No Spoilers Movie Review – Godzilla (2014)

“Wait, isn’t the main character of Godzilla supposed to be GODZILLA?”

This was the best response I got when trying to describe the new Godzilla movie to people, and I think it’s the core reason for the wildly diverse reviews and reactions to the movie I have being seeing online.

Overall, I liked the movie very much, and do recommend people go see it. But there were definitely some problems with the film, and I had enough to say that I figured I would go ahead and post my own thoughts.

 

Review in a nutshell

  • Type of movie: Disaster movie / Monster movie.
  • Pacing: mostly deliberate/down-tempo pacing, with brief flashes of more intense action.
  • Quality of Acting: High. A host of solid, established actors deliver solid, authentic characters. (The fact that the characters are often doing dumb things is not the actors fault. More on that later).
  • Quality of Directing: High. Regardless of feelings on the content, the director delivers a focused, coherent movie experience.
  • Quality of Story: Mediocre/Low. There are problems with the story which I’ll comment on more below.
  • Quality of Cinematography: Extremely high.
  • Tilt Factor: Very high. I grew up on the original Godzilla and “creature double-feature” movies, (bad dubbing and all), so take this review with a fair sized grain of salt.

 

Overall Impression

I really liked this movie. It is a massive improvement over the 1998 version from Sony pictures. Yes, there are problems with the story, (more on that below). Yes, for a Godzilla movie, there could have been a lot more Godzilla. But it is a good movie, with spectacular cinematography.

 

Details

It is best to think of this as a summer time, blockbuster-style disaster movie (akin to “Volcano” or “Dante’s Peak” from the 90’s, or “The Day After Tomorrow” from 2004), rather than the old-school black-and-white Godzilla movies of old.

The film is told mostly through the eyes of human characters, and as is typical in disaster movies, the humans largely run around doing stupid things. Partly this is movie trope. Partly this is what humans do during large scale disasters. When our day-to-day focus is on wearing the right clothes, showing up on time to jobs we may-or-may-not like, and dealing with traffic, we have problems knowing what to do when a force of nature slams through our lives. (whether it is a mega hurricane, or a 100 ft tall monster). Still, it does detract from the over all story.

Also, because this is more of a disaster movie (featuring Godzilla, rather than “starring” Godzilla), people who were expecting all Godzilla, all the time, may be disappointed. Those people expecting modern, high-action story telling may also be disappointed at the deliberate pacing of the story in this movie.

 

All that aside, I still recommend those people go see this movie. Why?

THE CINEMATOGRAPHY IS GORGEOUS. (See below, “Cinematography”).

 

 

More thoughts on …

Casting/Acting

Lots of men, mostly white. An example of diversity-in-casting this is not.

Which is especially unfortunate, given that the quality of acting that Juliette Binoche and Elizabeth Olsen brought to their roles. (Juliette Binoche in particular). Good though their delivery is, they are given scant screen time, and relegated to the Mother/Wife/Damsel role. Sally Hawkins has some screen time as a knowledgeable scientist, but in a role clearly subservient to the chief scientist played by Ken Watanabe.

People of color are no better represented. The aforementioned Watanabe is also strong in his portrayal, but again does not have significant screen time. The same for african-american actor Richard Jones. He plays a captain in the army, and displays a position of confidence and authority, but is on screen perhaps twice.

Arguably, the main character of the story is Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s. His performance has also been criticized as boring at best, or bad acting at worst. Again I disagree. I feel that his performance is quite good, and creates a very authentic and believable character. It is, unfortunately, a very BLAND character.

There is a LOT of visual story telling in this movie. (More thoughts in “Cinematography”). It becomes apparent very quickly in this movie that the director has tried to prevent larger-than-life characters or hammed-up acting from getting in the way of it. But combined with the disaster movie tropes, there are moments in the movie where Taylor-Johnson’s character (and many other members of the cast) are providing reality-TV levels of dumbness that take up large chunks of screen time.

I would argue that their very authenticity is what is causing people to blame the ACTORS, rather than the CHARACTERS, for doing dumb things on the screen.

 

Story

There are problems with the story. Truth be told, there are a lot of problems with the story.

  • There is a LOT of deus ex machina. I understand the occasional need to try to keep a large story moving along, and the visual style lends itself to “hey look, this convenient and conspicuous train just pulled up!”, but obvious plot device is obvious, and used too often.
  • There are several motivations for the grand events taking place that are provided toward the beginning of the movie, and then conveniently skipped over or discarded later on.
  • No one in Hollywood seems to understand how certain elements of science actually work. (Electronics destroyed by an EMP pulse don’t just turn back on afterwards! Science! *table flip*).

 

The biggest detraction I’ve seen people complain about with the story though, is that it is “Boring”. I disagree. (Well, I mostly disagree).

The deliberate pacing is an intentional part of the story delivery, and fits with the effect I feel the director was trying to achieve. In comparison to more modern, hyper-action super cuts style movies, where there is dialogue every two seconds and strobe light story progression, it can feel flat in comparison.

Because the movie tries for an epic scope, (again, common in disaster movies), it lacks some of the tight immediacy that movies such as “Jurassic Park” are able to bring. Coupled with the space the director tries to give the visual story telling, the deliberate pace is even more apparent.

I almost feel that it would have been more effective if the movie was LONGER, rather than shorter. There are a lot of story elements that are crammed in, and giving each more space might have helped people see the beats of the story taking place, rather than a slow carousel of low-action and light dialogue. Unfortunately, it is already a long movie that feels like a long movie, and it does not have the polish of Lord of the Rings by any stretch.

 

However, the plodding, deliberate pace has a pay off. The last 30 minutes of the movie are excellent, and very much worth the wait. There is just a lot of wait to get there …

Also, the first 10-15 minutes of the movie are actually quite good. They do a good job of compressing a lot of back story and foreshadowing into a very short sequence.

The middle hour or so, however, is a long wind-up.

 

Cinematography

Thank God someone in Hollywood still knows how to use a camera.

As I’ve hinted at above, I loved the cinematography in this movie. In an age where Hollywood has seemingly lost all of the steady-cams, and overly zoomed in shots abound, the visual style presented here is stunning and fantastic.

I hate shaky cam, and there is none of that here. I hate overly tight, cramped shooting styles, and here there are broad vistas. Huge monsters are shown towering against sky scrapers. Mobs of people running in the street stream by in great floods.

Even just the blocking and composition of the shots is excellent. The level of polish of craft, fantastic. You are able to watch the action unfold, watch parts of the scenery change and impact the story.

And the visual story telling is strong. No, this is not as good as the silent story telling seen in the beginning of “Wall-E”, but the director speaks mostly with pictures, and there is a lot being said.

If you can be open to this movie telling style, there is a lot to see here. Pay attention to the children in the movie. They are a lot more perceptive than the adults. The camera follows eyes, and does a good job of telling the inner story of the characters, without the need for voice-over.

The framing of the action, and timing of panning shots is fantastic. A scene involving an airport and exploding planes comes to mind. There is a natural progression of the action, with a mini-payoff at the end of the pan. Nothing forced. It is almost documentary in how the action plays on the screen.

And If you can hang on through the slow pacing for the first 2/3rd’s of the movie, the last 30 minutes are visually stunning. If you have seen the trailer for the movie, you may have seen soldiers parachuting out of a plane. That whole sequence, and the ones that follow, are worth the price of admission to see this on the big screen.

The sky fall into the cloud-choked air of a burning city is epic, and I want that on a poster!

 

Summary

Pros

  • Godzilla smash and roar!
  • Excellent acting
  • Extremely excellent cinematography

Cons

  • Not enough Godzilla smash and roar.
  • No diversity in casting/screen time.
  • Disaster trope story weakness.
  • Almost no score! This is a fairly quiet movie, which doesn’t help the comments of “boring”.

Closing thoughts

Have I mentioned that I think the cinematography is outstanding?

Seeing it in 3D isn’t critical. It wasn’t shot in 3D. But the version I went to was 3D and overall it added to the experience.

Bottom line, this is a good, if not great, disaster movie feature monsters that feels like a real monster movie. Godzilla smashes things. He roars. There are people running in the streets. The signal-to-noise ratio may be poor, but I was still pretty happy with the end results.

If you were thinking about seeing this movie, I would strongly recommend catching it in the theaters.

 

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