(Our friend Rohan Morbey continues to write prolifically at Stop Thinking For Yourself UK, and has graciously allowed us to cross-post his splenetic, none-too-pleased take on Godzilla, last week's box office champion. We're always happy to include his posts here, and recommend that you follow Rohan on Twitter.)
This latest incarnation of Godzilla may well do a lot of things right if you’re a fan of Kaiju monster flicks and have ‘always wanted’ to see what would happen if the legendary creature went up against mankind and other monsters with a mega production budget behind it. If, however, the sight of this is not enough and, like me, you want at least some semblance of character to go with your action, then Godzilla will strike you as a massive bore. A Godzilla-sized bore, wreaking havoc and destruction on your patience whilst stomping all over your expectations.
The film can be split into three distinctive parts, each one as dull as the other but for different reasons. Part one is arguably the worst and by being the film’s opening act it is detrimental to whatever may have followed; we are introduced to a host of human characters which range from the lively but farcical (Bryan Cranston is so one-note he’s unrecognisable from the talent we saw in Breaking Bad) to the useless (Elizabeth Olsen is token ‘sexy wife who does nothing) to the downright awful in Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Not only is Johnson’s character flat, clichéd, and pointless (no one cares what happens to him or any of the humans, just show us the monsters, that’s all anyone wants to see) but he is completely without charm or any screen presence. Screen presence in films of this size is so important if film wants to be accepted for anything other than its special effects, but that clearly isn’t the case here. Johnson is simply terrible here, rivalling Charlie Hunnam in last year’s Pacific Rim for the prize for how bad a lead can be.
By writing characters so utterly devoid of anything interesting, a film is asking a hell of a lot from its audience for the next two hours if spectacle alone is not enough. The next two acts see various battles between man and monster or monster and monster in and around San Francisco (at least New York is given a rest for a change) but the damage is already done as far as me caring was concerned. I have to be the first to admit that movies which centre on CGI vs CGI battles are not for me. Nothing bores me more than this and this is all the film’s really has to offer but that was to be expected, I’m not suggesting I was surprised at the outcome.
What I was surprised about was just how little Godzilla was featured in the film, leaving us with these flat humans to drive the film on; the realization of Godzilla is superb and director Gareth Edwards clearly has a love for the character but the utilization of him (considering money is no concern here) was a serious disappointment. Moreover, whilst the decision to tell this story from the human angle without a single interesting character is bad enough, the oh-so serious tone is a major mis-step. There isn’t one moment of levity or humor in the film which would be fine (I’m not asking for a comedy here) if it was believable; but it’s about giant monsters fighting each other, so why the desire to be taken so seriously?
God knows the Roland Emmerich Godzilla isn’t without its problems (and the human characters are just as weak) but at least it acknowledges that its nonsense and just wants the audience to have a good time and enjoy the sight of Godzilla rampaging through New York. In 1998 we hadn’t seen a monster/alien/creature terrorizing Earth on that scale too often, but by 2014 every other film is destroying earth in some form or another, and Edwards’ film offers precious little that’s new in that department and I don’t see the point to this new film because it’s just as ridiculous.
Where Edwards and his team do succeed lies in how they use the technology to create the monsters, and how size and scope is conveyed to the audience. The only standout sequence in the film is quite sensational from a film making perspective, showing us something we’ve not seen before. The ‘halo jump’ scene (as shown on posters) may only last two minutes but it allows Edwards to show Godzilla’s size and mass from head to foot and the human’s POV shot is outstanding. Also excellent are the wide shots of down town San Francisco at night where the monsters tower over skyscrapers or come together in battle. Edwards isn’t interested in repeating the Transformers style action shots and he certainly at least tried to blend artistic visuals with crowd-pleasing spectacle. It’s just a shame the script and performances were not up to the same standard.
I completely understand why Godzilla was remade. Like Marvel, DC, and bestselling teen fantasy novels, it has a built-in audience and it’s an easy sell. It could have been escapist fun but it tried far too hard to be something more than what it needed, or deserved, to be. In trying so hard to distance itself from the previous version it ended up being just as disappointing, and even less fun.