Godzilla (2014)

Posted on September 17, 2014

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Synopsis

There is a terrible accident at a nuclear power plant in Japan, in which an American scientist/engineer (Bryan Cranston) loses his wife (Juliette Binoche). A multinational organization covers up the true source of the catastrophe – a monster attack. Meanwhile, the scientist’s son grows up to be a US Navy ordnance disposal expert (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Dad gets arrested in Japan for trying to break into the quarantine zone. Son goes to bail him out, and gets talked into entering the zone with Dad. So naturally they are present when the monster from the first incident breaks loose…

Short Version

Everything I wanted from a Godzilla movie, albeit with some odd casting choices.

Long Version

Several people of my acquaintance hated this movie. Only 69% of the people polled report liking it. While that’s a majority, it still means that a meaty 31% of people polled did not like it (73% of critics liked it). There is at least one review calling it “paint by numbers.”

It’s opening weekend made a little more than half of its budget domestically, which is generally not a good sign. It took three months to turn a profit. So who’s right?

Godzilla FRAME 01I think it comes down to expectations. My wife and I expected to see a Godzilla movie. We expected a lackluster human story bracketing scenes of giant monsters beating the goo out of each other and wreaking havoc on the puny works of man. We expected an evil monster (or two, or more), and Godzilla saving the day. We expected some crack-brained philosophy about natural balance. Godzilla delivered.

We’ve seen a lot of Godzilla movies, including several of the Japanese reboots of the franchise. We did not expect originality, except perhaps in the visuals.

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I think some people went in with different expectations, and were disappointed. Part of that was director Gareth Edwards. Godzilla was his second feature film. His first was a movie called Monsters. That’s on our list to see this Halloween season, but I understand it’s supposed to be an innovative, low-budget, indie movie. Fans of Monsters were probably disappointed that Godzilla was less original.

That’s just an unfair comparison. Monsters was an indie film, made for less than half a million dollars. Edwards not only directed, he was also cinematographer, visual effects artist, and production designer. His crew was six people. His cast was only two actors (others who appear in the film are mostly locals)! You have to expect a Godzilla movie to be less idiosyncratic. No guerrilla film-making, adherence to a franchise, and studio oversight all have to be assumed.

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Don’t get me wrong. I liked his direction. The story flowed clearly and easily. I barely noticed his directorial choices in the theater. I thought he did a good job. I just think that bringing him on to the project set up some false expectations based on his past work.

I think the casting also set up the audience for disappointment. When you cast Bryan Cranston, Juliet Binoche, and Ken Watanabe, your audience expects them to carry the movie. Binoche doesn’t survive the first act, Cranston doesn’t survive the second, and Watanabe is barely in the movie at all. Casting capable character actors in those roles would let you downplay who they are and focus on what’s happening, plus it would throw the younger generation in the spotlight. Why else cast the kid from Kick-Ass (1 and 2), Savages, and Avengers: Age of Ultron?

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Also, to be honest, did we really need a Godzilla reboot? I think Pacific Rim raised the bar for what we expect from giant monster movies. It even got more of the nostalgia right than this movie did. I remember watching Pacific Rim and being charmed by a scene where six helicopters carry a jaeger. That is a completely impractical, and horrifically risky, way to transport something that big and heavy. Yet it was also a fantastic visual shout-out to earlier Japanese monster movies.

There was nothing like that in Godzilla. It was an all-new movie, but story-wise, it hit the beats for a Godzilla movie. Unfortunately, Godzilla movies aren’t about story. They’re about the visual elements. A more interesting human story with visuals that mixed new techniques with nostalgia-generated ideas might have pleased more people.

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Obviously, as lifetime Godzilla fans, my wife and I loved a chance to see Big G on the big screen. Heck, at one point I leaned over to my wife and whispered that the one thing Godzilla didn’t have was atomic breath – and seconds later Godzilla fired up his atomic breath! 69% of the surveyed audience wanted that chance. A sequel has already been greenlit (with Mothra!). It’s just that our expectations were more in line with what we saw. Not sure how we managed that, but we did.

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Don’t expect me to defend the writing. I don’t go to giant monster movies for the writing. However, I did read an interesting article this week. While it’s mostly about the difference between good acting and bad acting, it does take the time to differentiate between good acting and good writing. Take a look.

Conclusion

If you like Godzilla movies, you should like Godzilla. It’s just that simple. We were thrilled to see it on the big screen, and we plan to watch it again on DVD.

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If you don’t like Godzilla movies, or would rather see original material than reboots/remakes, I have to steer you away from this.

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Posted in: Movies