In 1998, Roland Emmerich brought us “Godzilla”, which Roger Ebert reviewed, and I quote:
“ One must carefully repress intelligent thought while watching such a film…. What a cold-hearted, mechanistic vision, so starved for emotion or wit. The primary audience for ‘Godzilla’ is children and teenagers, and the filmmakers have given them a sterile exercise when they hunger for dreams.”
If you are at all familiar with the old Japanese franchise, then you were hopefully full of disdain by the sad portrayal of the King of the Monsters himself.
I mention this bit so as to draw attention to the great rebirth of the series, led by first-time director Gareth Edwards. Edwards is actually a VFX specialist, and has been slated to direct a new “Star Wars” spinoff in the near future.
I’m actually bored with plot synopsis, so I’m just going to point out some things that work in “Godzilla” and then the myriad of problems I felt took away from the movie-going experience.
First, Edwards learned from the mistakes made by Emmerich and his lizard Godzilla. This new character model is somewhat designed with human features in mind, as to make it more relatable for us. He’s beefy and actually a little/lot chunky. It’s a refreshing take on the monster, and could potentially welcome it into a new era for the monster.
Now, if you were like me, and I’m assuming you are, you probably would go to the theater for two reasons: 1) watching monsters fight, and 2) Bryan Cranston.
At the writing helm for “Godzilla” is David Callaham, who you might know from such lost cinema screenwriting gems like “Doom” or “The Expendables”. Aiding him is Max Borenstein, whose most recent work is the perpetually delayed, special effects heavy “Seventh Son”.
Now, I’m not one to point fingers at hard-working screenwriters or marketing teams, but allow me to assure you that this is not a Bryan Cranston film. No, this is for the most part hardly even a Godzilla film. While I can’t possibly expect Godzilla to be contained within every frame of the movie, I could at least hope to see Bryan Cranston in every frame where there are people. I mean, who went to “Godzilla” to see Aaron Taylor-Johnson (“Kickass”), or Elizabeth Olson (“Oldboy”)? An argument can be made for the always pleasant Ken Watanabe, but the issue therein lies with the marketing of this movie.
With Cranston’s character, Joe, dying early in the film, his son Ford takes the lead… Oh, actually I’m lying. Countless sequences in the film show us that the real star is science. Scene after scene involve Dr. Ishiro Serizawa spitting lines and lines of exposition and intelligent talk about why the monsters are here. It’s tedious. It’s relentless.
The screenwriters seem to have completely lost focus. A potent story could have been told between Ford and his father’s dysfunctional relationship with one another, but instead, we are bombarded with pointless discussion about what the monsters are doing, where they are going, and why we should care. Except we don’t care. We came to watch Godzilla battle it out, and watch Bryan Cranston act his heart out. But we don’t get that, and if we can’t get something of that caliber worth watching, could you at least give us a great story about fixing the broken bond between father and son? Oh. Not that either? Then why are we here?
These are the questions I found bubbling around in my head while I gazed upon a 3D IMAX screen which I paid $16 for. Am I bitter? Of course not. My issue lies with how great “Godzilla” could have been, opposed to how slightly above-average it aimed to be.
I suppose I can’t expect substantial storytelling efforts from a summer blockbuster like “Godzilla”, but darn it, I just want to have my cake be able to eat it too. Why, Hollywood marketing agencies, must you market “Godzilla” to draw in methhead monster fanboys, yet leave them unfulfilled and doubtful for future endeavors in the same area? I guess if I want to see Bryan Cranston, I should just watch “Argo” or “Breaking Bad”. In the same vein, if I want to watch giant monsters fight, I could probably just rent last year’s “Pacific Rim”.
Well, despite a couple iconic moments (Godzilla’s mouth blast attack, or red flare base jumpers) I guess when it comes to summer blockbusters, “you can’t win ‘em all,” as they say.