June 8, 2014

Review: Godzilla

Yes, I know I'm behind the curve on this one, but I prefer to go to movies after the initial rush has died down. In this case, a 10 AM Sunday showing was perfect: not only did I save two dollars off the regular ticket price, there were very few people in the theater.

Unfortunately, I came out of the movie feeling deeply unsatisfied. Sure, it was a big, badass, blow-em-up, crash-and-bang, gorgeous-CGI monster movie, but it didn't feel finished somehow. I thought about it for a while, and finally realized what the problem was: the screenwriter had made the mistake of focusing his film on the most uninteresting character in the cast.

(And yeah, I know the movie's title is "Godzilla," and I realize he comes on the scene, destroys San Francisco, kills two giant preying-mantises-cum-bats before they spawn several hundred more of their kind, thus saving humanity's collective ass, and leaves. [Accompanied by a terribly schmaltzy tagline on CNN: "King of the Monsters--Savior of Our City"--or rather, what's left of it, which surely translates into a Pyrric victory. Barf.] But he's not really a character, just a terribly convenient Force of Nature and Serve-the-Plot-Device. [With one fleeting exception, which I'll get to later.] There was no discussion of his possible intelligence, other than Ken Watanabe mouthing a few platitudes about "the balance of nature," and there should have been. Either (a) he's not intelligent, in which case he would have gone on hibernating merrily away at the bottom of the ocean, since the Bat-Mantises weren't directly threatening him; or (b) he was intelligent, in which case I suspect he would have been righteously pissed off at human beings for all the attempts to kill him with so-called "A-bomb tests" in the Fifties, and he would've stayed out of the fight altogether. Either way, we wouldn't have had a movie, so let's just jump over that gigantic plot hole and go on.)

Bryan Cranston's Joe Brody starts off the show, as administrator of a nuclear plant in Janjira, Japan, who is concerned about a recent series of seismic events close to the plant; events he believes is becoming a pattern. He is threatening to shut the plant down, and sends his wife and her team into the reactor to check out what's happening. Of course, all hell breaks loose, the reactor is breached and superheated radioactive steam comes billowing up the hallways, killing Brody's wife and her team. This is a rather well-done death scene (although I hated for nearly the only woman in the cast to be refrigerated so soon), and looking back on it now, that was the writer's first mistake. Because that scene clearly should have set the tone for the rest of the movie, and Bryan Cranston's character should have been the protagonist.

Instead, he dies about a third of the way through, fifteen years later when he sneaks back into the Janjira Containment Zone, accompanied by his now-grown son, to find out just what the hell happened. What happened was Papa Bat-Mantis, newly hatched in the Philippines after a cave collapse, was drawn to Brody's plant by its radiation, which the Mutos (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) feed upon. The creature destroyed the plant and burrowed in for a fifteen-year hibernation, absorbing all the radiation that otherwise would have lethally contaminated the area, and emerges sexually mature and looking for his mate (who is still in a dormant state until he starts calling her, having been taken to the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Depository in Nevada--which is actually another gigantic plot hole you shouldn't think about too long; WHY THE HELL WOULD THEY HAVE DONE THAT??), setting the film in motion.

From then on, unfortunately, the focus is on Brody's grown son Ford, and a duller "hero" I have rarely encountered. I can't even remember the actor's name; he made no impression on me whatsoever, and he simply isn't capable of carrying the film. As I said, Bryan Cranston should have been the protagonist, and Ken Watanabe, as a scientist for Monarch, who has been hunting  for/studying the Mutos since World War II, should have been the antagonist. Because as far as I can see, it was his mistakes (and his unscientific awe and near-worship of the creatures--when he looks at Godzilla swimming, he appears to be staring into the face of his god) that led to both of the Bat-Mantises breaking out. I mean, why the devil didn't he destroy the male while it was in hibernation and in a relatively defenseless state? There was an attempt at an explanation given, but in light of later events, it proved to be catastrophically inadequate.

So: We should have had Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe, two wonderful actors, going toe-to-toe, instead of  mostly (especially so in Cranston's case) wasting them. At this point (and this is a good thing) Godzilla takes over the film, and the last half of the movie is a lay-waste-to-cities (Honolulu, Las Vegas and San Francisco respectively) fight. Godzilla finally manages to destroy both Mutos (and I don't know why he didn't whip out his deadly "atomic breath" earlier, but again, we wouldn't have had the entire third act if he had) and little Ford-the-Dullard does manage to do one thing: he destroys the female Muto's eggs. (But then, instead of disarming the warhead which was supposed to destroy both Mutos--and Godzilla as well--with its blast, he fails at the only reason for his character to be there, and passes out. Kee-ripes. The bomb is taken out to sea and detonates there, so all is good, but I swear, this script needed at least one more rewrite: PLEASE get rid of this guy, and keep Bryan Cranston. Which would also have necessitated eliminating Ford's wife and son, but they were only there for cynical audience manipulation anyway.)

There's one exception to my creeping dissatisfaction with the film. It's a brief scene when Godzilla is staggering after killing Papa Bat-Mantis, and he comes eyeball to eyeball with Ford-the-Dullard. Godzilla obviously doesn't speak in his movie, but they did some really good CGI in this scene: he looks unutterably weary, and you can tell what he's thinking: "Why am I getting beat up protecting these little human shits?" This goes back to my original question, which should have been explored. (Another wasted opportunity for a great scene between Cranston and Watanabe.) It makes about as much sense as me getting in a knock-down drag-out fight over an anthill.

Well, anyway. I'm glad I saw it. Kinda sorta. But it could have, and should have, been so much more.

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