concoct a better plan of action. Dr. Serizawa is also on board the ship to provide expert advice and conflict for Stenz in regards to carrying out his ultimate orders. Vivienne is also there to carry the clipboard.
Capturing the Epic Feel of the Kaiju’s King
And then it happens….Edwards pulls the curtain back on his main attraction. On screen before you in all of his 40ft IMAX splendor stands Godzilla. The King of all Monsters. He faces the audience, rears back and unleashes a roar that shakes the theater like a runaway freight train. And. It. Is. Awesome! Immediately forgotten is the bland exposition that got us here, because Godzilla commands our full attention. The look…the feel…the sound of this creature are perfect. Edwards’ eye for the visual aesthetics of this beast simply could not have been better.
The visual spectacle does not stop with just Godzilla. Edwards understands how to showcase an epic throw down between multiple creatures. The battles between Godzilla and the MUTOs are fantastic, conjuring memories of my 12 year old self, sitting on the living room couch on a rainy Saturday afternoon, tuned into the weekly airing of Godzilla and whatever foe he was battling that week. Fans of the classics will be hard pressed to find any flaws in the way Edwards treats these moments. See this in IMAX if at all possible. If not possible, forgo a straight 3D showing for 2D. Even in IMAX, the 3D does nothing to enhance the experience.
For all of the faults in ‘Godzilla’ the movie, Godzilla the character almost makes up for it. Almost. And in reality, if you are one of those folks who is just looking to turn off their brain for two hours, disinclined to give a crap about poor storytelling and plot holes, you are likely to have a blast with this film. I’m far less forgiving of lazy screenwriting but even I had a lot of fun with this flick in between eye rolls. As a visual spectacle, ‘Godzilla’ is summer blockbuster done right, and it’s the most fun you’re apt to have at a bad movie all year.