Okay, pumpkins, I've got to get something off my chest right off the bat. Well into the film we've got San Francisco being stomped by not only Godzilla but two other monsters (see below). One of the monsters, in fact, swoops past an office building, and the audience can clearly see people still sitting at their desks and watching the monster fly by!!!!
So my question here is: are people in Frisco so dumb that they don't know when to get the hell out of Dodge? Because if they do, then I want to know which rat bastard employer is demanding that workers stay at their desks during a monster attack.
I had very high hopes for Gareth Edwards' "Godzilla". After all, back in 2010 he brought us the nicely interesting "Monsters". He's claimed Tarentino as one of his influences, and the trailers made the film look very apocalyptic. I was left with the impression that not only were we going to get a Godzilla for the ages, but a potentially world-destroying Godzilla at that.
Well . . .
I'll go on record here as saying that I didn't have an entirely bad time with "Godzilla". I'll also say it's much better than either the Kiser/Hashimoto "Godzilla 1985" mess (connecting Godzilla with, of all things, a flock of birds), or the Roland Emmerich disaster. But, when all has been said and done, and we're left standing amid the wreckage, I must once again reluctantly conclude that only the Japanese can produce a worthwhile Godzilla film . . . and giant monster movies have become a lost art in this country. If "Godzilla" had lived up to the potential of the trailers then it would've been a film worth writing home for. As it was . . .
Let me go into the story first and then I'll get to the giblets. We start with a set of flashbacks: opening with the detonation of a nuclear bomb at Bikini Atoll. All very historical, but we're given the impression that the reason for the bomb was to kill a Very Large Something that was swimming about.
Skip to 1999 where, instead of people partying, we find two scientists discovering a fossil in the Philippines. That's the good news. The bad news is that the fossil contained large egg pods, and one of them has hatched. Oopsie. One of the scientists is Ishiro Serizawa (played with trademark world weariness by Ken Watanabe). If the name "Serizawa" tickles your memory then give yourself a cookie because it was the last name of a major character from the original 1954 film (Akira Takarada, one of the stars from that film, had a brief role here which was, unfortunately, cut from the final version).
At the same time the hatched egg pod is discovered, a nuclear power plant in Japan undergoes a severe collapse, resulting in the death of (among others) a female American technician (and the wife of the plant's American supervisor). We're left with the impression that the power plant was destroyed by whatever hatched from the pod.
Flash forward to today. Ford Brody . . . the son of the Americans who were at the power plant . . . is an explosive ordinance disposal officer with the US Navy. He's played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and this is the first time I've seen him on the big screen and, since he'll be playing Quicksilver in the next "Avengers" movie, I especially wanted to pay attention. Nothing particularly wrong here. Taylor-Johnson seemed an all-around clear-cut type who could easily fit into any number of roles (sort of reminding me of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, which leads me to wonder if all actors with hyphenated last names share a common genotype).
Graham has to leave his loving wife and child (more later) and head out to Japan to get his father out of jail. It seems that, ever since his wife died, Joe Brody (played with a slow-burning paranoiac fuse by Bryan Cranston) has been seeking evidence that the disaster at the nuclear plant was all part of a cover-up. Daddy being Daddy, he manages to talk his son into visiting the quarantined area where the power plant used to be. They first discover that there's no radioactivity (surprise surprise). Then they discover that the area is patrolled by armed troops (another eye-opening shock . . . not). Father and son are hauled off to a facility which is studying a dormant monster . . . arriving just in time for said monster to break free and wander off, leaving death and destruction in its wake.
(For kaiju-heads out there: the monster is sort of a cross between the beast from "Cloverfield" and Gyaos from the Gamera movies. I was secretly hoping it'd be a mutated version of the dead wife, which is why no one's asking me to write the scripts for these films. But think about it. Wifezilla! Then we could've brought in Leonard Maltin, Sidney Poitier and Robert Smith.)
Soon there are two of these monsters, with one capable of not only flying but laying eggs as well (the trailer led me to speculate that perhaps the monster would be Rodan. It wasn't and chalk up another one for disappointment). Mr. and Mrs. Monster are wanting to raise a large brood of healthy little monsters, and are attacking (and eating) as many sources of nuclear power as they can find. Can the world be saved? I ask you again: can the world be saved?
Well, fortunately (!) it turns out we have Godzilla on our side (in spite of our attempts to kill him since 1954). Godzilla follows the other two monsters on a wreckage-filled chase which eventually leads to both San Francisco and Las Vegas. Since San Francisco is where Ford Brody's family happens to be (wasn't expecting that, huh folks?), Our Hero jumps on every available form of military transport in order to get back to his wife and son and get them to safety.
And here is my notion for one of the problems with "Godzilla". Certain films are run by certain rules, and a director messes with them at his or her peril. As an example: take Michael Bay's "Pearl Harbor" (please). Whereas by rights the film should've been about the Japanese attack on the titular location in December, 1941, Bay decided to stir in a completely unwieldy and unnecessary soap opera. The same mishap occurred with Jack Smight's "Midway".
"Godzilla" should've focused on the battle between the monsters, with the human characters acting as a sort of Greek chorus. But Edwards felt the story also needed a "father struggling to reach and rescue his family" subplot, and the film ended up tripping over that detail. Yes, I know that such a thing can sometimes work (for example: Gene Barry's pursuit of Ann Robinson in the Haskin/Pal "The War of the Worlds". But compare with the mess Spielberg gave us in 2005 and you'll see how it all boils down to degree and intensity).
Back to story. The Americans naturally conceive of a plan to get rid of the monsters. It involves luring the beasts out to sea with a warhead from a Minuteman missile, and then blowing them up. As such plans go it's not on the same level as luring Gamera into the nose cone of a space rocket, but it's not all that much of an improvement, and small wonder Watanabe delivers doubtful homilies from the sidelines.
Which brings me to my next problem with "Godzilla".
No maser cannons!
And I'm serious. Ever since 1966 (in "War of the Gargantuas") the maser cannon has been a trademark of battle with giant monsters from Japan. Look at 2002's "Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla" (it's easy to do so since, according to the Encore channel, there're only three Godzilla films in existence, and "Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla" is one of them). The film opens with a battle between Godzilla and maser cannons. It's a classic. It's a gimme. If you're a Japanese movie monster, and the military doesn't bring out the maser cannons against you, then you're just an amateur.
(On a related note: we must eventually grow out of the notion that a reptile over eighty feet tall will be brought down by automatic weapons fire. When missiles fired from naval vessels fail to have any sort of effect, then standing there and popping caps at the monster does little more than make you look stupid. Hell, even the kids in a Spielberg film would be smart enough to know that.)
"So, Mrs. Lincoln," you ask. "Did you enjoy the play?"
Well, as I said, I didn't have an altogether bad time. There were some nice bits (one involving a flaming train leaving a tunnel), and any movie which lays waste to Las Vegas immediately rates high in my book. And yes, the movie takes it's own sweet time in getting around to the monsters. But, then again, so did films such as "Rodan", so I can't complain too much. And, unlike Emmerich's Godzilla, Edwards' beast isn't afraid to cut loose with fiery breath. And when it does . . . Wow!
But there's actually little drama in the battles between the monsters. They move around and grapple, but the choreography was in severe need of improvement. And it'd be obvious to one and all that Edwards' Godzilla was an American because it was so fat.
(Oh yeah. Go ahead and boo me. As if I'm the only one who thought that.)
Considering that the writing was by David Callaham (responsible for the immediately forgettable "Doom", as well as the first two "Expendables" films), one is tempted to ask why some of Edwards' $160 million budget couldn't have gone towards someone capable of attaching two decent ideas in his head. I'm suspecting he was also responsible for dredging up that tired old warhorse: the lost little moppet in the midst of a crisis moment.
(I'm also put out over the fact that Michael Mann, normally a fine director, resorted to such a cliche in his otherwise excellent "Heat", so don't think I'm only ragging on Callaham here.)
Earlier I commented on how only the Japanese should make Godzilla films. Alexandre Desplat's easily forgettable soundtrack certainly helped to remind me how much Akira Ifukube's scores will be missed (and, considering how Desplat's music helped my enjoyment of "Moonrise Kingdom", I can only shake my head). On the other hand there's a lovely little touch of Gyorgy Ligeti's "Atmospheres" in a scene involving HALO troops, and points to Edwards for that.
Despite my problems, "Godzilla" seems to be doing well at the box office, so we can write it off as the assets far outweighing the liabilities. Most of the audience for "Godzilla" are too young to have appreciated the Golden Age of Large Monster Movies (from the 1950s on through, say, the mid-60s), so Edwards' film may as well seem to be the gold standard for such efforts.
As for me: the next film better bring on the maser cannons or I might walk.