Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for Slick’s “Random and Utterly Useless Trivia!” Today’s trivia has to do with a little island nation called Japan. A lot of you might already know that Japan (in general) tolerates but does not really like the United States. If you asked the populous what their favorite country was, I can almost guarantee that the U.S. would be low on the list if it showed at all. The reasons for this disdain have to do with three specific dates: August 6, 1945, August 9, 1945 and March 1, 1954. These significance of these three dates are (in order): the United States dropping an atomic bomb on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The third date is called the “Lucky Dragon 5” incident and I will leave you to look that up on your own. You can imagine how Japan might feel about us after we literally “spit hot fire” on them. One of their responses to the matter was a little black and white film released on November 3, 1954 called Gojira. Incorrectly pronounced by Americans as “Godzilla,” the movie featured a giant, reptilian creature that was originally conceived as a mutant gorilla-whale. This beast proceeded to walk all over Japan (kinda like how we did about 10 years earlier), basically ignoring all conventional weapons. Gojira was finally stopped when scientists developed the oxygen-destroyer, a chemical that did exactly what its namesake implied to ocean water. The monster presumably died in the depths of the Pacific Ocean (viewers see its skeleton) and Japan was saved. Along with the rest of the world, America fell in love with Gojira. A film which was basically a middle finger to the U.S. and we ate it up. That is the definition of irony. Anyone who grew up in the 80s can remember spending Saturday afternoons watching Godzilla marathons and it doesn’t matter how many times you saw the film, you always plopped down in front of the set, eyes glued to the cheesy kaiju action. In 1998, Roland Emmerich tried to reinvent the Japanese icon with disastrous results and ten years later “Something Found Us,” but Cloverfield was not the monster we were looking for. Now, Gareth Edwards and Legendary Pictures are ready to try again and fans are hopeful. It looks like Godzilla and it sounds like Godzilla; with baited breath I walked into a theatre to see if an American company could finally do the king of the kaiju justice.
KING KONG AIN’T GOT $H!T ON ME! Throughout history, man has had to be repeatedly reminded of on horrifying fact: regardless of the fact that we may be the dominant species on this planet, we still cannot control nature and its forces. Our most painful lesson to date started in the 1950s, when an American nuclear submarine awakened something ancient on the Pacific Ocean floor. The nuclear tests that followed (once again, lookup the Bikini Atoll and the Lucky Dragon 5 incident) were in actuality attempts to destroy the beast and they were thought to have been successful. In 1999, a highly unnatural seismic event causes the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant near Tokyo to collapse and the surrounding area is permanently evacuated and quarantined. What really happened there has become a closely guarded secret until now. The “seismic event” cocooned itself in the rubble of the nuclear plant for fifteen years and now it is ready to emerge. The lesson that began in 1954 is over; the final exam is about to begin and failure means the extinction of the human race. The weapons of man are completely useless against what is being called the Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism (MUTO) and all hope seems lost. This beast hails from Earth’s past when literal monsters roamed the planet and the only thing that stands a chance would be an even greater monster from the same time period. Humanity’s only hope lies with the creature we tried to kill back in the 1950s. The monster known as Gojira rises from the depths and all we can do is watch.
JUST TO GET A REP Describing the acting in a movie like this is always somewhat difficult. Make no mistake, there were solid performances in Godzilla, but honestly, no one watching this film really cares about the people. What is even more ironic about that is the fact that the people you are likely to connect with were on screen the least. Bryan Cranston as Joe Brody was clearly going to stand out to viewers as he was in your face in every single trailer. This guy had the worst day of his life on his birthday and he changed from a nuclear engineer into a conspiracy whistleblower. Not being able to even kiss his wife (Juliette Binoche) goodbye and feeling guilty about her death makes you want to see him succeed. The one other character you will be able to identify with is Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), as he was the only person other than Cranston that had a brain in their head. He’s telling the military how they failed to kill Godzilla using nukes in the 50s and how the monsters live off of radiation and the general response is “that’s OK, we’ll just use bigger nukes this time.” Thinking back on it, I wanted Watanabe to break the fourth wall and say something to the effect of the American military being retarded. I could not have been behind him more than when Admiral Stenz (David Strathaim) tried to lecture him about the importance of saving lives. He proceeded to hand him his father’s pocket watch which stopped at 8:15 AM on August 6, 1945, ‘nuff said. I could not stand Elle Brody (Elizabeth Olsen), who I can only refer to as the stupidest person in this movie. I get it that you feel a mix of terror and awe at seeing these creatures, but jogging slowly while looking backward at them is not the way to survive; turn around, keep eyes forward and get the hell outta Dodge! Let’s not leave out our main character, her husband Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Mr. “I can’t die” was like a living bad luck charm because everyone around him got killed. This guy comes face to face with the MUTO twice and even once with Godzilla but he’ll be fine because he has to reunite with his family. I am not trying to sound like a bad guy wishing that he would die, but his living through this movie was ridiculous. (SPOILER) The best part is when he is briefed on the San Francisco mission. He is specifically told that there is no extraction plan and unless you walk out you will not make it. Then he gets airlifted out at the end (END SPOILER). Ford was stupid as a little kid and even more so as an adult. I would have felt bad for their son if he had been orphaned, but the two of them really did not take steps to properly ensure their own survival. There are so many instances of people doing stupid things in this film that if Legendary Pictures had a nickel for each incident, they would make budget for this movie, which came in at around $160M. Thankfully, you will go to see this film for some good old fashioned kaiju MMA, where no acting is needed.
WHERE’D ALL THIS FOG COME FROM? A big concern fans had while waiting for the release of this film was whether Godzilla would “have the right look.” Just about everyone was disappointed with the 1998 design and there were even complaints from Japan that this new Godzilla was too fat. When you see this new beast in action however, the beefier look makes total sense and it works. The first time you see him breathe fire was an awesome change from the norm. In the past you have always seen Godzilla inhale and then breathe fire. This time it was more of a regurgitation and I know that sounds nasty but it looked amazing. The monsters themselves were also fantastic as there was great effort put into making them look as “real” as possible on screen. There was only one scene where the MUTO looked like a green screen effect and that was when it hatched and came out of the hole behind Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The only complaint regarding the effects would be that darkness and fog were used way too much to obscure the monsters (and probably to save money). Many people are saying that there was not enough kaiju in the film and I feel like that was more the fault of the fog usage than having “too many people” in the film. The creature interaction with real life objects helped add to the realism of the movie. The instances where the MUTOs were able to hide in plain sight was added to that as well. Sadly, this is not a film that I can really recommend in 3-D, not because it was poorly used but just because it was barely used. Thankfully the visual effects stand out on their own, and seeing the film in IMAX will only enhance that further.
BRING THAT BEAT BACK Alexandre Desplat definitely gets a high five for the music he composed for the film, especially the new theme. The “Godzilla!” theme is a great piece that stands well amongst previous themes but it still cannot touch the original by Akira Ifukeube. As a fan, that battle march will forever be stuck in my head as the music that signals the arrival of Godzilla. I was hoping for something along the same lines and honestly, I doubt anyone would have been mad if he just did an updated version of that piece. Other than that, the soundtrack is relatively unremarkable. Years from now, people will recognize the theme but that is about it. If you liked the music, the original soundtrack went on sale as of May 12, so by all means pick it up and enjoy.
The new Godzilla is more of a disaster movie than a monster movie, but so was the original. Godzilla himself is treated as a force of nature, neither good nor bad. This treatment was definitely the right approach because the makers were looking to connect to the original film. Even so, the human component of the movie was overdone. The opening scenes that led to the appearance of the first MUTO definitely fleshed out the film, devoting a lot to the mythology of Godzilla and the kaiju in general. A lot of the military scenes however (especially those with Ford) were extraneous. I am not sure if a sequel is necessary, although there was definitely a setup for one. If there is one, I would like to see kaiju that have more sensible abilities. The MUTOs EMP ability was very cool, but made no sense for that creature to have it. These are supposed prehistoric creatures and an ability like that would serve no purpose whatsoever in its natural environment. I also felt like the MUTOs were meant to resemble the Cloverfield monster; the face, stance and bodily movement were very similar. Having Godzilla go to war with them was pure fan appreciation as many thought Cloverfield was going to be a Godzilla movie. I am sure there are other Easter eggs that I have missed since I usually have to wait for the blu-ray release to see everything, but waiting is not something you should do. Godzilla fans, especially those who enjoy the original, should definitely see this film. Even though there is not as much beat ‘em up action as you might want, this is quite possibly the most badass version of Godzilla you will see in a long time. There is a single point in the movie that solidifies that and everyone will know what I am talking about when they see it. I really hope the Japanese viewers put their seal of approval on the new design after they get to see it in July because that will really make this guy the true king of monsters.