Kaiju Cagematch

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Director Gareth Edwards’ latest Godzilla offering is moderately entertaining in nearly every way.  The teaser is that Godzilla is a (Shinto style) guardian of the natural balance that rises to fight a pair of equally ancient and nasty kaiju (for the non-nerd readers, this is a genre term for big freaking monsters traditionally portrayed by Japanese men in large foam rubber suits).

This is the first movie in a very long time that scored a perfectly neutral impression on me.  The script was limited, because skyscraper-sized CGI monsters do not carry a lot of dialogue, and the people are limited to analysis and reaction more than anything else.  That being said, the big CGI monsters were a lot of eye-candy.  There are a great number of homages to the cheezy traditional Godzilla films, in at least a third of which Godzilla was the good guy.  The monster’s look is deliberately human-modeled like a Japanese samurai mask.

The soundtrack probably owes royalties to the original Jaws movie as cellos strum repeatedly back and forth between key notes.  The cityscapes are beautiful and eye-catching, which helps care when they are knocked to the ground.

The inevitable monster fight that constitutes the main ticket for the move rallied after a steadily mediocre middle to pay off and cover over a lot of mistakes.  The combat is much less far-fetched than the enjoyable Pacific Rim and the latest Godzilla movie.  The last thirty minutes of the film are thoroughly enjoyable and worth the cost of admission.

There are a number of things that bug me about this movie, in order of appearance as opposed to order of importance.  I have a serious pet peeve that Hollywood constantly casts actors three to five years older than their ages, as CJ Adams was 13 when he played the 9 or 10 year old son.  Most fifth-grade kids do not have a peach-fuzz mustache starting, for example.  This peeve serves double-evil.  First, it is difficult for kids to act younger than they are.  Second, I think it harms real kids, who are constantly presented with images of physical and mental development they can never, ever measure up to at their actual age.  This last item is less of an issue for the grade school kid portayal, but we live with epidemics of anorexia, bulemia, steroid use and other self-image issues, which fuels my irritation whenever I see the impossible standard continued.

The science is complete crap every single time that something more complex than gravity’s direction pops up.  We know for Chernobyl that some biological systems can metabolize radioactivity, sure, but that does not eliminate the source of radioactivity any more than green plants make the sun go out.  Monsters heading after nuclear power conveniently bypass nuclear super-carriers and nuclear reactors in major cities to chase after 50-kilogram warheads instead of 300-kilogram fuel rods.  I lost track of how many times soldiers have to go out on the ground to search for three-mile-long scars in the earth that would be visible from 2,000 feet and 20 miles’ distance.  An EMP charge knocks out satellites in orbit 200 miles up without blacking out a third of Japan or the carrier fifteen miles’ away.

There is an excellent example of how not to write in this film.  In a mistaken attempt to build tension for the final fight, two or three times Godzilla leads up to a major monster action, then cuts to the next day while people sit around and talk about it.

Writers: This is what programmers call a Twinkie-denial condition.  In other words, “Bad author, no Twinkie for you!”  The actual rule in storytelling is Show, Don’t Tell.  Major plot points need to happen on screen, not behind the scenes.  Unless you have a twenty-foot stage and your name is Shakespeare, do not attempt this.  You will fail.  I could see and hear disappointment and anger in the theater every time this happened.

Congratulations, Mr. Edwards, you have crossed the Neutral Zone outside of your audience’s interest and crossed into Romulan territory to genuinely piss them off.

Your special effects team and a super-soldier/super-father routine by Aaron Taylor-Johnson in his first truly adult role, and bully for him, save the day.

Ken Watanabe (of Last Samurai fame) plays the traditional Shinto Moral Authority role.  He is always sensitive, always polite, and always right.  This is typical of the five-millimeter-deep characterization of the film.  Watanabe’s character is likable, suave, and easy to listen to.  ‘

The morality and ideas of the show are shallow and hollow as the opening scene’s cave.  Nature is god, it has a balance, and an agent of its will: Godzilla.  Nuclear power is dangerous and the source of evil.  The military is full of well-meaning helpless idiots with a handful of exceptions.  They will always fail without divine intervention, their plans will always fail, and they will always ignore the prophetic wise civilian scientists until it is too late.

There are strong suits to balance this out.  The final fight was fun.  The monster design was traditional, with great Japanese art influences.  Byran Cranston’s portrayal of absent-minded professor turned into mad prophet was easy and sympathetic.  The landscape and backgrounds were never anything less than beautiful and striking.

I have been more explicit about the film’s failings than its strengths, because the strengths are simple and easy to describe.  But they really do balance a lot out.

Recommended as a matinee, by no means worth extra money for 3-D.


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