Godzilla (2014)

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Unlike the 1998 revival of this classic monster (which I still enjoy a great deal, so sue me) there is no tongue firmly planted in any cheek. There is a lot to like about this latest resurrection, but there is also a lot to dislike (as there was with the Emmerich version 16 years ago).

The F/X and the lizard are really very engaging and fun to watch. I did see it in IMAX 3D, but can’t say I think that it added a huge amount to my experience. Certainly the chest-vibrating sound did. The pit-bullish face of our titular beast is both expressive and scary looking, adding an element that has been missing from previous versions. Basically, there is a lot of eye candy. Sadly, like just about every monster movie of its kind, the monsters do seem to grow and shrink to fit the need of the composition desired. At one point Godzilla towers over a bridge while standing in water (putting him at over 1000 ft tall, I checked) but at other times seems no more than half that height, as compared to buildings around him. It is a minor point in this particular genre, but one that was noticeable.

The story itself is full of logic holes the size of those in Star Trek Into Darkness or even the better parallel, but more fun, Pacific Rim, which didn’t take itself seriously and so you could ignore the silliness most of the time. With a story conceived by Callaham (all of The Expendables films) and written by newcomer Borenstein (Seventh Son), the short-cuts and assumptions aren’t surprising, but they were disappointing. If you’re going to write a serious Godzilla flick about family and the balance of nature, we need all the emotional connection we can get. And we didn’t… well, I didn’t anyway, despite some solid thematic construction throughout.

Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass 2) and Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene) make a good couple. Their plight becomes the thread of the plot, but we don’t really have enough time to care about them together before they are separated. Cranston (Breaking Bad) gives a great broken father-figure opposite Binoche (Chocolat), but again, we don’t get to make the connections we need to really care about his struggles. The relationships are all inferred and implied, but they are never really built and so the film goes flat between the big fights.

But, ultimately, I think the film suffers most from the same problem that Spider-Man 3 had: too many enemies. It really would have been better with a simpler storyline. You never really got to worry about any one issue because so many were going on. The story became a diffuse mass of challenges rather than a strong central plot with focus. It was more a problem of balance than it was the plotting, which was surprising given Edward’s previous Monsters, which was a wonderfully subtle balance of these kinds of issues.

Is the film fun? Yes. Do you need to see it on the large screen? Yes. Is it the revival we all hoped for? Sorry, no, but we’re getting closer. It certainly captured a lot of the original sensibility of Gojira, which  I greatly credit it for. And it really tried to build a story rather than just give weak excuses for cities to get destroyed. Now if we can get a film that hits the right balance, and better story focus, we’ll be there.

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