Godzilla: Movie review

When Hollywood’s last crack at the King of Monsters came out in 1998, I was about 15 – the prime age for enjoying awful blockbuster spectacles. And I still thought that movie was a giant hot turd. (Matthew Broderick as a leading man? Really?)

Sixteen years later, Godzilla roars back into cinemas* in a vastly, vastly, vastly-I-can’t-state-this-enough better film. His new incarnation wears the “gritty reboot” shell  beloved by modern films, but on the inside it’s still a gooey dumb monster movie. Which is a good thing! You will like this if you’re after grim but elegant visuals, but you will also like it if you just want to see skyscraper-sized behemoths scrapping with each other.

(*Meanwhile, if this movie does good at the box office “Godzilla roars back into cinemas” will be the headline used by every hack entertainment writer. If it does bad, I guess the standard headline will be… I dunno. “Rival film fights off Godzilla” or something shitty like that.)

Light spoilers ahead.

godzilla-posterUnlike the ‘98 movie, which depicted Godzilla as a humanity-bullying monster, here he’s the monster who saves us from other humanity-bullying monsters. He’s a mythical hero, all majestic and unknowable and, admittedly, a little tubby (a design which actually works in his favour, still evoking the classic guy-wearing-a rubber suit look even though he’s pure CGI.)

Godzilla’s battles in his new film with a destructive pair of MUTOs (that’s “Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object”, obviously) set up a new franchise where he’s an “apex predator” who must return every couple of years to save the day and “restore balance” while crushing landmarks underfoot.

Or something. His purpose is all explained away via pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo delivered as straight-faced as every other line in the movie; there are almost no jokes here (unless you count the callbacks featuring screaming Japanese running for their lives, which I think are only unintentionally hilarious). Where its kaiju cousin Pacific Rim was camp and neon, Godzilla is muted and serious.

Its monster battles are strikingly realised, offered to us mostly in glimpses – witnessed out of car windows, in reflections, through binoculars – until the climax, where Godzilla and the MUTOs finally have at it. It’s a very nice-looking film, especially that stunning shot of military skydivers parachuting into a monster-addled San Francisco. (A scene, which, sadly was spoiled by trailers and previews that lessen its big screen impact. Please quit giving away so much, Hollywood.)

Unfortunately, the script keeps dragging us away from the fun stuff – the monsters – and forces us to suffer through the boring stuff – the humans. It’s not a problem (in theory!) that Godzilla chooses everyday-types as the lens for its story – none of its characters are chosen ones, or presidents, or Will Smith-in-Independence Day-style wise-cracking badasses. The problem is that most of these bystanders are just… pretty boring.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson is hardest hit as the awesomely ridiculously named Liuetenant Ford Brody*, whose role is to look pretty and anguished as he wavers back and forth between wanting to save his family from monsters and apparently forgetting about his family while he goes off to fight monsters. Brody’s dad is Joe (Bryan Cranston, who’s set his Act-o-Meter somewhere up around “Manic Gnashing”), who’s that disaster movie staple: the madman whose crackpot theories about impending doom turn out to be right. There’s nothing surprising about that character type, but at least Cranston’s subplot ends unexpectedly.

(*Like I had an actual double take when I realised that was the character’s actual name. It’s like it came from a focus group to determine the most generically masculine-but-not-threatening name.)

Ken Watanabe plays another disaster staple: the scientist. He’s a monster expert who doesn’t do much more than look disturbed by the devastation and advise that the military’s plan to defeat the MUTOs is dumb. (A military with a dumb rescue plan is yet another disaster movie staple, but even by the usual standards Godzilla’s military is really dumb. At no point does anyone in charge actually point out that, um, guys, our plan makes zero sense if you actually think about it. Guys? Guys?)

The worst victim of this blandness is Elizabeth Olsen, who’s burdened with the appalling boring role of Brody’s nurse wife – a bonehead who literally does nothing but stay behind in San Francisco looking scared, refusing to flee because her husband told her to stay put. Seriously. That is her plot arc. She has a son to look after, but at no point does she have any convincing maternal chemistry with him. (She’s not helped by the fact that her onscreen kid is one of the movie’s many mute, gormless children who stares at Godzilla and destruction with vacant eyes.)

Actually, none of the human females in this movie fare well. The only other notable woman is Watanabe’s assistant, who simpers and expositions and was maybe given a name? She’s played by Sally Hawkins, who has so little of the spark she showed in Blue Jasmine that I barely recognised her.

That’s not to say Godzilla is yet another Hollywood blockbuster with a woman problem. It has equal opportunity character problems for both genders! And besides, there is one badass female character: The she-MUTO, who just wants to get laid and have babies and settle into a nice nest underneath a ruined city. And isn’t that what all of us want, really?


Pacific Rim: Movie review

Pacific Rim Charlie HunnamRemember when you were a kid and you’d bake a cake with your mum, and she’d ice it, and she’d let you lick whatever was left in the icing bowl? And the icing tasted soooo good that you tried to persuade her to ditch the cake and just let you eat just icing, and she’d be like “No, shut up and eat your delicious cake”? But then years later you were hanging out with your friends, maybe you were drunk or something, and you decided you’d finally eat that bowl of just icing, Mum be damned, so you did, and it was kind of awesome but it also made you feel kind of gross?

Pacific Rim is that bowl of icing.

Which, OK, is exactly how a movie about giant monsters fighting giant robots* should be. Director Guillermo del Toro, who also co-wrote the screenplay, knows just what kind of film he’s making here. He doesn’t waste time with things like satire or humour or subtlety: Pacific Rim is big and loud and intense and fun and silly. There isn’t a lick of Dark Knight-ish grimness. (PHEW.) If you’re not in the right frame of mind for it, you’ll just hate it: You can’t watch a movie which straight-facedly shouts the line “The apocalypse is cancelled!” without wearing your 14-year-old-idiot-boy googles, because the second you look at Pacific Rim through your grown-up eyes you realise it’s just made from sugar and water and not a whole lot else.

(*Or, to borrow Pacific Rim‘s terminology, “kaiju” fighting “jaegers”. It is very entertaining watching them battle each other! But also pretty exhausting.)

Pacific Rim movie posterScattered around all that spectacle are the characters, which are sketched in then largely forgotten about when the monster-robot fights get underway. They’re a diverse bunch, cheerfully free of that “U-S-A! U-S-A!” grossness in so many other America-saves-the-world blockbusters. Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam, who – thank god – has ditched that awful Sons of Anarchy hair/beard combo and seems to have accepted that, yes, he is a beautiful pretty-boy), is an American former jaeger pilot with a tortured past. Stacker Pentecost (the awesome Idris Elba), is the super-macho English military-type leading the last-ditch effort to send the kaiju back down the interdimensional wormhole, or whatever, that they’re leaking out of. Hercules and Chuck Hansen (Max Martini and Robert Kazinsky) are a father-and-son team of jaeger pilots who… I think are meant to be Australian? (They sound Cockney. That is not what Australia sounds like, America*.) Kaiju scientists Geizler and Gottlieb (Charlie Day and Burn Gorman) are the not-very-funny comic relief duo, who…

(*I will forgive the film this transgression, only because there’s an early, too-short scene depicting Sydney under attack by a kaiju. And if there’s one thing I like seeing onscreen, it’s giant monsters trashing local landmarks.)

… hey, are you starting to notice a pattern with all those characters? No, not their ridiculous (but kind of admirably over-the-top) names. Something else they share in common? Something like… penises? The only major female character, really the only female character at all*, is Raleigh’s jaeger co-pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), whose identity is thoroughly, unmistakably stamped “GIRL”. She gets a few obligatory ass-kicking scenes – “obligatory” because how else would you know she’s a Strong Female Character – but mostly she’s demure, quiet, doesn’t do much unless a man has told her to do it**. Seriously, would it have killed del Toro and his collaborators to make just one of the other supporting male characters a woman? Pacific Rim sometimes feels like boys much around with their toys, and it’s annoying.

(*I refuse to count the female Russian jaeger pilot who has approximately two lines of grunting, or  the jaegers’ GLaDOS-y computer system, which is voiced by the GLaDOS, Ellen McLain.)

(**What is interesting about Mako is that, though you expect her to wind up Raleigh’s love interest, the duo’s relationship isn’t that romantic – at least, not explicitly so.)

Honestly I can’t decide if Pacific Rim is like every other blockbuster I ever saw, or not like any other blockbuster I ever saw. It’s unquestionably memorable. And it deserves kudos for a) not desperately attempting to launch a new franchise by ending on even a hint of a sequel, and b) just going for it for 130 minutes. It’s so big it’s numbing. If you ever laughed so hard you just wound up feeling hollow and exhausted and weirdly underwhelmed by the joke that made you laugh in the first place – that is how you will feel watching Pacific Rim.