Dammit. My first major disappointment of 2014. Hopes were so high, the trailers so brilliant and weighty. Good news: the monsters are awesome. Bad news: the human drama is hackneyed, clichéd, and just plain dull. Question: why cast an incredibly talented actress like Sally Hawkins as a scientist, and then give her absolutely nothing to do? Ditto: what’s the use of the fine actor Ken Watanabe being given ample screen time, only to spout mind-numbing exposition? It’s a major miscalculation, and I have to place the majority of blame on the weak script of Max Borenstein. Also, the ubiquitous Bryan Cranston, as nuclear power plant supervisor Joe Brody(more on that name later), works his ass off—but eventually his histrionics become shrill and overwrought. Cranston does have some wonderful moments with Juliette Binoche early on, who portrays his wife, Sandra. I won’t spoil anything, but it sets up the story beautifully. But before long, the primary focus becomes Brody’s soldier son(played by a woefully miscast and stoic, Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and the interest just seeped right out of me. I asked, “Really? We’re going to spend a hefty chunk of time watching Brody Jr. doing the separation anxiety routine, from his wife, Elle(a fine Elizabeth Olsen)and young child Sam(Carson Bolde)?” Haven’t we seen this kind of shit countless times before? It’s the sort of screenplay where a major character will shout, “I’ll be back to get you tomorrow!”. But you know they won’t, and it occurs more than once. What a shame, because there are moments of greatness here. Director Gareth Edwards is officially promoted to the big leagues, but he still requires a bit more seasoning.
On the positive side, I respect the heck out of the decision to give the Godzilla creature a modest amount of screen time. It’s daring and provocative. Also, it livens the scenes where Godzilla does actually appear, with that much more oomph. Its model appears to be Spielberg’s “Jaws”, and with the main family name being Brody, it certainly seems to be an obvious homage. Plus, this new Godzilla film has tremendous reverence for the title character’s Japanese history and iconography. Kudos to Edwards, Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. for that. Unfortunately, I did not get to experience “Godzilla” in IMAX(timing prevented that treat), but I can tell you that 3D for this is almost completely unnecessary. Feel free to see it BIG, but you can avoid the plastic glasses. But the film looks spectacular, so a hat tip to the excellent cinematographer, Seamus McGarvey. So, “Godzilla” is far from a disaster, but it’s certainly a mixed bag. The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane, who I’ve taken to task on this blog more than once, is uncannily accurate when he espouses that you should “skip the movie, and watch the trailer instead”. I won’t go that far, but I agree with the sentiment. In fact, like the trailer, the motion picture proper utilizes the choral song “Kyrie” from Gyorgy Ligeti’s “Requiem”(most famously used by Stanley Kubrick for 1968’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”), and the sky-diving scene it accompanies plainly kicks ass. That’s the film overall: a high, a low, a high, a low. Don’t blame the monsters though! They are the reason to see this blockbuster. Damn…Gareth Edwards was thisclose on that alone. Grade: C+