“Godzilla” thoughts

For letting the trailers fool me, I deserve what I got. I mean, to be fair, they didn’t fool me, exactly — I’m well aware that you can make a good trailer out of pretty much any film. But the movie promised by the trailer was very much my kind of movie: well-acted horror in which the horror dwarfs and makes mock of human ambition and self-conception.

But Godzilla‘s not a horror movie, it’s a blockbuster, and by that I mean blockbuster-as-genre, with all the faults that entails: cardboard-cutout leads, buildings meaninglessly collapsing, paper-thin women characters, and the glories of the U.S. military. (Yes, in a Godzilla movie! No, mentioning Hiroshima once doesn’t cut it!) Everything that was beautiful, moving, and scary in the trailers is beautiful, moving, and scary here, but with the exception of some unexpected and laugh-out-loud funny swipes at CNN, that’s the extent of the film’s value.

The soul of those trailers, Bryan Cranston, is absolutely amazing here, displaying total commitment to the work and bringing me to the brink of tears. The problem is that he’s so much better than everyone else in the movie that (SPOILER ALERT) when he dies at the end of the second reel, any incentive to give a shit dies with him. Seriously, did they not see the problem that sticking with this twist idea would cause? He’s so incandescent in every moment he makes everyone else look like the movie was some kind of community-service sentence. Poor Ken Watanabe is given nothing to do but glower his way through some exposition, and David Strathairn’s disinterest is so palpable I half expected him to take off his mic and walk off the set at any moment. The one exception is Juliette Binoche, but she dies even before Cranston does. Perhaps Cranston’s early departure was mandated by budget or scheduling, but all I can do is critique what wound up on screen, and it’s not even a matter of a counterfactual wherein his character was the lead instead of Aaron Taylor Johnson’s nothing of a Navy bomb technician: His character was the lead for half an hour, and that’s when it was a good movie.

Godzilla has strong kaiju visual effects, certainly stronger than those of Pacific Rim; you watch this and you just think Guillermo Del Toro should be even more embarrassed for himself than he already ought to be. But it’s hardly novel in that regard: The Mist and especially Cloverfield pioneered the use of modern-day CGI to convey the horror of scale, and in those films the one-dimensional characters and hackneyed tear-jerking moments are more easily forgotten since they really are horror movies, and really do try and occasionally succeed to be frightening and bleak. For all the ranting about how Gojira will send us back to the Stone Age, this is no apocalypse: Godzilla‘s supposed to leave you cheering and hungry for the sequel. It lacks the courage of Cranston’s convictions.

4 Responses to “Godzilla” thoughts

  1. Rev'd '76 says:

    The Mutos were wonderful, though, and the use of the Kyrie Requiem was quite unexpected. I thought it was just something they threw in the trailer for flavor, but it really added a fearful heft to the finale. Sure, it’ll always belong to Kubrick, but it worked here.

    The score would have been better if the director had composed it, as he did with his first film, ‘Monsters’ (which really oughta have retained its original title, ‘Far From Home’).

  2. Sean Belcher says:

    A little late here, but I honestly feel that there is a perfect Godzilla movie in here. I left the theater yesterday hoping that someone fan-edits this thing, ala The Phantom Menace, and just strips out every last bit of expository dialogue and every scene involving Taylor-Johnson’s family. The monster stuff in this just so, so great, but with the exception of Cranston and Watanabe (“Let them fight.” has to stay), any time someone utters a piece of dialogue, the film suffers for it. In other words, I think if you created a version of this didn’t attempt to adhere to the “blockbuster” plot or formula, like you said, but made almost an impressionistic cut comprising reaction shots, military maneuvers, and people fleeing for their lives, you’d have all you need to frame the almost transcendent kaiju stuff, and it would make a flick that almost felt like what they promised in those trailers – a movie that captures the energy, terror, and awe that a movie about giant monsters should have. Granted, that’s not a movie that would have casual movie goers flocking to see it, but I can dream, can’t I?
    And can we talk about Cranston’s hair? Ugh. If it was his real shag, why did they try so hard to make it look like a bad wig? Worst effect in the film.

  3. [...] more than a few critics have done write-ups that articulate my issues with the film already (here, here and here). It’s been a week since I saw it and something about the movie and the way it has [...]