Friday, 16 May 2014

GODZILLA - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Dull, humourless remake lacks powerful political context of GOJIRA

(I) Ken Watanabe (left) at the L.A. premiere of GODZILLA
(II) Ken Watanabe (bottom right) not changing his expression in GODZILLA
(III) Mickey Rooney (top right in duplicate) in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S

Dir. Gareth Edwards, Script: Max Borenstein and 4 (!!!) other writers, Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Who in their right mind would entrust a multi-million-dollar remake of Godzilla to a director whose only claim to fame was a precious, twee and boring no-budget indie movie called Monsters that was self-consciously arty and only really appealed to pretentious boneheads who went on at length about the film's "smart" reliance upon character in stead of carnage? Well, who do you think? A major studio (Warner Brothers) and a production company financed solely on Wall Street by rich assholes wanting a piece of the glamour-pie motion pictures can deliver (Legendary Pictures). That's who.

The results are predictable. Eschewing all manner of genuine political context and zapping out every ounce of what made the Toho Studio production of Ishirō Honda's stunning 1954 Gojira so powerful (the monster was a metaphoric representation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), Godzilla (2014) manages to make even the woeful American re-cut of Honda's original, Godzilla - King of the Monsters (featuring a bunch of useless footage of Raymond Burr as an American journalist) look like a masterpiece. Edwards is a bookish talent at best and his rendering of the tale is mostly muted with plodding, humourless moments of deep concern, punctuated by very loud moments of battle and carnage shot in a manner Edwards assumed was oh-so arty (the camera is never where it could be illogically which is a nice idea in theory, but as Edwards incompetently handles it, dramatically impractical).

There's an accent on character here, but it's strictly by-the-numbers. That's not all the fault of the director since the screenplay was cobbled together by 5 writers (some credited, others not) and we're forced to follow a tale that lumbers across two time periods and all over God's Green Earth (well, mostly America) with a clutch of cliched and throughly uninteresting cardboard cutouts.

During the pre-credit sequence it's revealed that during an atomic bomb test during the 50s in the ocean near Japan that some sort of creature appeared, but disappeared just as quickly as it was spotted. About 40-or-so years pass and two scientists (Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins) discover a super-duper humungous skeleton and a couple of egg-like pods in a Filipino strip mine. One of the eggs appears to have hatched. This inspires Ken Watanabe to display the only expression he can seem to muster for the entire picture, concern.

Meanwhile in Japan, married American nuke specialists played by Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche work in a Japanese nuclear power plant and discover some mega-weird seismic shit going on beneath the water's surface. The plant soon explodes and sadly, the only actor worth watching in the entire movie, Binoche 'natch, dies.

This brings us to present day. Cranston's son (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is now an explosive expert for the Navy in San Francisco where he lives with his nurse wifey (Elizabeth Olsen) and their fucking obnoxious kid. Taylor-Johnson's been away on a long tour of duty, but he's forced to leave his family when he finds out his Dad's been arrested in Japan for trespassing on the site of the nuclear accident which has been under quarantine all these decades.

Once reunited in the Land of Nippon, father and son sneak into the quarantine zone because his Dad has a bunch of data he wants to retrieve. Upon doing so, some armed soldiers find them. This time, though, no arrests are made. They're taken to a secret facility deep below the ground where we find, yee-haa, Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins examining some kind of creatures in a chrysalis form. The bugger mutates, wreaks havoc and escapes, not before killing Daddy Cranston.

David Strathairn soon enters the picture as a high-ranking military official and we find out that the military knows of Godzilla existence and has been tracking it for years. The creature that recently hatched is on its way to a nuclear waste disposal site because, it seems, the creature feeds on radiation. And guess what? That pesky pod that hatched a few years ago is also on its way to the same destination. One's a male, the other's a female and if, after a radiation buffet they decide to fuck, there's going to be the possibility of more creatures like them.

For some reason, Watanabe has been studying these creatures for nearly two decades and is revered by the military for his expertise. However, all he seems to do is register concern and appears to really not know much of anything about the creatures save for one salient detail which, ultimately, is a guess.

"Godzilla seek to maintain balance," notes Watanabe with, you guessed it, concern.

What-the-fuck-ever. We're almost an hour into this lugubrious mess and have another hour to go. In spite of some monster action, there's also endlessly dull sections and we have to keep following Taylor-Johnson as he bops from Hawaii, to Nevada and then San Francisco. At least, in fairness to Watanabe, he is able to muster one expression. The woeful Taylor-Johnson is only able to convey complete blankness. He's a dreadful actor with all the screen presence of a cipher. Elizabeth Olsen is not much better. Not only is she a complete blank slate, but her character is so stupid that she stays in the hospital to tend to all the casualties from an attack by the monsters and puts her annoying kid on a school bus that just happens to get trapped on the Golden Gate bridge in a traffic jam - just as Godzilla is heading towards it. The military has set off nukes to kill the monsters, but somehow, Watanabe convinces Strathairn to let Godzilla fight it out with the two flying creatures ready to get down and dirty to procreate. This means Taylor-Johnson must risk life and limb to defuse the nukes.

He survives. So does his wife. So does his obnoxious brat. Godzilla kills the bad monsters, but sadly dies when crushed by a skyscraper. Or does he? Nope. He's alive. Godzilla is here for AMERICA. He wanders back into the ocean where he'll remain until the sequel.

If you see this movie, your pocket will have been picked and will be picked again and again via the inevitable sequels.

For my money, I'm just going to watch the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray of Gojira again.

Godzilla is playing all over the world via Warner Brothers.