What's Wrong With GODZILLA
A NEGATIVE REVIEW WITH SPOILERS
More than halfway into the new, new blockbuster Godzilla there's a sequence that illustrates exactly what's misguided about the film.
Trapped on the Golden Gate Bridge is a hoard of school buses attempting to, I assume, get to the other side. I guess it's safer from the approaching fighting monster battle royale.
In true suspense cliché, they're blocked by the military arsenal staked out on the bridge to defend us from the attacking monsters. Throwaway characters shout some expository blah-blah like "there are school buses on that bridge" or "don't fire, there are civilians on the bridge."
Cut to our film's hero's son, wide-eyed and aghast as the massive creatures tower over them, and shortly thereafter creating havoc putting them in immediate danger.
Of course, the bus-driver slams on the pedal and gets the kids out of harm's way, just in time for the monsters to destroy most of the bridge and kill off the hundreds of children in the other school buses. Since we never see those kids, and they're not given even one of the hundreds of throwaway speaking parts in the movie, we don't care about them. Or we're not supposed to, I guess.
I understand there's going to be a body count in a Godzilla movie. Monster shit happens.
But, where they're half-pregnant in the new movie is in wanting to have their slice of profound emotional cake and eat it too. Actually, they devour the cake.
Almost a third of the film is devoted to a back-story that's, if not a little slow moving, extremely compelling. It does absolutely nothing for the film to follow, since the most dimensional humans in the film are killed off in favor for multitudes of generic scientists, military personnel, and screaming victims.
Even the main characters that survive are reduced to blank stares and stupid dialogue. Oscar Nominee Ken Watanabe, by the very nature of him being in the film, should be a bonus. Instead, he gets to play the solemn Japanese man, staring intensely into the void with a touch of implied constipation. Oscar Nominee Sally Hawkins is reduced to an even less-important scientist side-kick. At least Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche escape the film early, as ephemeral side-plot.
I applaud the filmmakers' attempt to call to mind the man vs. nature vs. science battle that's at the center of the most heartbreaking disasters of recent years. Clearly some of the visuals in the film bring to mind the wreckage of 9/11, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant meltdown, the South Asian Tsunami, and even Hurricane Katrina. The original Godzilla was released only 9 years after Hiroshima, which is why the eerie film still resonates today with audiences.
The sacrifice of substance for style in its last act, only contributes to a Disaster-Porn bad taste.
If the intent was to build a better Godzilla than the immediately dismissed 1998 American effort, one would have imagined any of its plot elements would be ignored. Instead, the new film also lingers on nuclear weapon testing as an accidental worsening (albeit not "mutation) of the situation at hand. It's an all-too convenient back-story that, honestly, I expected to be different in this reimagining/reboot.
Lifted right out of Aliens as well as the 1998 Godzilla we get the pregnant create trope, mixed into a race against the clock doomsday. Go back and watch the 1998 film's finale set in Madison Square Garden with hatched baby Godzillas attacking and chasing out humans. I guarantee you'll have a way better time than any moment of the new film's lame finale.
It depresses me that Gareth Edwards had to be the one at the helm this hopeful-to-be-rebooted Hollywood franchise. His Monsters is one of the best films of the past ten years, and cost 99.7% less than Godzilla. It had characters you cared about, creatures to fear, man vs. science conflict, and an xenophobic overtone. That film debut is a film so accomplished that Edwards could only have been hand-tied in his most recent assignment.
So, what is there to actually like about the new Godzilla?
The monster battles are great, and I especially lost my shit when Godzilla regained his nuclear fire-breath. Godzilla himself has more emotional depth than most of the humans, and the detailed character animation makes him a better actor than them too.
There's a good 10 minutes of full-on traditional monster mayhem that's fun to watch, and worth the IMAX or 3D conversion. For the rest of the journey, however, you'll be shifting in your seat.