Godzilla Is a Generic, Omnipresent Blockbuster

<i>Godzilla</i> Is a Generic, Omnipresent Blockbuster
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
The monster and the city.

Godzilla is the movie monster with the mostest. King Kong may be just one gorilla-chest-hair behind, but not even the greatest of apes can quite match the half-dragon, half-dinosaur who first stomped and chomped his way through Tokyo in Ishiro Honda's 1954 Toho Co. Ltd. extravaganza Godzilla. In that picture — even more so than in the sliced-and-diced retelling, featuring Raymond Burr, released in U.S. theaters two years later — our hulking, scaly friend embodies the kind of existential rage most of us never dare to express. Bigger than life, sadder than the sea, he's a being created by man's mistakes: Nuclear radiation has made him what he is, an origin story with an all-too-vivid real-life parallel. So he stumbles through the city on a mindless bender, thrashing at power lines and crushing tiny houses beneath his mighty clawed toes. Clumsy, unreasonable, and disconsolate, he is us on a very bad day.

Godzilla uses his super-powered radioactive heat-ray breath to fry a something-or-other whose identity the spoiler police forbid us to reveal.

That first Godzilla, and that first Godzilla, spawned dozens of spinoffs, including an overblown 1998 Roland Emmerich epic; for a time, he was ubiquitous and unstoppable. But if he was irritable in 1954 Tokyo, Gareth Edwards' new desecration of his legend should make him want to eat Hollywood for lunch. This latest Godzilla features lots of actors you might really want to see — people such as Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, and Sally Hawkins, not to mention Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, and David Strathairn — fumbling around in a story that hits all the wrong beats. To boil the plot down to its essence — a radiation-eating sub-H.R. Giger-type creature arises from the depths of the Earth, and Godzilla may be its only match — makes it sound so much more cogent than it is. The action jumps from the Philippines circa 1999, where a scientist investigating some weird formations in a cave helpfully observes, "This one looks broken, like something came out of it," to Japan around the same time, where some very bizarre things are happening in the vicinity of a nuclear reactor, to the present day, where we might be in Hawaii, San Francisco, or anywhere in between at any given time. It's hard to keep track. Or to care.

If you're a Breaking Bad fan, and specifically a Bryan Cranston fan, you should know that he appears in the film for approximately 20 minutes, beating out Binoche by about 15. Their few brief scenes, particularly Cranston's, make for the best dramatic moments in the movie: Cranston plays one of those dogged, half-unhinged nuclear science dudes who knows something is wrong with the Earth, though no one will listen to him. It's your stock crooked-glasses role, but somehow Cranston makes you feel the sorrow and anxiety thrumming inside his chock-full-of-knowledge cranium. The fact that he's lost his wife in a nuclear accident — she's played with admirable breeziness, rather than nobility, by Binoche — makes his crackpot urgency easy to buy.

Details

Godzilla: Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, and Juliette Binoche. Directed by Gareth Edwards. Written by Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham.

But who cares about any of that? Edwards and screenwriters Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham apparently don't, or at least they believe the audience won't. Mostly, Godzilla trots around at the heels of Aaron Taylor-Johnson, a not-bad actor in a thankless role and an even more ungrateful movie, who plays a naval officer adept at defusing bombs. Because, you know, that might come in handy.

Then again, none of these humans, no matter how gifted or hardworking, stand a chance against the movie's true star anyway. Edwards earned his stripes as a visual-effects artist, and he's directed one previous feature, the 2010 sci-fi thriller Monsters. To Edward's credit, the G-guy, when we actually get to see him, isn't too shabby: With his tiny, id-brain head and slow-moving, free-thinking tail, he looks prehistoric enough to make you forget, at least briefly, that he was probably created on a $2,000 laptop. He has a great moment when he looms, glamorously and ominously, from behind a row of orange-red lanterns strung up in San Francisco's Chinatown: They tremble in the air, their cheerful serenity disrupted by the vibration of his bad-mood footsteps and even more punishing glare. (It helps that Alexandre Desplat's score bears fossil-footprint echoes of Akira Ifukube's original "Godzilla March," one of the grandest pieces of movie music ever written and one befitting a 350-foot legend.)

There are two other great moments in Godzilla: One, when the scientist played by Watanabe — a wonderful actor who's as under­used here as everyone else is — captivates a roomful of unimaginative military brass with a heartfelt story about the Japanese origins of our nuclear-radiated troublemaker, capping it off with the unbeatable kicker "We call him Gojira!" In the other, Godzilla uses his super-powered radioactive heat-ray breath to fry a something-or-other whose identity the spoiler police forbid us to reveal. You could make a Vine of this moment and charge people $13.50, plus $7.50 for 3-D glasses, just to watch it over and over again for two hours. It's that awesome. But it's just one tiny beat in an otherwise-way-too-big movie that, weirdly, doesn't give us enough of the one big guy we showed up to see in the first place. Instead, we get massive, elaborate sets — of destroyed cities, of caves, of nuclear-reactor innards — that could be anywhere but look like nowhere. Godzilla is one of those generic, omnipresent blockbusters that's undone by the very spectacle it strives to dazzle us with: Everything is so gargantuan, so momentous, that nothing has any weight. This Godzilla, no matter how cool his fire breath is, can't live up to the monster of our dreams. That one we still call Gojira.

 
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9 comments
Marco Alessio Di Giovanni
Marco Alessio Di Giovanni

People, don't listen to this douchebag. The movie's awesome, especially when you consider it's about goddamn giant monsters. Go see it

Edward Delatorre
Edward Delatorre

It's Godzilla not There Will Be Blood. What do you expect? I liked it for what it was, a Godzilla movie.

Eddy Earthtone Blak
Eddy Earthtone Blak

It's an American made big budget summer action flick.... How could it be good?!

Nikolas Obrenović
Nikolas Obrenović

haha I am glad that these article reviews are opinions. By the way DO NOT READ THE ARTICLE if you want to see the movie. Basically spoilers all over. Now for my opinion. Saw it, loved it and shits all over the other "Godzilla" movie. Yes this movie is not perfect but it is entertaining and worth the watch. Critics always expect perfection. This movie is quite true to much of the classic godzilla. He fights monsters duh. Sure they tried to go for the more emotional approach of the human perspective and show how powerful nature can be in a "fictional" way and should have been a little more fighting scenes but overall I enjoyed it as most of the crowd will. Oh and that roar....so beautiful and terrifying to the ears. People if you are interested in the movie go watch it... just don't expect a masterpiece and you never should. I agree with you that the cast should have been used to its potential better.

Samuel Solis
Samuel Solis

Miami New Times: Where Nothing Is Good Enough Unless We Are Getting Paid.

Michael Anthony
Michael Anthony

Regardless of some of the praise I've heard, especially from Big G fans, I'm keeping my expectations very low.

 

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