Saturday, May 17, 2014


The most frustrating thing about the new "Godzilla" isn't that it's a disappointment because, really, it's not -- as long as you keep your expectations at bay. What's frustrating is how closely it touches upon greatness. The film is sophisticated, intelligent, brooding and extraordinarily crafted, almost as if Christopher Nolan directed a monster flick. It's leagues above and beyond better than the last time we got a film treatment of the god of monsters, that cartoonish garbage from 1998. Gareth Edwards, the British director behind the small budget creature feature "Monsters," has a keen eye, so the crux of the trouble comes from the screenplay by Max Borenstein which never strikes the right balance between Godzilla, human characters and two pesky things eating up a whole lot of screen time.

The premise is actually pretty sound and does a nice job of setting up the tension. A hair-pieced Bryan Cranston plays Joe Brody, a scientist working in Japan who goes nearly mad trying to track a massive radioactive cover-up after the loss of his wife (Juliette Binoche who gets sorely underused) in a lab accident. Cranston delivers what he can, giving cautionary warnings to fellow scientists played by Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins, who switch between looking very serious and very concerned. Cue Brody's son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who journeys to help his father, leaving his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son back in San Francisco. These are our human characters with whom to sympathize, and it's a shame they're not better drawn and feel like they were plucked out of any other catastrophe movie. It's wasted talent, plain and simple, who are forced to spout off trite dialogue.

The slow, exposition-filled build-up to the big reveal (it takes about an hour before there's a full visual) is a very specific strategy that pays off. Edwards cleverly cuts away when you may not expect him to, and it ramps up the anticipation even more. It's moments like this, in the second act, that are the film's very best. With brilliant restraint, there are several scenes that go silent as we pan up the beast's tail or spiky back and just relish in a moment of pure awe. And, of course, the moment of finally revealing his face for the first time, and he unleashes that trademark belly, screeching roar -- I dare you not to get chills.

But then there are the spider-like M.U.T.O.s, short for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms. These things hang around a whole lot, and while the final showdown is worth the wait, there is far too much emphasis placed on them. Let's cut to our human sympathizers a little more; give them something more substantial to say other than stuff you might hear in a "Transformers" movie. Amid this sea of complaints and probably nitpicking, though, the 2014 version of "Godzilla" we have been granted is solid and good.

There's a scene late in the film that is most striking and admirable in the way Godzilla, the god of monsters, the beast among men, the towering dinosaur-whale emerged from the ocean, is painted to mirror the human drama. It's beautiful. With just a little more nuance, this could've been on par with Peter Jackson's "King Kong."

No comments:

Post a Comment