Saturday, May 24, 2014

Godzilla 2014 Review

So, I finished watching Gareth Edwards' Godzilla film.

There's been a minor controversy (it's the Internet) regarding this film, so I thought I'd go out and address it.

I wish I could talk about how when I was a kid growing up in Torrance, I bought a VHS case that had a double feature of Godzilla vs. Gigan and Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla in it.

I'd also love to talk about the website Godzilla Tower (a Godzilla vs. Gigan reference) that apparently got turned into some fetish site, the G-Fan (I think they called it G-Fan because they loved Gamera too) magazine I always wanted to subscribe to, and this book called Master of Monsters that used to cost $220.

Master of Monsters now costs $20 on paperback since Gareth Edwards read it while researching for the new movie. I am now ordering the crap out of this thing.

I could talk about the kaiju haikus I did in high school, which got me scorn from my teachers, shows how much they were on the pulse of society. I also wonder if They Came From Hollywood ever became a real video game.

I could talk about my neighbor, who did graphic design for a collection of soundtrack CDs showing off the entire history of Godzilla until Megaguirus.

I could also talk about how I started to listen to the Outside the Cinema and Cinema Diabolica podcasts because of their Godzilla episodes, and talked to them about the failed Godzilla vs. Satan project.

I could also talk about how I watch the Heisei series Godzilla as a form of antidepressant (either that or Kakuranger).

I might even talk about Pulgasari, the Godzilla ripoff movie produced by Kim Jong Il that I obsessed over.

But, you don't wanna hear about that.

So, let's talk about this movie.

The first complaint I hear a lot about from this movie is that Godzilla is not in this movie enough.

When I first heard of this, one other movie came to mind:
King Kong 2005

Not gonna lie, I was scared.

But, there's a difference between these two films that sets the absence of the title character apart:

When I was watching King Kong 2005 for the first time, I was forty five minutes in when I had to remind myself that I was watching a King Kong movie.

I remember thinking "wait a minute, this is a King Kong movie, right? It feels like a Merchant Ivory Production" while watching it. I don't think the original 1933 version had such pacing issues, and that film was made by people who hyperventilated when Superman picked up a car.

There's never a moment in Godzilla 2014 when you forget you're watching a Godzilla movie.

There's nuclear plants going crazy, conspiracies, secrets, all types of interesting stuff. The conflict is building.

And while we're on point, King Kong had a lot of fight scenes. It had T. Rexes swinging from trees. It had the deleted Black Scorpion sequence put back in and turned up to 11. Do you like that movie? Do you remember that movie? Is it something you express your love for?

The people who don't like the pacing of Godzilla are the same people who complained that Drive wasn't more like Fast and the Furious. They're the same people who complained that Breaking Bad should've had five more seasons.

They don't like the creative decisions of Bryan Cranston, apparently.

There's a lot of Godzilla movies with wall to wall action. They bore easily. After a while, they turn into the same film. Watch them if you don't believe me. And throw in some Rebirth of Mothra while we're at it.

The only thing that truly stands out from Godzilla: Final Wars is the guy who looks like Josef Stalin, and the fact that Godzilla fought his '98 self, with one of the characters calling 98 zilla a "tuna loser" or something to that effect.

Actually, I remember a lot more from Final Wars, but nothing that resonates like Godzilla 2014.

I think Gareth Edwards watches a lot of Godzilla. Gareth Edwards feels like that one poster on the Ain't It Cool News talkback/Disqus chat/whatever that has an offbeat take on an established property that works.

But, it's not just that.

I think Godzilla 2014 was a perpetrator of opportunistic circumstance.

Let's face it, a Godzilla reboot was in development hell forever. First, they wanted to make it some Imax special. Then, they thought about trying some theme park thing.

And then the 2011 Tsunami happened.

The 2011 Japanese tsunami and the Fukushima issues that occurred afterward have made this film seem really plausible. When you read about how the Japanese government hired homeless people to clean up radiation in the area, the sinister nature of coverup in this movie seems all too real.

Back in the seventies, a couple of film producers had no faith in a project they were working on. Their film was about a nuclear plant run amok. But then, Three Mile Island happened when the movie came out, and The China Syndrome ended up becoming a highly successful film.

Godzilla 2014 feels the same way. It's tapping into our subconscious fears from the last ten years.

I hate it when people shoehorn morality into something. Aaron Carter talking about the power of one while promoting Poke'mon 2000. Yuck...

Godzilla 2014 doesn't do that. It feels real.

We live in a world where Korean ships capsize and planes go missing. And flying robots hunt Pakistani children like they're named John Connor. We're plausible for a Godzilla.

I think the next couple of years of filmmaking will sort of present subconscious themes about 9/11, the Iraq war, sort of the same way a lot of movies in the eighties were about Vietnam.

It takes time to develop a narrative about contemporary history. You can only look back after it's over.

What it was actually like to deal with Vietnam was very different than what the contemporary presentation of events was. Movies like Punishment Park, Vanishing Point, and Billy Jack give a look that's different from contemporary images.

A sort of revisionism is to take effect. We're going to take what we know now and apply it to what happened back then. 50 Cent vs. Ja Rule didn't become a legendary thing until way after it happened.

When you watch The Social Network, even though it takes place in Harvard in 2003, there's no mention of protesting the war, or 50 Cent, or Avril Lavigne, or any pop punk American Pie comedy derivative which will again rear it's ugly head in 2023.

That history was rewritten for the narrative of Facebook.

And pop culture will rewrite history. How else can Nero fiddle when Rome burned when the fiddle is a fifteenth century instrument? Because it sounds too cool not to.

Godzilla '98 was sort of like that as well. The backlash of Emmerich's project only really took root during Godzilla 2000 when the Japanese filmmakers felt that Emmerich did not do Godzilla justice.

The lack of backlash during its actual release of Godzilla '98 (or Zilla, whatever) probably has to do with the fact that American audiences were not used to Godzilla in a serious context. 70s Godzilla, like Japanese Spiderman, was a microcosm of Japan in the 70s: a country not yet taken seriously because it had yet to reach its potential.

70s Japan was a Magikarp. And 70s Godzilla had a lot of splashing.

The '98 Godzilla backlash didn't really become apparent until after 9/11. You can't watch a movie post 9/11 where Mayor Roger Ebert farts over some Hershey Kisses because a couple jets shot missiles at the Chrysler Building. It's not a good look.

Godzilla 2014 is on the same level that Man of Steel is to me. One, because both Godzilla 2014 and Man of Steel are both post-Save The Cat stories that try to do what Blake Snyder said and "Keep The Press Out Of It" regarding the conflict in their stories, but both filmmakers acknowledge that a story on their scale cannot avoid the ubiquity of the media.

So, both Godzilla 2014 and Man Of Steel have this weird tone every time the news media in their movies covers the events that are happening. The media's there, but not really. There's reports, but no real press conferences. We're so used to having press conference scenes in movies of a similar nature, that it feels strange without it.

It's like a movie where the villain wins. If you're tired of watching the hero win all the time, you might welcome it, but you get so accustomed to it, that you wish the hero won when they come up short. Game of Thrones, anybody?

Again, it's a minuscule detail that feels strange, but it doesn't derail the film.

The only thing that might separate the Godzilla 2014/Man Of Steel comparison is that while a lot of goofy Superman projects never made the public eye, we have had a plethora of Godzilla misfires. Read Superman vs. Hollywood. Watch Kevin Smith's Superman movie story. Man of Steel might be as good as it gets.

Of course, the term "misfire" is subjective. I don't think Godzilla 2000 was a misfire. It was a return to form. If anything, it was a failure in marketing. There wasn't the nerd culture that we have today that can embrace something like that. The Internet still had stigma in the year 2000. If you dated someone you met online in 2000, it would feel otherworldly. Now, it's cautious with exception, like actual real world dating.

With this past, it's hard to grade Godzilla 2014 as a film.

So, I have decided to grade Godzilla 2014 on two mantras:

First, we have the Nolan Mantra.

The Nolan Mantra (created by Christopher) goes like this: "A quality film is one where you feel like the person making it thinks this is the greatest film ever made".

Now, the person making the film is not always the director. It's not always the producer. A lot of people have hated the films they have worked on, only to see their embodiment of misery and self-loathing go on to be the defining work of their career.

The point is, someone working on this thing cares. Passion. And when passion is mixed with skill, it becomes dangerous.

Roland Emmerich does not think that his Godzilla was the greatest movie ever. He thinks Stargate and Independence Day are the greatest films ever made. Godzilla was something he was attached to for a lot of money. He was hired because of two movies he made, not for a love of Godzilla.

I think Gareth Edwards thinks Godzilla 2014 is one of the greatest films ever. Gareth made Monsters because of his philosophical fascination with monster movies. I don't think his passion is questionable.

Godzilla 2014 passes the Nolan Mantra.

The second mantra we have is the Nicholson Mantra:

The Nicholson Mantra (courtesy Jack) says that a good movie is "a film that has three great scenes and no bad ones".

There were three scenes from this movie that I thoroughly enjoyed.

They were:

1. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) being forced (spoiler, but it's in the trailer, so not really) to close the chamber down on his wife. It's the type of deep character moment that you can only compare to the original Gojira when Serizawa ponders using the Oxygen Destroyer, a device he has created that sucks the oxygen out of the nearby area.

Since Gojira's powers stem from atomic radiation, Serizawa fears that using the Oxygen Destroyer will only give way to some other abomination (which was explored in Godzilla vs. Destroyah).

The entire Gojira film was a metaphor for the post atomic age and placed the moral dilemma that America had on using atomic weapons in the shoes of the Japanese people.

It's hard to think of another time where there was a deeper character dilemma in a Godzilla film.

2. The reveal of Godzilla showing just his leg. It built suspense up so well. There was so much building up to that moment that it just felt right.

3. The Tsunami in Hawaii/Halo jump. Anyone vacationing in Hawaii with an overactive imagination has looked at that oceanic horizon and wondered if something would come out of the water and destroy the hotel skyline.

The idea of paratroopers seeing Godzilla as they fall is such an ingenious concept, that it's amazing it hasn't been overused like those longneck satellite dishes that shoot out lightning/lasers in every other Godzilla film.

Gareth really scratched an itch here.

While the third act had some minor issues (the warhead plot seemed jumbled on first viewing), Godzilla 2014 passes the Nicholson Mantra.

Godzilla 2014 finally did what those Millennium Godzilla movies wanted to do but failed at: It took away the atomic fears of Godzilla and tapped into our own fears of a nihilistic existence. But it didn't do that by making Godzilla be inhabited by the souls of dead soldiers (GMK: All Monsters Attack), but by making Godzilla a personification of the universe killing us. And when we face death, we figure out what's important.

The 2011 Tsunami changed Japan culturally. Whereas before Japan indulged in all the weird stuff that we associate Japan with, the Tsunami made a minor shift in where the values of the Japanese people were. It wasn't a total shift, Japan is still Japan, but the country is now reevaluating what it finds important.

America had the same effect after 9/11. Hope growing in the aftermath of chaos.

It always seems like we are a couple steps away from forgetting that, and because of that, it feels like the world is always a couple steps away from falling into chaos.

Now, can King Ghidorah be in the future chaos? We can only see.