Monday, May 26, 2014

MeekinOnMovies On...Godzilla (2014)

Directed By: Gareth Edwards, 
Starring: Godzilla, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, and Aaron Tyler Johnson

Between the Roland Emmerich comedy...thing, and the Japanese movies that haven't aged well, for a time Godzilla was most valuable as an idea. We saw movies that aped Godzilla's genre for low-fi horror movies like Cloverfield, or big budget, tonally bizarre flicks like Pacific Rim. Even watching "Godzilla 2000" requires accepting it as a cheesefest and not so much as an actual movie made with dramatic intent.

However,  thanks in part to director Gareth Edwards and some deft directional choices, it's clear the King of Monsters is back, and anyone who wants to take his crown better bring their "A" game.   

Since Godzilla movies are a lot like pro wrestling in that they're 'fake', we're pretty sure we know who's going to win, and in the meantime we're hoping to get a healthy dose of chaos and destruction,  we should take a look at the under card. After a prologue sequence reminding us of all the terrible things folks have done with nuclear weapons, and a short scene with Ken Watanabe that may purposefully be similar to one in the last Godzilla remake, the movie opens with Bryan Cranston at the center of a nuclear meltdown in Japan that ultimately claims his wife.

Flash forward a dozen or so years and we watch catch up with Cranston's son, Ford, returning home from the military, only to be forced to go to Japan to bail his dad out of jail, who then reveals a massive conspiracy, then they go to uncover the truth, and blah blah blah blah eventually the secret is let out of the bag, and there are monsters in our world, and they've woken up from hibernation.

Obviously the plot isn't important in the sense that we really care about the characters or what they have to say, or how their world-view should be respected, but the movie gives it an earnest shot and the results are pretty good. Cranston has a wonderful bitchfest about his wife to a one-way mirror, and Ken Watanabe looks every bit at stoic and troubled as you would hope him to be - just a hair south of the point where he would feel like a South Park parody.
More important that realistic plot details is how these disaster movies approach their world-wide atmosphere. The Dawn of The Dead remake handled the world changing implications of its story by combining fake news footage, a haunting Johnny Cash song, and footage of real riots and violence to convey the world as we know it is over. Similarly, something like Godzilla appearing would be a massive news story world-wide, and it's treated pretty well here, with constant news updates in the background on TVs, including a very "Cable News" info graphic of the monsters that landed a chuckle.  If these scenes didn't work, none of the stuff occurring in the movie would be all that enjoyable or dramatic, because it'd feel like a fantasy movie with no longer-lasting consequence.

There are quite a few action sequences involving the monsters, including a chilling sequence in Hawaii and a fun gag in Las Vegas. The highlight of the movie involving non-monster-on-monster combat involves a sequence on a bridge that is truly pulse pounding.  

Eventually Godzilla, the two other monsters, the Army and their plan involving nuclear weapons, Ford, and the wife he's been trying to find the whole movie collide in a Californian Battle Royal for the ages as Godzilla engages in an inter-gender handicap match against his two foes. 

I'd rate it about ***1/2 stars. It was fun and got the job done, but considering the under card had so much world building and explaining to do, it would have been impossible for the brawl between the three beasts to deliver, and considering this is Godzilla's first PPV in quite a while, we all knew he had to go over and go over strong. 

What's nice is that even the heels get some sympathy and you understand their point-of-view as well, which makes the whole brawl feel like an inevitable confrontation than a staged fight, and the resolution a solemn victory instead of a celebrated one. The way they turn Godzilla face is clever, too.

Ultimately if you like Godzilla movies or anything featuring giant stuff destroying smaller stuff, this is a great movie to catch with a group of friends for a matinee where you can chortle at the screen a bit and giggle at the occasional portion that makes you roll your eyes. But the joy in Godzilla is that those eye rolls come from a place of respect as opposed to disgust or reaction to cheesy effects. It'll be because there's a scene that made you scoff, or a monologue given to a naval captain that felt a just a touuuchhhh too heavy for a summer action movie, but you appreciate the effort and can't wait to see more anyway.

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