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Godzilla




Godzilla (PG-13)
Film Reviews- May 22, 2014

05/22/14
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com



Giant radiation-eating creatures cause destruction across the Pacific rim in Godzilla, a revisiting of the classic movie monster that could really use more Godzilla.
And speaking of the Pacific rim — or more specifically Pacific Rim — how awesome would a crossover movie be? The art direction of Godzilla, the robots of Pacific Rim (which was basically a Godzilla movie) — this fan fiction writes itself. Just cull 80 percent of the combined cast (keep Ken Watanabe and Idris Elba plus, say, three other people) and I will get in line for that movie today.
As the credits and later exposition explain, the nuclear weaponry activity in the Pacific in the mid-1940s and beyond awoke, attracted and (covertly) sought to destroy giant creatures that had laid dormant since an earlier, more radioactive time in Earth’s history. 
When the movie opens in 1999, scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) follow up on a report of something that has been disturbed and burrowed out of a collapsed mine. Meanwhile, in Japan, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), employee at a nuclear power plant, tracks odd readings of something — earthquake? tsunami? — heading their way. He and wife/fellow power plant scientist Sandra (Juliette Binoche) are investigating the cause when disaster strikes and the power plant is destroyed — an event witnessed by their son, Ford (CJ Adams). 
In the present day, grown-up Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a Navy officer — explosions expert, wonder if that will be a thing later on? — who is relieved to arrive back home in San Francisco with his equally happy-to-see-him family, wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son Sam (Carson Bolde). He’s home only hours, however, when he gets a call from Japan. Seems his father Joe is in jail for trespassing in the quarantined site of the old power plant. Ford heads to Japan to get his father out of trouble but ends up joining him on another excursion to the plant where, just as Joe had uncovered, strange things are happening once again. 
I didn’t keep careful count but I think it was about 40-ish minutes, give or take, before we get to the birth of a creature the movie eventually calls a M.U.T.O. (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism according to the Internet; personally, I kept wanting to call it Mothra). (And, while I’m speaking parenthetically to describe stuff: SPOILER ALERT.) This M.U.T.O. isn’t Godzilla, it’s an insect-y thing that, Ishiro explains, feeds on radiation. Actual Godzilla shows up sometime later — and, perhaps because we have to wait what feels like so long to get to Godzilla or perhaps because this is how people at Godzilla movies always feel — I was psyched to see him. Excited like Sam when his sailor dad came home. Yay! Godzilla! Hip hip hurr — wait, movie, why did you cut away?
For a movie called Godzilla and whose draw is monsters, Godzilla spends a lot of time on, like, father-son relationships and putting Olsen’s family in peril (that wasn’t really a spoiler, right? You know, when you see a kid in a monster movie, how that’s going to go) and a bunch of stuff that’s not Godzilla. Most aggravating, I felt, was how and when this movie cut away from Godzilla to get to all this significantly less interesting not-Godzilla stuff. During one particular scene, when Godzilla and the M.U.T.O. finally meet and we get our first glimpse of some pretty awesome monster-on-monster violence, the movie cuts to a group of paratroopers preparing to jump over the scene of the battle. Now, the ensuing sequence features some truly lovely shots of the men jumping out of the plane — the trails of red smoke and the ominously dark clouds on the movie poster come from this scene. I ultimately forgive this editing choice — that’s how pretty the paratrooper jump is — but it still sticks out to me as an example of the movie turning its head away right as the monster action starts to get good. 
Godzilla is full of summer movie oddities for me. Usually I want story to trump flashy visuals, but here I found myself enthralled by the visuals and annoyed when characters (with their dialogue and their plot — pffffft to that fiddle-faddle) got in the way. Last year (specifically in Pacific Rim, for example), I complained about overheated action sequences where two seemingly unkillable things fought each other, causing lots of chaos and destruction, without giving any stakes to their action. Here, Godzilla seems to load up on stakes, particularly in the final battle. But I found myself completely not caring about the characters in peril or potential for an entire city to be destroyed. The fight was compelling on its own somehow. (In fact, not just the monsters fighting — I’d gladly exchange any 15 minutes of character- building with the people for another 30 seconds of Godzilla roars — which were chilling and perfect.) Its monsters — which even had a charming note of rubber-suitness about them, even through all the pretty skilled CGI — were fascinating to watch. Its people not so much. 
Godzilla does all the things you expect — building on post-World War II fears about nuclear annihilation and adding to them the more recent action movie themes about nature turning on us in apocalyptic ways. (And, as with everything to come out in the last 12 or so years, it has all that post-9/11 stuff about sudden urban destruction and global uncertainty going on too.) And it looks pretty great doing it. But, especially once the monsters really get going, the movie doesn’t know how to just get out of the way and let us enjoy the monster movie we came to see. B-
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence. Directed by Gareth Edwards with a screenplay by Max Borenstein and story by Dave Callaham, Godzilla is two hours and three minutes long and distributed by Warner Bros.





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