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Be WARNED: SPOILERS abound!

Will the west never get it right? The schemes to make a US-made Godzilla film are the stuff of lore, head shaking and teachable moments.  Hollywood’s attempts at recreating Japan’s biggest star and his extensive movie canon have been lacking to say the least; summiting - or plummeting, really - in the universally-loathed 1998 version by German director, Roland Emmerich.  Emmerich seemed such a safe bet after his massive 1996 blockbuster, Independence Day, had successfully displayed an affinity for the sort of mass geographical destruction essential for any movie starring the Big G.  Sadly, Emmerich proved to have no grasp on the giant lizard or why fans loved him; working from a moronic script, the director opted to make his own creature that resembled nothing of the original design other than being sort of reptilian.  After that film’s abject failure, it took US studios over two decades to work up the bottle to try again.  And so we have this newest Hollywood version of Godzilla.

Subterranean rumblings are a mysterious thing.  One minute they might seem like the herald of an earthquake, the next could reveal a full-fledged sinkhole leading nearly to the earth’s crust.  What’s the origin of these strange, unpredictable occurrences?  Could it monsters?  That’s the seemingly insane belief of Joe Brody, a nuclear physicist who lost his wife when the reactor where they were employed ruptured due to a sudden tremor. The leaking radiation moved too quickly for all the employees to evacuate, collapsing the nuclear plant and leaving Joe a widower and single dad.  Years later, Joe is still in Japan, looking for answers and committing crimes to get them.  Bailing him out is his estranged son, Ford, who left home as quickly as he could, joining the military as a bomb specialist and starting a family of his own in San Francisco.  Joining his obsessed dad on one of his illegal truth-seeking missions, Ford discovers Joe wasn’t as nuts as he believed all this time.  Around the plant’s location is now an enormous set-up of scientists and military, all huddled around a strange earth formation.  What’s more, something inside it is emitting sonic waves that cannot be analysed, even by geniuses who’ve devoted their entire lives to such unexplained phenomena.  When movement registers, no one knows quite what to do, and once a gigantic, sleek, black raptorial leg emerges from ground zero, much running and freaking out ensues.  After the very large creature pulls the rest of itself out of its cocoon, the camp is laid waste, with many casualties.  Ford works with the scientists to elucidate his father’s now-visionary research in hopes of discovering what just happened and where the creature is headed.  The large insect-like monster sets on a trajectory for the US with Hawaii directly in its path.  

But because the scientists don’t have quite enough to do, another signal is observed on a collision course with the big bug, dubbed MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism).  Skyscraper-high, a giant reptile with enormous spines down its long back and longer tail emerges from the sea, its velocity causes tsunami-level waves to flood Honolulu.  The MUTO doesn’t look too happy to see this large dinosaur thing and their combined chaos turns Paradise in the Pacific into a living hell.  Somehow evading the big lizard, now called Gojira – or Godzilla, to less Japanese-inclined tongues – the MUTO retains his course for the US mainland with San Francisco in its sights.  While evacuation measures are effected by the Bay, no one can predict that the reason for the monster’s travels is because he’s got a hot date.  Another MUTO appears after creating a massive crater that devours much of Las Vegas.  Bigger than the first creature and apparently female, this MUTO is carrying dangerous baggage in the form of hundreds of eggs in its translucent underbelly, just waiting to meet their potential babydaddy.  The MUTO must be stopped, but will the big lizard be the one to finish them, and then what happens after there are no more bugs - or dinosaurs - to conquer?

In 2010, director Gareth Edwards debuted with a movie called Monsters, a very promising premise to sci-fi and kaiju fans.  The film started bracingly enough with Mexico under siege by aliens and the armed forces seemingly helpless against the threat.  Lots of destruction, lots of excitement in its first ten minutes, I only wish I had known that I could have left the cinema after that.  In what was a unforeseen bait and switch, Edwards then focused the story on a photojournalist assigned by his wealthy publisher to go into the besieged area and fetch the man’s runaway daughter back to the good ol’ USA.  Why the mogul didn’t simply hire a security team, I dunno, but it then set us up for the two to fall magically in love as they face the danger of the “monsters,” who never have nearly as thrilling a scene as in the film’s opening.  The movie’s only real monsters were the reporter and the daughter; two characters so obnoxious I felt both relieved and nervous they’d gotten together because I knew no one else would have them, yet there was the possibility they might spawn.  Outside of a gentle mating dance under a Texas moon, the space aliens never have another impressive showing.

When Edwards was announced for the latest US Godzilla attempt, I was decidedly mixed, he - like Roland Emmerich - had an eye for destruction, but the whole bait and switch – surely, no studio would allow that in a movie about the world’s most beloved nuclear accident?  Psych!  He did it again.  Godzilla is boring.  It’s a drag.  Only the west could make a movie where the entire world is expecting a fun ninety minutes or so of watching men in rubber suits beat and stomp the stuffing out of each other, and instead drag out a full two hours of clichéd human melodrama with sporadic appearances by lumbering CGI behemoths.  I’m well oversimplifying, but that’s my general complaint.  Obviously, we need a solid and interesting background on which to place the appearance of this unnatural natural threat of giant monsters popping out of the earth, but more than two-thirds of the film is focused on the travails of the Brody family.  First there’s the father’s tragedy and obsession with finding Godzilla, or the MUTO, or whatever’s underground, which was fine, but then when the story shifts to young Ford, we have to watch him take a very long way back home to his wife and son left alone in the face of the ensuing invasion.  It’s all pretty standard city-under-threat stuff; people trapped on bridges and airport monorails in some of the worst emergency evacuation planning I’ve ever seen in any post-Twin Towers-era film.  It felt like a split between a failed attempt to maintain the suspense of the inevitable kaiju showdown up until the last moment (Which is pretty much when we actually see all-out fighting) and trying to keep the movie’s monster budget down.  Either way, the nighttime scene in Hawaii where Godzilla and the MUTO are literally circling each other ready to skirmish for the first time, that suddenly, inexplicably cuts to daylight and Ford walking with a little boy he saved is inexcusable and sloppy. 

The monster action is so distantly placed that we’re starved into gobbling any crumbs of prehistoric entertainment Edwards throws the viewers’ way.  The iconic moments like Godzilla’s roar is not quite the shriek of pain and rage it’s ever been and when we finally see the flares of blue light traveling up the big guy’s back like a rollercoaster on the blink, leading up to the blue flames blasting from his open jaws, they seem awfully muted and used far too sparingly.  The MUTO are both unscary and uninteresting.  Edwards loves showing that one insect leg landing near people over and over.  They resemble a cross between a mantis-like monster like original Toho series’ Kamacuras, mixed in a broken blender with the “Bugs” from Starship Troopers and Aliens’ queen.  Edwards seems to owe more of this movie to those latter two films than anything Toho ever produced.  Ford even has a Sigourney Weaver moment where he risks his life to destroy the nest of MUTO eggs about to hatch.

It’s a pity because Edwards seems to have a graphic novel-like eye for the iconic shot of the Big G.  Many of the beauty shots of Godzilla reminded me of the 1990’s Dark Horse comic series and their often stunning covers.  I didn’t even mind that Godzilla was mighty chubby with huge cankles after a 60 year- nap.  He must’ve been inhaling some high-carb krill.  I was excited to see some Mothra references in the backgrounds of the early Japan scenes, which made me believe that this was going to be all I hoped for in a US remake, but no.  Edwards simply wants to tell human relationship stories and that’s not what I come to Godzilla for.  Yes, I want him to be the twenty-thousand ton reminder of mankind’s hubris and self-destruction made into scaly flesh, but more than that, I really, really want to see him fight other monsters and break stuff, which feels like the last thing Edwards cared about.  The very notion of Godzilla and the MUTO ultimately being the culmination of man’s foolhardiness in their inability to balance science and while protecting nature, is lost mid-movie in favour of the human drama and bland military action.  This big radioactive monster has no edge to him, no story to tell, which I guess works out because we know as much about Godzilla by the end of the film as when we walk in.  Heck, who needs an explanation?  Even when wrapping up the story, Edwards ridiculously allows Godzilla to simply slip away to cheers and ovation and scenes of television newscasts dubbing him “The King of the Monsters.”  His acceptance is a given and his return to the sea totally unimpeded by any military or scientific interference.  Edwards also poses him as an active protector of humanity, not only by his chasing and fighting the MUTO, but in blocking a shot from the creatures aimed at a busload of school children that no adult could be buggered (N.P.I) to lead quickly off the Golden Gate Bridge.  This did not appeal to my sense of Gojira as a pure force of nature; unbiased, unstoppable, unpredictable, neither hero nor villain.  This is not the monster in this movie.  I half-expected a small child to wave to him, joyfully shrieking, “Thank you, Godzilla!” as he trudged back into the ocean.

It’s a subterranean standard, but yes, this rendition is miles above the Roland Emmerich debacle, and those who aren’t as familiar with the Godzilla of films past will probably have a better time of it, but it’s still not what it should or could have been.  What it is is dull and wanting, and after 60 years in showbiz, doesn’t the King of the Monsters deserve more than that?

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

May 16th, 2014

 

 

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Warner Brothers Pictures

 

 

 

 

 

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