Godzilla

May 18, 2014 at 1:22 pm | Posted in 2014 | Leave a comment
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◊ ½

It’s an interesting exercise to compare this film to the 1998 version. They both have a strange (and entirely opposite) relationship to the campiness of the original. In ’98, they were desperate to update both the giant lizard and his origin story. In that version, he was given as believable a plot line as possible and he was made to look menacing in a more “realistic” (or, perhaps, dinosaur-esque) way.  However, the acting, lead by the likes of Matthew Broderick, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer, was heavy on camp-senseabilty with hammy over performing and cornball dialogue (“you gotta be kidding me, man!  We’re in his mouth!!  We’re. In. His. Mouth!!!”).  That weird mix seemed to doom the film.  Yet, this version seems to do the opposite.  We have a sterling cast, including Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Juliette Binoche, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (known mostly for the “Kick-Ass” movies but a real gem in “Nowhere Boy”), and they act their parts with lethal solemnity. Particularly early in the film, we are subjected to heartbreak, loss and a whole variety of complex emotions you might expect from a film not about a giant radioactive lizard. The problem is that none of those feelings can really be explored in any meaningful way; they are just splashed at us as though they magically give weight to the characters. The films seems to be trying hard to make us care and give us a sense of cost to the impending battles.  However, it feels cheap and manipulative (never more so than when it is constantly trying to throw random young children into harms way). Certainly, many action films have been guilty of this and worse but, what makes this so odd, is that it is juxtaposed against a Godzilla delivered to us in high-camp form. Not only does he look like the original (with no regard to any sort of realistic anatomy) but he has a back story that seems to be trying to be as ridiculous as possible. In addition, he towers to ludicrous extremes and reaps carnage to an almost laugh-out-loud absurdist degree. But isn’t that the point? And, here in is my confusion: were they trying to make a serious monster movie? They couldn’t have been. And, if they were trying to make a silly, over-the-top homage to the original, why not go all in? The only time I was truly entertained was during the final battle between Godzilla and the obvious Mothra stand-in (called MUTO here).  Too much of the film was spent teasing us with grand battles happening just outside of our reach. Perhaps, director Gareth Edwards (this is his first major movie) thought he was being clever but he replaced the action we were longing for with just more tired dialogue. If anything, this film should have been a half hour shorter with twice and much action.  None of it was scary (nor ever would have been) but, at least it would have had the potential to be more fun.

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