Thursday, May 15, 2014

Review: "Godzilla"

"Godzilla" takes its sweet own time about getting to the Big G himself -- exactly halfway through the movie, to be exact. Though it's a bit of a slog reaching that point, from there to the end is exactly the big, loud summer thrill ride you've been expecting.

After starring in many low-grade Japanese films back in the day and a few half-hearted modern revival attempts, the radiation-feeding dinosaur is back after a lengthy hiatus. Instead of just being the heavy who smashes buildings and sends humans screaming, he also gets to fight against some other critters in his own considerable weight class.

Godzilla looks as nasty as ever, re-imagined with huge spikes on his back that resemble an outcropping of moving hills when he's swimming half-submerged in the ocean. He's got that big blunt head, the fire/energy breath, and that roar that sounds like a cross between an elephant and an air horn.

(He's also appearing a might chunky through the hips, though whether that's from age or artistic license is a matter for debate.)

Director Gareth Edwards helms just his second feature film; 2010's low-budget "Monsters" was essentially training ground for this flick. The story is told (screenplay by Max Borenstein) through the eyes of the humans, as they watch Godzilla and some vaguely bat-like foes battle it out through Japan, Hawaii and San Francisco.

This is a shame because, well, the people aren't nearly as interesting as the monsters.

It starts out OK, with Bryan Cranston playing a scientist who was at the helm when mysterious seismic activity destroyed the nuclear plant where he worked, claiming the life of his wife (Juliette Binoche) in the process. Flash forward 15 years, and now he's a lonely kook with some crazy theories about what caused the disaster.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson -- one of the few Brit actors who can do a convincing American accent -- plays his son Ford, now a Navy bomb expert with a wife and kid of his own. She (Elizabeth Olsen) plays a nurse because, have you noticed in big disaster movies the hero always makes desperate phone calls to check on his family, and the wife is always a nurse or doctor, thus requiring her to be at the center of the danger?

Ford bounces around from one action set piece to another, following the monsters and their wake of destruction. My favorite was a disturbingly quiet encounter across a long train bridge, with a bunch of soldiers trying to sneak across.

The plot is some ridiculous contraption about luring the monsters to the middle of the ocean with radioactive material, which for some reason involves transporting nuclear missiles from Nevada to the coast, instead of just unloading some from a submarine or what have you.

The second act is a chore to get through, with a bunch of scientists and soldiers (Ken Watanabe and David Strathairn among them) spouting gibberish about the origins and intentions of Godzilla. We learn that all those nuclear bombs the Americans and Russians set off in the oceans during the 1950s were not tests, but attempts to off him.

Once the title fight finally begins, though, it's off to the races.

This isn't a bad film, but it could have been a much better one. I don't know why all our new superhero and monster movies have to take themselves so darn seriously. This type of filmmaking is all about having fun, which "Godzilla" gets around to, eventually.

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