Saturday, May 17, 2014

Review: Godzilla

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.
The first American-made "Godzilla" of the 21st Century (there have been five - yes, five - Japanese-made chronicles of the massive lizard's reign of terror since 2000) is decent enough, although I sorta wanted to like it more than I did. On a technical level, it's pretty impressive. On a human level, well, not as much.

The film was directed by Gareth Edwards, whose feature debut, "Monsters," was a great recent example of a solid sci-fi epic on a modest scale. "Godzilla," on the other hand is a behemoth, filled to the brim with CGI effects - pretty good ones, though - as well as an A-list cast and a two-hour-plus running time.

On the one hand, it's great that the filmmakers have drawn together such a fantastic cast of wonderful actors, including Walter White himself - Bryan Cranston - as well as Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, the always wonderful Sally Hawkins ("Happy Go Lucky" and "Blue Jasmine") and, in the lead, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who played John Lennon in "Nowhere Boy" and - oh hell, if you must make me mention it - Kick Ass.

On the other hand, it's a major shame that these great thespians are given little to do other than shout out expository dialogue for two hours. Cranston gets the most with which to work, portraying a scientist whose wife died during an "accident," of sorts in the Philippines in 1999. Mostly, he rants and raves in the order of a conspiracy theorist, but Cranston - who's so good at his craft - brings the right amount of gravitas and pathos to the role.

Binoche's screen-time nearly amounts to a blip, while Hawkins and Watanabe - two other scientists - merely stand around looking concerned and Strathairn, who portrays a general, gets little to do other than bark out orders. Olsen gets the thankless role of the worried wife and mother who stands around looking shell-shocked when she's not crying into a telephone.

So, it's Taylor-Johnson who has to carry the film and although he doesn't do a bad job as Cranston's military son who must try to travel from Japan to Hawaii and then San Francisco to save his family from several large marauding mutant beings - one of which is Godzilla, the other two being possibly Rodan or something similar enough - he is given little to do other than act stoic and dodge explosions.

That being said, the explosions are handled well as the special effects are pretty top notch for this type of spectacle, despite that they are, perhaps, in overabundance. And Godzilla looks great, better than he's ever looked in a film, to be honest.

I won't get into the plot because, well, there's little to say other than: giant lizard and two winged foes emerge from the deep, wreak havoc on cities and humans react accordingly.

All in all, it's not a bad summer movie, but I wouldn't say it's that much better than any of the other big studio cash-grabs - the comic book spectacle of "Amazing Spider-Man 2" or the high concept raunch comedy "Neighbors" - we've seen during the past few weeks. "Godzilla" is content with being perfectly average. If you're OK with that, then proceed as you will.

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