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The Once and Future King (of All Monsters)? – Godzilla

May 16, 2014

Godzillaposter

There are many fine moments in Michael Mann’s classic thriller Manhunter — the best of the Hannibal Lecter film series despite the absence of Anthony Hopkins in the Lecter/Lektor role that made him famous. One of the best comes during our first glimpse of that film’s serial killer bete noire, the Tooth Fairy, after he abducts tabloid journalist Freddy Lounds and binds him up in his disturbingly appointed house. It’s terrifying and sends chills up and down your spine, and Tom Noonan, one of our most underappreciated character actors, is his usual imposing, strange self. What has always sold that one scene is a great quote from this wounded, demented loner at the center of the titular manhunt, the man who wants to become a monster, a real, living Red Dragon. He stands in front of the scared out of his mind Lounds and tells him, simply: “You. Owe. Me. Awe.”

This is the bedrock of a successful Godzilla movie, what the filmmakers have to deliver and what the audience has to feel. We. Owe. Him. Awe. Everyone from the studio execs to the fat schlub digging into his extra-large tub of buttered popcorn. Awe. Capital A.

Which begs: Does Gareth Edwards, in his sophomore directorial effort after the low-budget Monsters, get it done in the big, new Godzilla? Does he give us the eponymous antihero that we crave?As much as it pains me to say it — not really. That first illicit, leaked, glorious trailer that we saw last fall — the one that combined Oppenheimer with creepy 2001: A Space Odyssey music and monsters as tall as buildings — got us all believing that maybe, just maybe we’d be getting a thinking man’s Godzilla in the summertime, a season that’s been getting dumber and dumber each successive year. It had that key ingredient of awe. But what’s been thrown up onto the screen is just another bland, cliché-riddled plot with a number of characters that do nothing but stand around and spout endless exposition — a necessity when your star is someone who only roars in a roar that hasn’t changed in sixty years, but still. And Godzilla himself, while wonderfully realized and a worthy CGI successor to the black and white rubber suit original, suffers from some clumsy handling. The movie is passable, but could have been so much more. And the more I think about it, the more I dislike it.

And speaking of more, there’s more analysis, with some spoilers, on the next page. Though it’s a challenge to spoil anything in a plot that you can see stomping towards you from miles away.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2014 7:55 pm

    I am rather disappointed that Godzilla didn’t even come close to living up to the hype. Please check out my blog at pulsecola.com

  2. Jake Berlin permalink
    May 17, 2014 8:03 pm

    Two things I hated – Bryan Cranston was phenomenal but totally under utilized. Some of the best human scenes throughout the movie were from him. Second, three times they kept us waiting for the big fight. I get the anticipation & the final battle lived up to it, but I wanted to see them fight on the tarmac! One thing I didn’t like but felt with and just like Cranston, Elizabeth Olson who has become an aiming actress was just used as the distressed wife. She could have been a solid character for the movie, but she was either worrying for her husband or running from monster mayhem.

  3. Volker permalink
    May 19, 2014 12:52 pm

    I rather liked the US Navy escort scenario. Instead of the by-now-routine Godzilla-vs-The-Fleet set piece, this clearly shows that the Big G is not innately malevolent or even aggressive towards humans–and that’s despite having been nuked in the 50s (a deft piece of alt.history). He’s not docile, rather the fleet isn’t relevant to his mission. His role is protector of the Earth’s balance, and the entire film is consistent with that tenet in many details, large and small.

    Also, it’s indeed nicely explained where and why he has been the last 60+years (in the depths, looking for residual radioactivity).

    The plot is kept simple, which I thought was helpful in maintaining momentum. Yes, the characters are somewhat two-dimensional, but I would argue that this is a story that does not need stars, it need archetypes. And Admiral Stenz is Godzilla’s human equivalent in that his primary goal is saving human lives, not destroying monsters (rather nice change from the usual stereotype).

    I should mention that kaiju films do exist in that world, their posters hang in homes, but presumably their popularity is limited to Japan.

    I give it 4.5 spikey backs out of 5,for clarity of vision, linearity and internal consistency. And a really, really awesome Godzilla.

    • May 21, 2014 12:59 am

      I guess it can hang its hat on its “linearity” then. 4.5 out of 5 for this strikes me as a vast overvaluation, but to each their own.

      I figured in those 60 years or so that Godzilla was the same place that Nero and his Romulans went after the prologue in the Star Trek reboot: Plot Convenience Limbo.

      • Volker permalink
        May 21, 2014 8:15 am

        Well, admittedly at least one of those 4.5 of 5 is due to my irrational love for all things Godzilla as well as redeeming the shame of the ’98 ‘Zilla.

        You bring up an interesting topic with your comment about plot convenience limbo: to what standards should one hold a film about giant radioactive monsters? I have an innately higher suspension of disbelief and general tolerance here than for say “The Maltese Falcon” or “Memento”. Granted, some level of thoughtfulness and logic is required lest we descend into the slop of “Power Rangers”.

        By comparison, the Heisei “Godzilla vs King Ghidorah” attempted a lot more but I think it ultimately failed because the plot was over-convoluted (time paradox stories are usually doomed to fail in all but the best of hands), and the monster battles were so well staged as to overshadow all else.

        Which Godzilla film would you rank highest and why?

        Cheers!

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