Sunday, June 1, 2014

Horror Film Review

Godzilla (2014):  A guilty pleasure of mine is old Godzilla flicks, the ones where he's called upon to save humanity from a veritable cornucopia of monsters that are as bizarre as they are evil.  In recent years, the remakes focused on the single, rampaging monster story with Godzilla battling the military as he levels a major city.  Although to be fair, that is what the original 1954 film depicted.  Nevertheless, I'm pleased the filmmakers of this newest incarnation have the same guilty pleasure I do.

We start in the Philippines and Japan in 1999 where in the former, a sinkhole reveals the fossil of a massive creature as well as evidence something equally huge recently dug its way out and headed north.  In Japan, a nuclear power plant experiences power fluctuations that worries manager Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston).  He sends his scientist wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) into the bowels of the facility to investigate.  She dies when containment is breached, and then the entire facility collapses after an "earthquake" strikes.  Brody and his son Ford (C.J. Adams) survive. 

Flash forward to the present and Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a military demolitions expert living in San Francisco with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and son Sam (Carson Bolde).  Ford must travel back to Japan upon hearing his father was arrested for trespassing in the quarantine area.  He's obsessed with what happened to his wife and is attempting to discover the truth.  Joe and Ford are taken back to the old power plant site where we learn from Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) that what escaped from the Philippines burrowed under the plant to feed off the radiation.  It had been dormant.  When tremors and power fluctuations begin (eerily reminiscent of 15 years ago), Serizawa gives the kill order.  Unfortunately, zapping it with millions of volts just seems to make it cranky.  When it emerges from its hidey hole, the creature is not Godzilla but rather a hundred foot tall insect-thingy that takes flight and heads east...toward Hawaii.  The U.S. Navy, commanded by Admiral Stenz (David Strathairn) is in hot pursuit.  Pacing the fleet?  Godzilla.  Mayhem ensues on Oahu and the world finally learns that here there be monsters.  The big bug has an interesting defense mechanism, by the way.  It can emit an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) that kills any and all electricity-powered machinery.  Sucks to be a pilot. 

A bit of history:  Millions of years ago, the radiation levels on earth were super high.  Certain dinosaur-like creatures fed on that radiation and thrived.  As time passed and the levels dropped, these ginormous critters fled deep under the oceans to absorb the radiation emitted by the planet's core.  Godzilla resurfaced in the 1950s, attracted by radiation from atomic bombs.  All the subsequent nuke tests in the South Pacific weren't really tests...we were trying to kill Godzilla.  Didn't work.

Anyway, the insect monster leaves the aloha state in shambles and continues east.  It generated some kind of communication that the scientists initially thought was an SOS to Godzilla.  Nope.  Turns out it's a mating call.  Where's the mate?  In the Yucca Flats nuclear waste facility in Nevada where it was unwittingly brought as an egg.  And it's twice as big as the first one.  Yep, you guessed it...time for Las Vegas to get an extreme makeover.  Eventually, the two bugs, the military, Ford, and Godzilla converge on San Francisco for the epic final battle.  And it is properly epic.  I'd hoped but was not expecting them to give Godzilla the blue, radioactive death breath.  They did, and it was so damn cool I almost jumped up in the theater and cheered. 

A few things kept this film from true greatness.  The first act sets up the characters and is quite slow.  Slow, but not boring.  Also, killing off the best actors, Cranston and Binoche, in the first act might not have been the best idea.  And finally, the bug monsters just aren't very menacing. Sure, they're colossal and kind of creepy, but they lack an element that brings them into the realm of horror.  My only issue with Godzilla was his fat thighs.  Then I realized swimming miles under the ocean for millions of years would probably result in a bit of muscle bulk.

The Skinny

Acting:  Cranston, Binoche, and Strathairn are three of Hollywood's best so no trouble there.  Taylor-Johnson is a bit wooden but does OK.  Watanabe's reserved Serizawa is a marvel.
Story:  A reimagining of the rubber suit Godzilla movies for the modern age.  Works just fine.
Direction:  After the first act, this 123-minute film simply flies. Concise narrative pacing.  I couldn't find a misstep.
Production Values:  Some of the visuals are beautiful and haunting.  The HALO drop scene must be seen to be believed.  But with a $160 million budget, there was no danger of any aspect of the production sucking.
Gore/FX:  No blood.  All kinds of jaw-dropping CGI. 
Scares:  Good tension but nothing to make you jump.
Ending:  So incredibly Hollywood.  A sequel is virtually guaranteed.
Verdict:  Should you see Godzilla?  I enjoyed it immensely.  It's an old fashioned creature feature that's nothing more than a summer popcorn flick.  And Godzilla has blue, radioactive death breath!  You should watch just to see how he kills the bigger bug monster.  Remembering it now still makes me smile.  Hail to the king, baby!

Rating:  4 out of 5

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