Saturday, May 17, 2014

Movie Review - Godzilla (2014)

  Background:
  A first ever for Don't Split the Party, a movie review!
  Godzilla is big in our family; I saw Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster in the theater as a child; the first movie in a theater I took my oldest son to was Godzilla 2000; the first movie my second son bought with birthday money was a Godzilla combo pack; my second son learned enough Japanese Kanji to read 'Gojira' when he was 4 - on his own.
  You get the idea.
  We all collectively hate the 1998 American Godzilla. A lot.
  So when a new American-produced Godzilla was announced we were concerned. But the buzz was good, the press was positive, and Japanese critics were generally positive. So we saw it at a Friday afternoon matinee with the entire clan (minus son number 5 - too young).

  The General Review:
  The Good: The overall acting was very good. Juliette Binoche and Bryan Cranston are great as the married nuclear engineers who start the plot rolling in their own ways. David Strathairn is as good as ever doing a great job as the senior military man dealing with the events of the film. Ken Watanabe is powerfully understated as the lead scientist and Sally Hawkins was surprisingly good in a relatively small role as part of the scientific team.
  In short the experienced, veteran character actors were awesome.
  The action protagonist, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, put in a solid journeyman actor performance. He avoided the danger of being overly emotional or too wooden in a very visible role. Elizabeth Olsen was likewise a solid young actor and the interactions between them were solid.
  The effects were very good and the designs were likewise good. The action scenes were dynamic and surprising, and the buildup of tension was very well done (it got 4 startled jumps from my wife!). The two twists were surprising without feeling ludicrous nor too obvious and the overall plot, character motivations, and dialog were as realistic as possible in a movie about giant radioactive monsters.

  The Bad: The opening was nicely atmospheric but seemed to lead into  more slow buildup. The pacing of the first 1/4th of the film seemed just a touch slow, but not to the point of being disengaging. 
  Some of the character interactions, especially between military types, were unrealistic. Sorry, but no non-commissioned officer is ever going to speak to any officer in the manner shown once or twice in this movie. Yes, I know, it is a movie, but it really snapped me out of the film when it happened. There were one or two similar sorts of things (some of the actions mothers took concerning their children seemed more plot-driven than realistic; the idea that evacuation routes would be that obviously dangerous seems unlikely) but they were secondary.

  The Review with Spoilers:
  Below this there are spoilers. Maybe a lot of them.

  No, really - spoilers.

  Last warning.

  The Good: The screenwriters, director, and producers took risks and they paid off. Juliette Binoche dies almost immediately? Bryan Cranston dies before the halfway point?! It isn't two kaiju but three?! Great stuff and it really added to the tension.
  The shout-outs to previous movies were amazing and fun, We caught references to Mothra, Ghidorah, Anguiras, King Seesar, Manda, and Titanosaurus - and we certainly missed some. 
  I remember reading a ton of articles about how much urine kaiju create, how much they would need to eat, all that stuff. And the film makers promptly toss that all out and neatly explain how the kaiju are so big, why radiation doesn't hurt them, why they attack nuclear reactors; and all tied in to their origins! The idea that they are various animals from when the Earth was highly radioactive and thus consume radiation is a wonderful conceit and was like extra butter on my willing suspensions of disbelief's popcorn.
  The kaiju battles were will made, well paced, and gave a real sense of tension. 
  The ending was solid and left a wide door for sequels and the setup allows for new monsters galore.
  One of the best things done well by this version, in my opinion, is the sense of scale. Big battles, huge devastation, gigantic creatures, big stakes. The shots of the effects of kaiju were stunning and emotional.

  The Bad: Although a bold move that really drove the movie Cranston was so darn good that I spent the rest of the film missing him after his death. 
  A similar bold move - to not show more than a moment or two of the first two kaiju battles made sense to me (none of the primary characters were there to see them) and built some tension and even led to a surprise but I was there largely for the kaiju battles. I wanted to see more of them even if it meant a longer film, so we were all disappointed in this even if it did make sense and build some tension.
  And a minor quibble; I know it was meant to show how darn big he is, but after Godzilla effortlessly destroyed a number of ships would the navy have kept so many ships right next to him?

  End of spoilers.
  Finalanalysis? Not a perfect film, but well worth seeing and a ton of fun for the entire family!
  Cranston deserves awards for his acting, BTW.