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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Godzilla is a Different Kind of Blockbuster

Posted By on Thu, May 15, 2014 at 11:38 AM


Godzilla is hands-down the best Godzilla movie ever made. Thanks to inventive visual effects and a prioritization of suspense over incident, the film feels materially different than the summer blockbusters that have been pummeling audiences nationwide since the dawn of advanced CGI.

The current Godzilla, which opens Thursday night at theaters area-wide, is inspired heavily by Spielberg’s Jurassic Park and Roland Emmerich’s disaster epics (notably, Independence Day), and though it is nowhere near as polished as Spielberg, the film is still a qualified success.

Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston is the batty conspiracy theorist Joe Brody. He lost his wife in a 1999 accident at a nuclear reactor in Japan and is convinced that the accident was not an accident at all. In his mind, certain political and/or nuclear-corporate powers are “hiding something.” He’s been doing obscure (and only thinly credulous) echolocation research, and insists that whatever happened in 1999 is about to happen again.

Like Walter White, Brody does a lot of tearing up and gulping and RAISING HIS VOICE — I may be the lone viewer who still hasn’t been fully swept away by Cranston’s gifts as a dramatic actor. I love him as Walter White, but he’s not a blue-chip talent, yet, in my book. Sorry!

In a much less impressive performance, Brody’s son Ford (the punchless Aaron Taylor-Johnson, fresh off Kick-Ass 2) is a former bomb-squad military guy who must go to Japan to retrieve his father, lately jailed for trespassing. Ford is then thrust into the logistics of an international mission to covertly destroy an ancient parasitic beast known, in the argot of the military, as a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object). Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Ford’s wife Allie (Elizabeth Olsen — who will soon play alongside Taylor-Johnson as the Scarlet Witch in The Avengers 2) frantically wonders just where the hell her hubby has gotten to, as news reports assume the imperiled tone of your standard CNN update.

Where he’s gone is Honolulu, for the moment. The spirited MUTO has downed an aircraft and is consuming the nuclear contents of its missiles. There is another MUTO, we learn, a much larger version in fact, with whom the mini MUTO will copulate and breed — the ramifications of which, we intuit, are nothing short of global destruction.

But where is Godzilla, you wonder?

Indeed, the title character has limited screen time, especially in the film’s first half. His presence is often hinted at — a volcanic network of spikes mushrooming up from the sea and slicing through the waves, the tsunamic waves themselves — but we don’t see Godzilla in full combat mode until a robust climax. Director Gareth Edwards, a visual effects guru with only limited directorial experience, proves himself to be a master of spectacle in stasis. His action sequences are much less breathtaking than his images of incidental destruction and consequent hysteria.

Thank goodness a duo from a secret scientific outfit tasked with the secrecy of primordial dinosaurish breeds lobby for the services of Godzilla. They argue that Godzilla, dormant since the 50s, will battle the MUTOs and restore a natural balance. (Godzilla, in this version, is 100-percent a good guy).

As we’d expect, the beasts converge, and fight on the streets of Honolulu and San Francisco, and trillions of dollars of infrastructure are trampled underfoot and -tail. Though the battle is offered up as a “safer” method than a nuclear warhead, it’s inconceivable that the damage the west coast sustains as a result of their downtown skirmish could be any more severe.

Through all this mess, the human characters can do little but watch. All of their best efforts are more or less beside the point because these beasts seem programmed to converge in physical battle regardless. After the first 45 minutes, which feel like a conspiracy-theory thriller, the film asks (and the audience would prefer) that the humans get out of the way. Even their involvement in the final battle seems auxiliary and contrived. But the fight is as big and nearly as badass as they come, though still shy of Guillermo Del Toro’s blood pumping sequences in Pacific Rim.

You’ll have a blast in the theaters, and old-school Godzilla diehards will appreciate a few killer throwbacks. With stronger scripts, director Gareth Edwards could do some real damage in years to come.

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