Waiting for Godzilla

Godzilla (2014)

I think we can add Godzilla 2K14 to the ever-growing list of “films with misleading trailers”. The theatrical trailer seems to advertise a sombre remake of 1954’s original, starring Bryan Cranston and complete with nuclear horror catharsis and dark tone. However, the film I just saw is a modern version of the later ‘Zilla films where he’s humanity’s protector against a bigger threat, complete with a slightly goofier tone and starring that guy from Kick-Ass. This is not a bad thing by any stretch, I just feel kinda lied to. Still, it is what it is and I have various things to say about it.

“The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around. Let them fight.”

Fifteen years after an ‘incident’ at a Japanese nuclear power plant that claimed a number of lives, including his wife’s, physicist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) joins forces with his soldier son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to uncover what really happened that day, determined that the government’s “earthquake” explanation is covering up something a lot bigger. The pair are soon embroiled in a tale of secrets upon secrets that could ultimately mean the dethroning of humans as the dominant species on the planet. Also Godzilla (playing himself) is in it.

Internet reaction has been divided on this one because, well, it’s the internet. I’ve seen it hailed as the new Jurassic Park and shat on as the new Phantom Menace. One particular hot topic for both camps is the fact that Godzilla doesn’t show up until a good hour into the film. Personally, I have no problem with it. I’m all about the slow burn and teasing reveals. The film feels like it’s deliberately fucking with you at times, by denying us an epic monster brawl at least twice. There’s one scene in particular where Godzilla squares off against a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), in amongst an airport on fire. It’s an amazing bit and every single sign is pointing to monster carnage. However instead of getting the smackdown we want, we then cut to a live broadcast of the fight being watched by Ford’s son at home, managing to only catch a few glimpses of them going toe-to-toe. The audible reaction this got in the screening was genuinely funny. I was frustrated too, but told myself it would pay off. It’s in sharp contrast to the ADD filmmaking we’re normally stuck with and I respect it for that.  In my review of it, I called The Raid 2 a cocktease, but Godzilla makes Raid 2 look like the school slut. Director Gareth Edwards is wearing his Spielberg influence on his sleeve and pulling the same trick both Jaws and Jurassic Park did. In one way, it works as intended, but in another way it highlights what’s wrong with the film.

The human characters are fucking boring. Only Cran the Man is really noteworthy here, doing some stellar work and making his conspiracy nut character relatable and sympathetic. Being the only character I liked, naturally the film’s done with him fairly early on and we’re lumped with Ford Brody, the most generic whitebread character imaginable. His motivation is to get back to his family, a driving force that has only been used in a fucktillion other disaster movies. I wouldn’t mind so much, but Aaron Taylor-Johnson is completely flat. The usually excellent Elizabeth Olsen is relegated to “underwritten wife character waiting for the big strong man to sort things out” and it’s dumb. Ken Watanabe’s character seems to be the one saddled with the respectful empath to Godzilla role, with no real explanation as to why he knows these things about the creature. Spielberg got away with the teasing the big reveal stuff because we cared about the characters. Here, the wait feels doubly long because there’s no emotional connection to the leads. I didn’t give a fuck about Ford Brody and that’s really a shame. I get that Godzilla films aren’t about the humans, but they could have given us something more compelling than this.

When we do finally get the hyped monster action it’s fantastic. The scale and scope of everything is perfect. You’re really made aware that these are gargantuan creatures. I don’t know how it’s been managed, but the CGI heavy fights have a real old-school charm to them and almost have man-in-a-suit physics, especially when they fall into buildings. Some of the shots are truly awe-inspiring and reminded me just why I love films in the first place. There are several moments that had me wanting to leap up from my chair and applaud. The joyous laughter when Godzilla did this cool thing or for that little moment was infectious. I can’t see many people having a problem with Zilla this time round. He looks awesome and he’s got some personality to him. There’s even a bit where it’s clear he’s frustrated and it’s genuinely endearing. The HALO jump featured heavily in the marketing is also jaw-dropping. Thanks to all the teasing, the finale feels like a proper finale, not just a longer version of what’s come before. It earned its ending and the final 20 minutes or so are the best.

The script is the problem. It’s a stitched together patchwork with conflicting voices and ideas. It has no real clue how humans actually talk and coasts along with Nolan/Goyeresque functional dialogue that has artificial gravitas and meaning.  There are some interesting concepts, such as the origin of the MUTOs and the notion that all the nuclear testing in the Pacific back in the ’50s wasn’t exactly to test, but rather an attempt to kill something. This is one of the only times where I’ve felt the director was trying to add his own flair to proceedings and was shackled by the shoddy writing. There’s a moment which reminded me of Monsters, Edwards’ previous film, and I asked myself why Godzilla didn’t have the same charm to it. Monsters wasn’t about the creatures, it was about the people. It’s a shame Godzilla didn’t sing from the same hymn book.

“You’re not fooling anybody when you say that what happened was a ‘natural disaster’. You’re lying! It was not an earthquake, it wasn’t a typhoon! Because what’s really happening is that you’re hiding something out there! And it is going to send us back to the Stone Age! God help us all.”

Godzilla isn’t bad. It’s just strangely lopsided. I found it to be somewhat of a disappointment. I wanted to love this film. I was all ready to carve its name on my chest, but alas. The monster stuff is awesome in the purest sense of the word and there are some decent bits scattered through to keep you bumping along, but you’re well within your rights to give up after the first hour when it becomes clear it’s just a holding pattern featuring some boring twats.

Kick-Ass 2

Not quite the Millar’s tale…

Kick-Ass 2 (2013)

After seeing the original Kick-Ass in 2010, I rushed out to get the source material, only to find huge deviations between what was on screen and what was in the panels. The comic ended up quite downbeat and depressing, whereas the film went for a more generic happy ending. Being ahead of the curve this time, I read Kick-Ass 2 before seeing this film.

“I try to have fun. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

Some years have passed since Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) caused a stir by becoming the first real life superhero, Kick-Ass. After losing her father, Mindy Macready aka Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) is struggling to adapt to high school life. Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) wants revenge on Kick-Ass and reinvents himself as the world’s first supervillian, The Motherfucker. Chris assembles a villainous crew, fantastically named “The Toxic Mega Cunts” and together they wreak havoc. Coincidentally, Kick-Ass has also joined a group, a team of do-gooders known as “Justice Forever”, led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). Kick-Ass 2 felt like it was trying to emulate the first film. It certainly doesn’t have the edge the original Kick-Ass had. This could partly be down to the fact it’s a sequel, but I think it’s mostly down to the film intentionally pulling its punches. It’s nowhere as visceral as the first. The story’s half decent, but things are pretty predictable. Once you have the two groups all properly introduced, the third act featuring a confrontation and a smackdown between the two teams is a given. The writing also isn’t nearly as sharp. There were some choice Hit-Girl lines in the first one. The memorable, precise swearing of the first has been replaced with a scattershot approach, believing you can say “fuck” at any point in a sentence and have it still be as funny. It ain’t, Of the new blood cast-wise, there are a few highlights. I thought Carrey’s bat-wielding born again Christian Colonel Stars and Stripes was great and is the real heart of the film. A mention also has to be made of Donald Faison’s Dr. Gravity. Faison makes him likeable thanks to his natural enthusiasm and eagerness. Of the Toxic Mega Cunts. Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina) is the clear star. She’s a big, hulking Ivan Drago type that is just a joy to watch.

I’m not sure why the film is called “Kick-Ass 2”, as it’s Hit Girl’s film.  Kick-Ass himself is relegated to being a bit-part player for most of the runtime.  The idea of Mindy trying to fit in with the popular girls is fun, but most of it is boring.  It’s the standard Mean Girls stuff without the wit. However, Mindy’s efforts at fitting in give way to a brilliant scene where she discovers her libido whilst watching a pop video featuring teen dreamboats and glistening abs. It’s funny and sweet in equal measures and Moretz plays it perfectly. It’s great that despite her lack of a childhood, beneath it all Mindy’s just as susceptible to boy bands as any other normal teenage girl.  With Kick-Ass being sidelined, other things fall by the wayside. Despite significant things happening to him, he’s given no arc whatsoever. It’s odd that they’d give the lead character fuck all to do.

I’ve never liked lines like “This isn’t a movie, this is real life”. It’s a meta joke that always draws me out of the experience. Kick-Ass 2 doesn’t shut up about this being “real life, not a comic book”. It’s strange then that the film has super-cartoony moments, like some bitchy girls vomiting and shitting themselves with the same force as some of Tarantino’s squirtiest squibs. or a van sequence involving Hit-Girl which uses a distracting amount of green screen. You want to proper, more realistic take on real life costumed crusaders? Watch James Gunn’s Super. The film wisely pulls back on the darker moments in the comic.  It has to be said that some of Millar’s nastiness doesn’t sit well with me. Undoubtedly the darkest part of the comic is a scene in which Katie Deauxma is gang-raped by The Motherfucker and his crew. There’s a moment in the film where I genuinely thought they were going for it. However, the film feints and plays it for laughs, which is fine, but I wonder why they did it at all.  The off-screen beating they go with is only marginally less nasty. It’s one of several tonally inconsistent moments in the film that prevents you from fully engaging with what they’re bringing to the table. If a film can’t settle on a tone, then you end up strangely disconnected and are less likely to care about anything that’s going on.

Highlight of the film for me was Mother Russia’s rampage, where she single-handedly takes on a squad of policemen. The sequence isn’t something we’ve seen before unlike most of the film’s other scraps and it’s genuinely thrilling. It wins massive bonus points by scoring the whole escapade with the Tetris theme. Another selection for my Scenes of the Year list, I think.

Do you remember a small picture from about a year ago called The Dark Knight Rises? Remember how frustrating it was to have an enfeebled Bruce Wayne train up to return as Batman only to be knocked back to square one by Bane as soon as he dons the cowl, meaning we had to sit through yet more fucking scenes of him training up to be Batman again? Well, in this film, Kick-Ass and Hit Girl both quit, come back, quit and finally return once more and it’s similarly frustrating. I got the feeling they were treading water until the third act. Quitting the hero business is fine, to not know whether you’re coming or going and artificially padding out the runtime with pointless repetition isn’t.

“You don’t have to be a badass to be a superhero. You just have to be brave.”

Kick-Ass 2 is a mixed bag. I enjoyed it whilst it was on, but as soon as the credits rolled and I starting reflecting on it, it started to fall apart. It’s not as sharp or as funny as the original and it has some real tone problems that let it down heavily. Overall, fairly good. I wanted to like it a lot more than I ended up liking it though.

%d bloggers like this: