Godzilla (2014)

SVEN: Well, this is certainly a movie. The picture moves, and the noise on the soundtrack corresponds to the images depicted. Beyond that, I don’t think there’s anything positive I can say about Godzilla. In the course of this review, I will be making frequent reference to Pacific Rim, because that is a giant monster movie that is better than Godzilla in every way one movie can be better than another.

NOTE: The remainder of this review contains spoilers. However, if you are dumb enough to care about spoilers in a Godzilla movie, you surely have more serious concerns than accidentally stumbling across a few here.

Godzilla is really, really dumb. That may sound like a silly observation in a movie about a giant monster, but it’s true all the same. Pacific Rim was dumb too, but that movie had some awesome production design, incredibly clear, high stakes, and engaging action sequences. In Godzilla, the action is boring and repetitive. If you like to see giant monsters slowly gathering themselves to roar, you’re in for the ride of your life. Otherwise, you’ll be yawning. Collectively, the monsters perform one cool, imaginative maneuver in this entire movie. This is a problem.

Clearly, the film-makers wanted their Godzilla creature design to harken back to the old-school guy-in-a-suit Japanese versions, even if science has since discovered that dinosaurs (the closest real-world Godzilla analogue) walked in aggressive “T” shapes, tails upright. Depicting Godzilla as an upright tail-dragger is a sentimental touch, but it also makes him look like a fat, doughy piece of shit. This totally undermines the credibility of the tough, alpha-predator character the script wants to establish for him. In fact, the entire Godzilla character is woefully underdeveloped for how important his motivations/actions become to the story.

I wish I could say Godzilla was shortchanged in favor of the human characters, but they’re equally bland. Aside from Bryan Cranston (who disappears almost as quickly as he shows up), not one character has any discernible arc. Say what you will about the paint-by-numbers characters in Pacific Rim, at least their absurdly cliche/predictable story-lines were story-lines.

Other issues: too much gobbledeegook, crackpot, no-one-in-the-audience-cares pseudoscience, an insultingly pointless female lead who constantly teleports between locations, and a comically inept military. (To a certain degree, the last point is obligatory in a Godzilla film, but… holy shit that train stuff was stupid. Why transport the bomb on a train? Nothing requires a more rigid infrastructure/is less adaptable in the event of emergency. “But, Sven! The monsters’ EMP magic would shut down any attempts to airlift the nuke!” I agree, this was well established by the movie. Except that they use a helicopter to lift the damn thing anyway after the train gets destroyed! More train stupidity: Remember the scene when Cookie Cutters and Milquetoast Protagonist patrols ahead to check for obstructions on the bridge? You might recall that, seeing none, he clears the train to continue. Across the bridge. Where he is currently standing. With no means whatsoever of getting out of the way. WHAT?! More ludicrous military ineptitude: Remember when the soldiers are searching the Nevada nuclear waste dump for evidence of foulplay? I’m finding it difficult to believe that no one noticed that an entire side of the mountain was missing before they opened that one door. I feel like half the theater joined me in laughing at the movie several times.)

Some of these things may seem like nitpicks, but when the movie you’re watching fails to engage on every level, picking nits is really all the audience is left to do. Proponents of the film might accuse me of taking things too seriously. This is, after all, a Godzilla movie. To them, I say, “What fun is this movie having?” Aside from the cartoon caricature played by Ken Watanabe (whose jaw is perpetually dropped), I see no evidence that this movie is attempting anything but a super-serious, dour Godzilla story. I mean, I think I see what the film-maker is going for. Keeping the human characters on the periphery of the monster action worked in director Gareth Edwards’ debut Monsters, but that movie is about characters with their own story and own arcs. In this, Godzilla is every character’s arc. Yet, the movie goes through absurd, Austin Powers-esque lengths to avoid clearly showing him (or the other creatures). This Spielberg-ian conceit works well in horror, but this is an ACTION MOVIE, dammit!

Proponents might point to a few of the genuine surprises in the movie’s arsenal. (Again, spoilers.) There’s more than one monster! Cranston dies in the first half hour! Godzilla is the good guy! While I appreciate the studio’s restraint at holding these aspects from the marketing, each (with the exception of the Cranston twist) is an arbitrary quality that does nothing to make the movie better. There’s more than one monster! Okay. So what? The movie still needs to work. A surprise logline is not an acceptable substitution for actual entertainment value.

CHRIS: It’s funny, because you and Jai were really excited about seeing this movie, and I was not really motivated to do so. Thanks for taking the bullet for me.

“In the course of this review, I will be making frequent reference to Pacific Rim, because that is a giant monster movie that is better than Godzilla in every way one movie can be better than another.”

Hmmm, Pacific Rim wasn’t really good, so I can only imagine how awful this is.

SVEN: In a post 9/11 world, every movie audience in the world is acutely aware just how significant and world-altering the destruction of even one major building would be in any of the world’s major metropolises. Considering this, I find it curious that so many recent blockbusters (The Avengers, Man of Steel, Godzilla) are so totally cavalier with their level of destruction. Entire city blocks are destroyed, but no one seems to care. If anything, film-makers like to pretend that all those massive skyscrapers are simply empty. (Notably, the seminal Pacific Rim solves this problem by moving much of its action out into the ocean.)

Look, I get it. He’s Godzilla. The primary checkbox on any Godzilla movie should read “Godzilla destroys tall buildings.” But, considering what we know about the ramifications of such destruction, I find the news headline that closes the movie (“Savoir of the City”) somewhat perplexing/troubling.

JAI: Godzilla destroyed fewer buildings than Superman did. That makes him a better hero!

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