Godzilla (2014)

godzilla-posterBy: Bill Arceneaux (A Toast) –
How many beers do you recommend for this movie?
1 Beer! A Toast! Great Movie!2 Beers! Good Movie!3 Beers! Okay Movie!4 Beers! Mediocre Movie!5 Beers! Awful Movie!6-Pack! Bad movie! Do not be Sober!

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I have a very clear memory of viewing bits and pieces of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Only after finishing up another flick at the theater did I see anything – and that was just to get my brother out. We watched the ending, where swinging “robot testicles” and something about an autobot afterlife were witnessed. No joke, it was some of the stupidest crap I’ve EVER seen, and I once sat through The Spirit.

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Sam Jackson knows what’s up.

My brother left amused, I left angry. The memory of whatever I originally went to see that night was forever washed away by a wrecking ball scrotum. We live in a wonderful world, folks. Wonderful and horrible.

Why dredge up such a painful experience? Well, I think I may have found the antidote. Something made by people with… heart. Something with a rich history of goofiness and allegory. And, perhaps of most importance, something without the need to expose its balls.

A Toast

From the get go, Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla goes right for atonement. Its opening credit sequence brings to mind the opening of Roland Emmerich’s version of the monster, showing nuclear test footage and the like. But, there is a clear difference. In Emmerich’s movie, I remember an expectation of impending dread, with gloomy music and doctored up footage, filtered with the color red. Edwards does something similar, but more creatively. He uses redacted documents to transition to credits, film of military look outs and investigations, and heavy drums in the score to indicate the arrival of something big. With roughly the same tools at his disposal, Edwards evokes more and gives his audience a clearer and much richer path to follow.

From there, the story unfolds. There are two threads at play. One of a family living in Japan and one of a team of scientists studying the discovery of large creatures. The connection comes early, when an unexplained event results in an accident at the nuclear plant the family patriarch (Bryan Cranston) works at. Many years later, with the town evacuated and lives lost, the father is obsessed with the truth, while his son has moved on to an army job and a family of his own. Meanwhile, something lurks back at the plant, and it’s calling out to others…

It’s a pretty simple plot, handled in a textbook manner. There are cliches here and there, yes, but never is it lazy. This is key. Simple does not have to be a negative. For the first half hour, which is mostly backstory and expository delivery, there is a rhythm, a pace, to the scenes watched and score listened. It all feels right, not too long, not too short, and doing what is needed to build up to the ultimate payoff. It’s actually pretty classic in its approach, bringing to mind the pace of some of the better atomic age B-movies, like, for example, Beginning of the End, where a swarm of giant grasshoppers attack people and cities. In that case, it starts small, presents a problem, slowly expands, then reveals. And that’s just what this new Godzilla does as well. That and has a similar innocence.

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Only borrow from the best.

I can’t immediately reference the review, but I believe I read somewhere that this incarnation of the monster was looked at as being more about “awesome” than about a “message”. Yes, there is an awesomeness in watching these giant creatures battle, but it’s not THAT simplistic. I think that reviewer is not only confusing simple with superficial, but also focusing too hard on the perceived superficiality. This is NOT that kind of movie. Above, I brought up an innocence going on. What I mean is a genuineness, a lack of cynicism and irony. Sure, it’s awesome to watch Zilla fight, but that’s what the audience is imprinting on the screen. The tone of the movie itself doesn’t indicate a wink wink (which would’ve been ok), but a sweetness instead. Humans act like humans, and we end up caring about everyone in the end – even a massive non human. No hidden agenda – it’s all worn on the sleeve.

Does this mean it’s “retro”? Well, I don’t know. I’d like to think that it’s more than just a throwback film. I’d like to think that it has a more pure mission than that. To entertain. To engage. To enthrall. Like the original King Kong before it, Godzilla is a Hollywood blockbuster with, ironically, nothing to hide and no dirty tricks in its bag. It’s a thing of beauty, really. A damn cinematic miracle, like Marvel’s The Avengers and Pacific Rim. My question: Is this a post Avengers world or a post Rim one?

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Vs.

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Verdict

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Superficial implies a stupid shallowness. Something up its own ass, with not a friendly nod, but a nefarious kind. That was Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Simple implies something pure, almost virgin even. It could be seen as childish, but that adult point of view just doesn’t understand. That is Godzilla. Go and be a kid again without being insulted.

 

Drinking Game

Take a Drink: anytime you actually understand what Ken Watanabe is saying.

Take a Drink: anytime Aaron Taylor Johnson fades into the background

Take a Drink: if you think it’ll be awkward seeing Aaron Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen play brother and sister in Avengers: Age of Ultron after husband and wife in Godzilla. The comics did suggest something off between the two…

Take a Drink: whenever Bryan Cranston pulls a Godzilla and chews the scenery into little pieces

Take a Drink: when it’s Kaiju throwdown time

Take a Shot: while pretending to breath atomic fire. Fun, but be careful!

About Bill Arceneaux

Independent film critic from New Orleans and member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA).

2 comments

  1. The atomic breath part was so fucking raw

  2. I took my son to it, and maybe watching it through the eyes of an almost 11 year old made me really enjoy it.
    I went in not caring about explanation of the creature or gives a crap about the people. I wanted destruction and Godzilla action. That is what we got!!

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