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Godzilla (2014)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

GODZILLA (2014)

Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche

Written By: Max Borenstein, Dave Callaham (story) Directed By: Gareth Edwards

The Short Version

The King of the Monsters is back with a reboot for his 60th anniversary.

Godzilla himself is awesome.

If only all of these useless people wouldn’t keep getting in the way.

Could they please stop pulling the camera away whenever monsters are about to stomp cities?

Godzilla is worth seeing once, but it could have been and should have been so much better.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

MUENSTER.

A big honkin’ Muenster.


Pairs Well With...

JAEGER BOMB.

Drop a bomb into a Monster and…

“Let them fight.”


That is the advice of one of the film’s characters, Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe, Batman Begins), whose name you are unlikely to remember.

The makers of Godzilla should’ve taken their own man’s advice.

Instead, they overload the film with way too many shallow human characters whose stories fall flat, and they cut away from the monsters and the city stomping as often as possible.

But first, the good news.

Godzilla starts on a very positive note, with an intriguing opening credits sequence that very cleverly suggests the premise upon which the film’s world is based.  “Vintage” background images combine with extra text that is quickly marked over once an attentive viewer’s eyes have managed to register the words, suggesting that the world’s governments have secretly known about Godzilla since the 1950s, and that many of those “nuclear tests” in the Pacific were actually attempts to destroy him and perhaps others of his kind.  (Alien cover-ups are so passé now; why not go for dinosaur cover-ups?)  It’s a conspiracy that could easily feed an entire film; instead, the audience gets just one major sequence set right after the credits and one speculative speech later on to “complete” the gap fill.  Since I consider it to be a highlight, I don’t want to spoil too much, but hey, I consider it a highlight, so that should tell you that I’m impressed with the reality-building, even if not the amount of time taken to explore it.

I’m also impressed with Godzilla himself, which in this age of overblown CGI was a real point of concern before I walked into the theatre.  The King of the Monsters does not disappoint – especially on the large screen, which really is the best way to experience something that’s supposed to be this much larger than life – and easily proves to be the single best thing about the movie that bears his name.  He’s big, he’s badass, and his rendering is anything but cartoonish.  And when he’s up against the movie’s other giant monsters – I was concerned about them going in, too, but the aforementioned world building efforts make it sensible for Godzilla to already start off with other oversized opponents – the results are nothing short of awesome.  Indeed, they’re awesome enough to make Godzilla theatre-worthy despite the stuff I’ll be noting after I’m done with this paragraph.

That brings us to the bad news.

Godzilla and his fellow monsters may be awesome, but director Gareth Edwards and company seem determined to let audiences experience as little of the full-on monster mash as possible.  Time and again, giant monsters can be seen entering a city… only for the camera to cut away and not come back again until the major devastation has already occurred.  Sure, there are a couple of moments where a monster can be seen considering havoc in the middle of a still-only-partly stomped part of town, but there’s disappointingly little new stomping that occurs during those moments.  Only when a city is pretty much fully trashed are the creatures really allowed to have at it while the audience looks on, and while those are the best moments in the film (hold that thought), they don’t last long, and there are far too few of them.

This only serves to make the director’s assertion that “every ten minutes” there’s a moment that could be the movie’s best even more patently absurd than such hype usually is.  I can’t think of anyone at all who wouldn’t immediately narrow the field down to two.  (No, I won’t spoil what they are.)  As for the rest… Beyond the monster mash moments and perhaps also the very first few minutes of world building, Godzilla is a whole lot of generic filler material just waiting for the big monsters to show up.  Brilliant actors – Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe – are utterly wasted on characters that are treated as throwaway material.  These aren’t human beings they’re playing; these are plot devices with dialogue.  Emotional investment?  Forget it.  These people are pointless.  It doesn’t matter what they do or what they say; with the sole exception of Dr. Serizawa’s quick exposition of what he believes Godzilla really is, absolutely nothing about the words or actions of any human being in Godzilla matters.  Nothing.

Well, what about that whole “survival” thing, you may ask.  Bah, I say.  How quaint.  Besides, that requires real drama to be effective, and Godzilla just doesn’t have any that isn’t generated by a computer.  All of the “survival and loss” scenarios are of the cookie cutter variety, and even Juliette Binoche – normally a very emotionally evocative performer – can’t draw blood from this generic stone; at least not with this director at the helm, anyway.  Little children are threatened on cue (not a classy move), cute families are broken apart, and nice people die, but there’s just no resonance.  Again, just… nothing.

It also doesn’t help that the one human that the audience gets to follow for any real length of time also happens to be played by the least charismatic actor of the bunch (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Avengers: Age of Ultron).  Sure, it’s tough to measure up to a 35-storey tall lizard, and the script does his character zero favors (especially at the nonsensical end), but even so, leading man material he’s not.

So when Dr. Serizawa suggests that humanity just get out of the way and let the monsters fight, he’s on to more than the filmmakers likely intended.  When the monsters are doing their thing and there are no humans on the screen (at least none who aren’t running away), Godzilla is a fantastic flick.  But as soon as everyone starts to pretend that it’s possible to care about the cookie cutter characters pinballing through a script that’s less of a “story” than it is “one damn thing happening after another,” the monster mojo goes away in a hellfire hurry.  There’s still enough to keep the movie watchable – once, anyway – but great, or even good?  In someone else’s hands, I’m sure it could have been (paging Mr. Del Toro), but as it stands… no.

Bottom line, Godzilla himself is awesome enough to be worth the trip to the big screen, but all of the cookie cutter humans surrounding him – not to mention all of the cameras that turn away just when things look like they’re about to get really good – make Godzilla a one-stomp wonder.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, May, 2014


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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