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Review by Thomas Banks
By this point, further cries and moanings over the seemingly endless procession of reboots and remakes of too many franchise pictures must themselves begin to have the air of reboots and remakes, but I beg your forbearance nonetheless as I add just a few more paragraphs of reproof. Godzilla, starring Ken Watanabe, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Bryan Cranston, is as fine a representation of franchise complacency as Tinseltown has favored us with since I can remember. And I can remember seeing Pirates of the Caribbean 4. Naturally enough, the center of the film is the monster itself, who is trotted out of studio hell this time around with an aura of smug venerability.
Like many other pillars of the sci-fi world, Godzilla has become over the past five or six decades all too familiar to be really terrifying. Even director Gareth Edwards' state-of-the-art effects cannot quite make plain to us whether we are supposed to gasp at the monster's entrance or patiently applaud, as we would at an awards banquet for a retiring office veteran who has stayed on past the best of his game. All our visual expectations here are met: one or two high-angle shots of Godzilla staring down at the camera menacingly. Godzilla roaring against a backdrop of a shattered cityscape. Screaming crowds fleeing from Godzilla through aforementioned cityscape. The requisite destruction of famous landmarks and national monuments is accomplished with ceremonial apathy. The Golden Gate Bridge is smashed to bits this time around, but so is the Vegas Strip, proving that even Cold War-era atomic monsters are capable of exercising good taste in the department of civic design.
Human characters are introduced and removed from the story with clockwork unconcern, as if the timetable of the film were managed according to the best principles of Prussian sausage manufacture. They make their entrances and perish faster than we can memorize their names. Edwards is a new hand at this sort of thing, and should not be dismissed on the weakness of what is only his second feature length film. He seems able to distinguish the proper high adventure, from the merely loud event flick, even if he is evidently satisfied to trade in the latter. In his handling of his characters he does not make one token pretense common to other B-list action helmsmen: he does not even fake interest in the people on the screen. The human element in Godzilla is there only to serve as an obstacle in the path of the main event-the title character himself. Why Edwards has filled his movie with so many gifted actors (Cranston, Strathairn, Watanabe and Juliette Binoche, who is aging beautifully) is curious in light of the fact that none of them are given anything to do.
The story itself is not really a story but rather a channel through which the foaming course of special effects is aloud to flow at its leisure. Our protagonist (Taylor-Johnson) is a soldier returning from a tour of duty to his young wife and infant son. The charming family naturally lives in the coastal city that will become the scene of Godzilla's apogee of destruction. Almost immediately after his return, Taylor-Johnson is informed that his father, an eccentric nuclear physicist (Cranston) has been arrested for trespassing in the cordoned off site of the energy meltdown that destroyed his life some years previous to the central events of this movie. Cranston should be praised for investing an otherwise uninteresting part with the same fatalistic conviction he has brought to many of his roles. But in a movie like this, where he could easily have been forgiven for dialing it in, that conviction means something. As soon as father and son have joined forces, the transparent ominous teasing begins. Scientists have noticed tremors showing up on their dials near an excavation just outside of Tokyo. In spite of warnings, they continue with the excavation. I won't spoil what happens next, but it involves a lot of Japanese extras running around screaming. The U.S. Navy is deployed, and in the great tradition of the U.S. Navy in movies like this, it accomplishes exactly nothing. Meanwhile Hawaii's tourism potential is significantly curtailed, the hero's family is endangered, and minor characters in uniform perfunctorily begin every other sentence with “whatever it takes...” “let's get the job done...” and “with all due respect.” Godzilla is a dry bone thrown to us middlebrow dogs who need something to keep our attention as we ease into the summer. Its only surprise is the unabashed spirit of contempt in which its makers have tossed it to us, not even pretending that it is something fresher than what it so manifestly is: a stale addition to a senile franchise.
- Release DateMay 16, 2014