I played “hooky” yesterday… And I’m going to be doing it a lot more too.
I’m extremely tired of running a Pop Culture website– and having the object of my affection stop me from consuming the stuff I enjoy. So yeah… Hooky was yesterday’s activity du jour… And I’m so glad I did it. Why? Because I love Godzilla and Warner Bros/Legendary’s new Godzilla film was one of the best “monster” movies I’ve ever seen… And a great “disaster” flick too.
Know what you’re already thinking, “Ian, you feel this way because you actually got outside to see the sun shining. Plus, you’re a die-hard geek who’s been touting this film for months… So, of course, you loved it.” Nooo. That’s not it. I ended up loving Godzilla precisely because it wasn’t your typical monster mash… It was so much more. The movie was also a think piece– and an astonishingly accurate parable illuminating just how much we’ve fucked ourselves and this planet.
Almost all excellent monster films are hybrid tales of disaster too. These movies usually focus on a group of people… With the monster’s appearance serving as more of an inciting incident that causes the characters to act like they do. Smart filmmakers know they can’t just slap the monster up front. To do so would obliterate any tension and chance at character development.
Max Borenstein’s screenplay delivers the goods in ways you would never expect. He writes real human beings with real lives– people who are decimated with the arrival of the monsters. By the time Godzilla shows (an hour or so in), we’ve already been treated to tons of great acting courtesy of Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen and Ken Watanabe.
These human moments are precisely where director Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla demolishes almost every monster/disaster flick from the last 40 years. There are no cardboard cut-out stereotypes here… As the director seems hellbent on giving his audience a well-rounded film– refusing to believe his audience is here just for an atomic fire-breathing lizard and the mass destruction. Edwards pushes his cast to hit all the right personal notes too: Cranston makes the most of a (limited) role, as does Elizabeth Olsen.
Watanabe, usually a glorious presence on any screen, strangely provides only a “so-so” performance. A friend noted he seemed far too shocked, far too much of the time. Hell, if we’ve gotten used to a pair of MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) and a Big Lizard running rough-shod over anything and everything in sight, you’d think the scientist who’s been studying them for a decade and a half would be a little less slack-jawed.
In the end, Watanabe’s lack of facial variations is a small gripe. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick Ass/Kick-Ass 2) is Godzilla’s real revelation. Since he’s the glue that holds the entire narrative together, the realism so arduously embedded in this film rises and falls on his performance. If he blows it, Godzilla becomes just another popcorn flick masquerading as a wasted opportunity. Good news: The actor never makes a false move. Taylor-Johnson’s as astonished as you are he’s still in one-piece scene after scene… But thankfully, his character also possesses the skills that makes us believe he should stay alive.
So… Why are some of your friends already acting like Godzilla disappointed them? Truthfully… For all the reasons I just outlined above. This film is no dunderheaded slugfest like last summer’s Pacific Rim (which was undeniably fun in its own way). Godzilla pushes the format much further– daring to note man’s crimes against Planet Earth… Even making a point to not shy away from such “buzz kills” as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
The movie also looks glorious. The sets are truly phenomenal (especially in the “contamination zone”) and the CGI actually looks real. No rush jobs here… No screams of “That looks COMPLETELY fake!” either. The King of Monsters is an extremely savvy mash-up of modern sensibilities combined with the old school “guy in rubber suit” look. Perfect fusion, in fact.
So yeah… If a few of your pals are all up in arms because Godzilla doesn’t feature wall-to-wall mayhem– just smile at them and move on. They wouldn’t know a great/fun film if it slapped them upside the head… And Godzilla is a treat that also makes you think.