Monday, February 8, 2016

Godzilla


   Keeping camp and cheese firmly at arm's length, Godzilla's second American debut is actually quite the epic- in the truest sense of the word. I like the director, Gareth Edwards. I think his heart was in the right place and his sensibilities towards giant monster movies is spot on- for the most part. I'll say it right off the bat, having seen this movie three times now I believe, the absolute worst thing about it is how it directly teases two amazing monster vs. monster brawls, only to cut away and deny us those scenes. I know Edwards grasps the excitement and appeal of seeing giant monsters duke it out, because he delivered a hell of a climactic throwdown- one so epic, it gives the entirety of Pacific Rim a run for it's money. And, let me tell you... this movie has no gigantic mech suits.

   I still rank this Godzilla movie in my top ten of all time because of the gravitas it has. Gravitas, scope, and scale. Every shot of destruction, whether it's an aftermath, or ongoing carnage- is absolutely jaw dropping. It's terrifying how real and plausible it all looks. The cinematography is fantastic and the movie looks probably better than any other Godzilla movie ever has. It feels epic, it feels big. When a gigantic monster sets it's foot down in this movie, you can feel it. It's amazing. The means and methods by which Edwards cultivates this atmosphere of hyper-realism is a double edged sword. Like I said, he pumps us up twice for two big monster fights, and then pulls the rug out from under our feet, leaving the fighting for the climax. This, I can only imagine, was in an effort to stave off the hokiness that's been inherent in 90% of all Godzilla movies.

   The problem with this is that while it does kind of work, it heaps the majority of the movie onto the human characters, which historically speaking- has never worked incredibly well in these kinds of movies. The action scenes need to be monster-centric. And, not just monster centric, they need to be monster versus monster-centric. While I know you can't have one of these movies without human characters, they fail over and over to create interesting characters. Bryan Cranston's character was interesting and a real scene stealer- but he dies 20-30 minutes into the movie. Everyone else, while occasionally turning in good performances, is only a perfunctory necessity next to the stunning scenes of destruction and show-stoppingly impressive giant monsters.

   That's why good Godzilla movies have a specific formula they go by. There's always two or three confrontation scenes to show off the monsters and the special effects. These scenes serve to maintain audience interest among other things.  But, at the end of the day, I just like to see giant monsters fighting. So, while there's no shortage of special effects in this one, and also no shortage of monster scenes, it's the big guy himself who's kind of a late bloomer in his own movie- no thanks to those two horrible tease-and-denials. Godzilla just needed more giant monster fights. That's it, in my opinion. Edwards set the stage, the tone, the atmosphere and he infused this world with immense gravitas... but only at the end of the movie does he truly unleash these monsters to play around in it.

   The movie is very well constructed overall, and you couldn't wipe the stupid grin off my face right now if you tried, because the last act of the movie is truly amazing, but the middle section of the movie kind of drags. I hesitate to even say that because from beginning to end I find the movie thoroughly entertaining, but as a Godzilla fan, I was craving more monster vs. monster action. There's so many impressive action scenes from a human perspective, which is terrifying and jaw dropping nonetheless, but this could easily be from Pacific Rim or Cloverfield. There's no sense that the King of all Monsters himself is going to come stomping over the horizon at any moment. By the time he does show up, he feels like he's crashing his own party. Not that I'm complaining. Godzilla is a hell of a party crasher.

  Anyways, the bulk of the tension and action scenes revolve around the gargantuan antagonists of the movie, two monsters, dubbed MUTOs by the military. They're not evil monsters like you might think, they're just trying to live and survive, but they're out of balance with nature and the world around it. Thus... a 'god' comes to restore the balance. Which honestly, that's a great freakin' way to introduce Godzilla. This movie had some fascinating angles and ideas about the big guy, and I loved it- right down to his new look. Which is just so damn cool. Godzilla looks like a majestic and mythological monster that you can totally believe has been hibernating down near the Earth's core for ages. He's so cool, I only wish there was more of him in the movie.

   When all is said and done, Godzilla has a pretty great cast who do their damndest to carry this massive movie, and for the most part they all do really well. Ken Watanabe in particular was an absolute treat to watch. So yeah, Godzilla is a really good movie. Special, even. It needs sequels, pronto. The king of all monsters is back, and larger than life. He's been handled with the utmost care and respect, by a man who I can safely assume is a massive fan of the genre. Godzilla is easy to recommend, I loved it.

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