Sunday, May 25, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

2014. 123 min. PG-13; intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence
IMDB says...The world's most famous monster is pitted against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity's scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence.

The 73rd Virgin says...I’ve never been a fan of the franchise, and I always avoid movies where “restoring the balance” enters the dialog, and I’m suspicious of movies with “an international cast of stars”, not to mention one of the Olsen twins, but director Gareth Edwards made the third-best monster movie of the century (aptly titled “Monsters”, 2010), a low-budget near masterpiece. So I was interested in what he would do with a big budget.

The cast is a mixed bag. Aside from the wearyingly ubiquitous Bryan Cranston (in a bad hairpiece covering up his Breaking Bad shave-job, presumably), there is 50 year-old international art-house star Juliette Binoche (in a fright wig, perhaps to offset Cranston) as a nuclear plant emergency response team leader and Cranston’s wife and mother to their disturbingly young son, Ford. All-purpose insert-a-Japanese Ken Watanabe is the anodyne mirror image of Raymond Burr in the 1954 original – the furrow-browed scientist from another country, always near the power center but never in charge – along with BBC favorite Sally Hawkins as his furrow-browed English side-kick.

A blessedly short and creative credits roll offers early encouragement. As we open, it’s 1999 in the Philippines and furrow-browed scientists are exploring a sink-hole which contains an impossibly huge skeleton and something like an egg. From there to a Japanese nuclear power plant which is picking up strangely rhythmic seismic activity. We watch its destruction - one of those destructions where the only radio chatter is between husband and wife - and then we jump to today where little Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is now an EOD (explosive ordnance device) expert for the Navy, with a wife and son in San Francisco.

All set? It will come to light that the exclusion zone contaminated by the power plant destruction is no longer radioactive and is isolated for more nefarious reasons. It seems that ancient monsters actually feed off of radiation. Fair enough. My belief is suspendable to that extent. But then we learn that these ancient monsters that evolved billions of years ago also evolved electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) devices in their front legs. I’m still pondering what selection pressure supported THAT genetic trait.

Ford will be considered essential to the furrow-browed scientists because he knows the word “echolocation”, and they knew his dad, and he happens to be to hand when the bad ancient monster leaves its nest and heads for San Francisco. Scientists and Ford wind up on the Navy carrier USS Saratoga admiraled by David Strathairn. Could there be a worse actor to portray an admiral? At least since Anthony Perkins died? A flat-top haircut does not an admiral make.

Finally, they hatch a plan; use nuclear warheads as bait to draw all the monsters (balance restorers and balance destroyers) to a spot 20 miles off the coast of San Francisco (why not 40?), and then use another warhead to destroy them. But the warheads have to be transported from Las Vegas by train (by the Navy? – not sure) and EOD expert Ford needs to go along to arm, or perhaps disarm, or perhaps disarm and then re-arm one of two – or perhaps three – warheads. So he scrounges up a full uniform and tactical gear.

Ford’s Navy wife (Elizabeth Olsen) is smart enough to be an ER nurse, but not smart enough to keep her cell phone nearby while watching newscasts of Honolulu’s destruction, in case her missing husband might call. And when he finally reaches her, full in the knowledge that monsters are coming from the west and nuclear weapons are coming from the east, he says something like, “I’m coming to get you”. I dunno. I’m thinkin’ maybe, “get out of there and we’ll talk later.”

No matter. As my wife observed, there is almost no tension in any of the intertwining stories. Godzilla really is there to “restore balance” as Watanabe is forced to say at least twice. He also intones about “man’s arrogance”, thinking that we can control nature. Or, say, fix global warming by regulating back yard barbecues and lawn mowers.

But it’s really not awful. The second half gets a lot more action, and director Edward’s skill for mixing big strokes with finely observed side-details begins to overcome the very dodgy script. There is at least a very pretty moment as Navy paratroopers – I think – do a “Halo insert”, that is skydive down into a monster fight to the tune of Ligeti’s “Atmospheres”, straight out of 2001. Silent jets, disabled by EMPs, dropping into the ocean is a pretty creepy effect as well. And he allows long sequences of muted sound and music to add some dignity to the proceedings.

The special effects are good enough that we really don’t need the rainstorm that enshrouds the final monster fight. And the whole mess is only two hours. If you don’t overthink it, as I obviously did, you won’t be too bored.

But in the end, it just makes me want to see The Host or Cloverfield again.

And the preview...

No comments:

Post a Comment