- Movie Rating -

Godzilla (2014)

| May 16, 2014 | 0 Comments

The most tickling moment in Godzilla comes when we first see the creature.  He’s revealed slowly; first a shot of his foot, then his hip, then his hands, and then his world-famous dino-mug.  What’s tickling is that he almost seems to be smiling – or possibly sneering.  The fact that, at that moment, he is nose to nose with another giant monster makes it seem as if he’s silently saying “Bring it on!”

Unfortunately, moments like that are few and far between in the new Godzilla, which teeters uneasily between campy humor and stark-staring seriousness.  The serious parts are nearly fatal to the movie because they drag real-life weight into a movie that doesn’t need it.  Who wants real life in movie about a dinosaur battling bugs?  The  concept works well, imaging what The King of The Monsters looks like goosed up with a $160 million budget, although it is definitely a sign of the times: yesteryear’s B-pictures are sold as today’s A-pictures.  That’s what director Gareth Edwards has to contend with.  He’s a former visual effects artist who knows how to build suspense visually, with all the signs and portents that something beneath the earth is stirring.  He has all the standard scenes of scientists looking at charts and screens of seismic activity that yield nothing but bad news.  Then we get those expositions of everything about Godzilla that the government has kept secret for the past half-century.  You have to smile when Kan Watanabe informs the assembled group that “We call him . . . . Godzilla.”  At moments like that, we giggle with recognition, and then comes half an hour of dead serious stuff that has you yearning for a fast-forward button.

The story kicks off in 1999 when some miners in the Philippines unleash something from beneath the earth.   Whatever it is, it’s causing heavy seismic activity.  Naturally only one man really knows what’s going on.  He’s a nervous Nelly named Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston, who gives a much better performance than the movie really deserves) who suffers a personal tragedy when one of the earthquakes causes an explosion at a nuclear plant in Tokyo.

Fast-Forward 15 years, and Joe has become one of those exiled doomsday nut jobs who lives in a box-sized apartment that is wallpapered with news articles about the seismic problems in the Far East.  That’s where his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) comes in.  He’s a level-headed, explosive ordinance disposal technician for the U.S. Navy who doesn’t connect with the old man.  Naturally, he also has a wife and child at home.

Credit must be given for the attempt to organize a human relationship.  They’re obvious and perfunctory, but you admire the effort.  You admire the cast too.  There’s David Strathairn, Juliet Binoche, Elizabeth Olsen and Sally Hawkins.  They’re all more-or-less filler.  We’re really interested in seeing the monsters locked in mortal combat.  Unfortuately, the movie cuts the fights short for scenes dealing with the humans, and that kills the fantasy element.  Nowadays, with our readily available 24 hour news, scenes in which planes crash into buildings and tsunamis wash away populations take us out of the fantasy and remind us of events in real life.  Yes, this is only fantasy, but how well you respond to those scenes depends on how your mind is wired to connect it with real events.  It alters uneasily with the fantasy.  When we see a giant dinosaur stomping through Las Vegas on a mission to beat up radioactive bugs, the movie’s realism hits with a thud. 

Godzilla makes his way from Japan to the United States to battle subterranean bugs, officially known as M.U.T.O.’s, or Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms – Oh, please tell me that’s an official term.  Yet, somehow the monster fights seem all too brief.  We see the typical monster hug-fights, but then the movie cuts away from those scenes just as they’re getting interesting.  Much of Godzilla is given to humans milling around and setting up large weapons.  It’s all done well, but the resulting climax is cut short, as the filmmakers cut away from the monsters and back to the boring humans and their problems.

The technical credits are good but for every good decision here, there’s a bad one that follows.  Godzilla doesn’t show up until at least an hour into the picture (good call), and when he does his scenes seem brief and clouded by behind smoke and darkness (bad call).  This is the same issue that plagued last year’s Pacific Rim.  Why spend millions of dollars to create amazing CGI monsters and then hide them behind darkness and rain?  Still, you have to give credit where credit is due, this is a well-made film visually, and it is certainly better than Roland Emmerich’s 1998 fiasco.  Godzilla isn’t a bad movie but you come away wishing that the director would lighten up a bit, more monsters, less people.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.