GODZILLA – Directed by Gareth Edwards, Written by Max Borenstein (screenplay), Dave Callaham (story). Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, David Strathairn, Richard T. Jones; rated PG-13 (intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence ); in general release; running time: 123 minutes.
How do you solve a problem like Godzilla? If facing a movie as big and epic as the eponymous King of All Monsters himself? Well, since we’re all big fans of last year’s “Pacific Rim,” we know the answer is by assembling the biggest and awesomest robots around to take him on. And that’s what we’ve done, as some of our top robots come together to take on Godzilla.
Citizen-Bot: Brief, spoiler-free synopsis: 15 years ago, Joe Brody (Cranston) is working as an engineer at a Japanese nuclear power plant. He’s monitoring strange seismic signals, which seem somehow related to a dig site Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Watanabe) is investigating in the Philippines. Something causes a meltdown, and we flash forward to the present day. Brody’s son, Ford (Taylor-Johnson) is an army demolitions disposal expert returning home, only to find his obsessed father has been arrested trying to break into the plant site, looking for evidence of the thing that caused the accident. Something has awakened. . . and it wreaks havoc as it makes its way into the Pacific. And there are other monsters which emerge, leading to a series of monster confrontations in Hawaii, Las Vegas, and, in the final epic battle, San Francisco.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to make of this movie for the first hour and a half of it or so. It seemed like it was trying to straddle the line between being a disaster movie and science fiction with some sort of deeper meaning and purpose. I couldn’t quite figure it out. And then San Francisco. And it lost all pretense and just became ridiculous and awesome. I realize I probably should’ve just turned my brain off and enjoyed it for the first part.
This movie was at its best through the first third as a film. Once the creatures got involved it descended into stupidity, but fun stupidity. The best I can say about this film is that’s it’s big, extremely dumb fun, but it doesn’t soar to the heights of sophistication you’ll get from a film (or script) as finely crafted as Pacific Rim’s. But, at the end of the day, what more do you want out of a Godzilla movie? He comes out of the ocean and punches monsters. It doesn’t matter how stupid the dressing around it is, right?
Citizen-Bot: Script and direction problems aside, I have to give a lot of credit to this cast. Cranston is great as the obsessed “man on a mission.” Straithairn plays the buttoned down military man to a t, even though he isn’t given that much to do. But the real standout is Ken Watanabe. If this film has any saving grace it’s him. (Well, and giant monsters destroying cities)
Swank-mo-tron: Stand out? I laughed out loud every time Watanabe was on screen during the last half of the movie because I realized all he’d done the entire movie was stare off into space or at things, puzzled and shocked. He was the token Japanese man to say “Gojira” and then stare at things and that’s it. Cranston was the one who stole the film, and I think it was a mistake to lose him in the film when they did. The whole script was just as contrived as you can get. The mythology of the monsters was brilliant, but the handling of just about every human character (save for Cranston) was as boring and stupid as it could get. Aaron Taylor Johnson plays a character who happens to be supremely qualified for every single military requirement the film needs, and members of his family (from his parents to his wife and kids) are in exactly the right place at the right time on two different continents and decades to be in harm’s way. It was silly. Maybe you could look at it in a different way, that Johnson and his family were an analogue for every family in the attack, but the filmmakers tried so hard to humanize him specifically that it’s hard to buy that line.
And I love David Straithairn, but no one but me seems to know who he is. Why did he get the celebrity cameo introduction?
Citizen-Bot: I like when Watanabe, on the cusp of the final battle, tells us the moral of the movie and then says “Let the monsters fight!” Yesssssssss. . . .
And you forgot that besides looking into the distance, he also helps to explain the movie for people not paying attention. In any other film, they’d have gotten Morgan Freeman to provide a voice-over. But, because this is Gojira, it must be Watanabe.
But then there’s Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who I would like to rename “Lt. Longshot” for the inconceivable number of coincidences and near misses that allow him to follow the action of the movie from city to city. Aside from convenient plotting, it also got a little ridiculous. However, I think the filmmakers understood this, especially given a final scene where he fecklessly points a pistol at a monster over him? Buy the premise, buy the bit, I guess.
Swank-mo-tron: So you’re saying they’re idiots, because they understood it and did nothing to fix it?
Citizen-Bot: I think they understood that once that final act started, any semblance of logic was lost loooong beforehand. If you haven’t turned your brain off already, then you’re doing it wrong. It’s sloppy, but it’s done in the name of being batshit crazy hilarious.
Swank-mo-tron: Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed that last third (and really the whole film) immensely. But because the script was so stupid, I don’t feel like it has any rewatchability for me. Pacific Rim’s script was so smart and all the action was tied to the characters and the story that I’ve probably seen it 10 times.
Citizen-Bot: Yeah, Pacific Rim this was not. I had almost zero problems with that movie. Godzilla is. . .well, it’s a Godzilla movie. And one done incredibly well. But this was a weird transition from a strong Act I with some heavy, smart sci-fi elements, to a more plodding, expository Act II that got increasingly more ridiculous, and then this amazing Act III that’s all killer, no filler. It feels like two good movies weaved together with some very, very weak stitching in the middle. I still really liked it, and I think fans of the franchise are going to be especially happy.
I think it’s also worth pointing out that our very own JerkBot (aka Jeff Michael Vice) couldn’t disagree more. He liked Godzilla more than Pacific Rim, for reasons which he explains here in his full review over at Cinephiled.
Zombietron: Late to the discussion I have to say that this was so much better than Pacific Rim. (Sorry Swank), this isn’t because I didn’t get it, or because it isn’t something I was interested in, it’s because Pacific Rim was campy in the wrong ways. Godzilla was fun, pure fun, with absolutely no restraints. Granted Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen had worthless characters who barely introduced a touch of anything to the film, aside from being everywhere the monster was. I will completely agree about the handling of them, but all-in-all I think the hat tip to the cheesy 1950s monster movies we’ve all been wanting has been served to us on a silver platter.
If you go to a Godzilla film expecting to see anything but huge monsters tearing each other apart while trashing our cities you’re high. It was everything you could want from a Godzilla film and even took bold charges with some of the characters and actions. From a technical standpoint some of the shots in 3D felt experimental, (like looking out a window through children to watch the fight). While it was fun the first time, I found myself wanting the dick in front of me to get his kids out of the way more so, and it did feel a touch gimmicky as it was used continuously. Still, even with those mild concerns, It was a blast. I’m not sure it gets much better from a Godzilla film.
Swank-Mo-Tron: It’s okay. You and Jerkbot can be wrong together. Pacific Rim had a story that tied the monsters to the personal stakes of the characters and put the humans in the action (in the form of the Jaegers.) Nothing, not one thing, a human character did in this film mattered. Was this movie still enjoyable? Yes. Was it as finely scripted or crafted as Pacific Rim? No. And I would argue that the human cost and devastation caused by the Kaiju was more emotionally investing for me than anything in Godzilla. This Godzilla film was designed for us to see Godzilla punchin’ stuff and we got it. It was fun but it wasn’t smart. Pacific Rim was a well-tuned dissection and commentary on big summer action movies, breaking gender and racial stereotypes and giving us a fight for the fate of the human race. Those stakes were never present in Godzilla, which is a shame, because it could have easily elevated itself to that level. In order to enjoy Godzilla more than Pacific Rim, you need to “turn off your brain,” but, like Bobby Roberts said, “‘Just turn off your brain’ is awful advice, but people always give it. Deactivating your brain is how you endure torture, not watch movies.”
Citizen-Bot: Ok, don’t turn off your brain. But, also don’t overthink it too much. The original Godzilla movies had some commentary about nuclear weapons and the military, but at the end of the day it was all about seeing a guy in a suit destroy a model city. There are parts of this that are undeniably fun. And I tried not to let some logical inconsistencies get in the way of my enjoyment. I don’t sit and stew about how it doesn’t make any sense to celebrate the 4th of July with fireworks manufactured and invented in China. I just enjoy the show. Don’t turn off your brain! In fact, enjoy the cerebral suspense of the first act. It’s incredible.
It’s also worth noting that Zombietron talked to screenwriter Max Borenstein about all of this. And it’s worth checking out that interview, because I think it’s illuminating in our discussion here. You should also go check out his graphic novel. His love for the character and franchise shines though, and fans are really going to dig that.
Final thoughts and ratings?
Swank-Mo-Tron: 6.75 out of 10
Citizen-Bot: I give it 3 wrecked cities out of 5. (That’s 6 out of 10 for those of you who don’t like fractions) But if you’re a Godzilla fan? You’re going to have 5 wrecked cities. You’ll love this.
Zombietron: More than that.