Took forever to get there, but the payoff was great!
Film Review © 2014 by Trip Reynolds
Directed by Gareth Edwards; Screenplay by Max Borenstein; Story by Dave Callaham.
Starring: Ken Watanabe (as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (as Ford Brody), Elizabeth Olsen (as Elle, wife of Ford Brody), Bryan Cranston (as father of Ford, scientist Joe Brody), Juliette Binoche (as Sandra, wife of Joe Brody), and additional actors in supporting roles that don't matter whatsoever.
This story sucks. After sitting for nearly an hour, I wanted to leave; but I waited and waited and waited for you know who to come out and kick some butt. To hell with the back story, get to Godzilla. That's who I came to see, and not a bunch of actors pretending to convey angst about petty life "issues" experienced their by characters.
Look, we (the entire "world") know who Godzilla is; we know his backstory. So, unless you truly have a better story to tell, don't waste our time re-imaging the facts of Godzilla's existence. The practice of "re-imaging" Godzilla is a major problem with Hollywood's treatment of Godzilla. Back in 1998, Roland Emmerich directed "Godzilla" with Matthew Broderick as the lead White-male actor. This film bore no resemblance to the legendary Godzilla of the Toho Company film franchise, because Godzilla's physical presence was too small, too effeminate, and the creature never released atomic fire from its mouth. Plus, in the Japanese films, and this is very imporant, Godzilla looms over everything as overtly threatening and omnipotent. In 2014, things have only marginally changed. This time out Godzilla is bigger; Godzilla is not as effeminate; but not until the last 15 minutes of the film do we finally see Godzilla's tail illuminate as its legendary atomic fire spews from its mouth. This was the absolute best moment in the film, the only true "payoff" after waiting for nearly two hours, and the special effect here are top notch.
Getting back to the screenplay and story, the major problem with Hollywood is a failure to write a "big enough" story for the biggest monster on the planet. Clearly, if you think small, you get small, and that's exactly what we've got here. Essentially, this story is about about Godzilla being the key to stop two weird looking monsters who appear to be threatening life as we know it; and we throw in some human frailties to personalize it for our viewing audience (in 1954 it was Raymond Burr; in 1998 it was Broderick; and this time it's Cranston). Arguably, some of the production values (special effects, sound, editing, etc.) of the Toho films may not be as good as the U.S. films, but the storylines are consistently more robust, with greater depth, and better acting from principle and supporting cast members. Bottom line: if you really want to see Godzilla, skip the Hollywood films, and watch the Japanese films, like "Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S." from 2003, and "Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla" from 2002, and of course, the original 1954 version, "Godzilla" directed by Ishiro Honda.
Film direction by Gareth Edwards is unnecessarily protracted. Film has a very slow, uneventful running length of 123 minutes, and should have been trimmed by at least 33 minutes. If this film is ever broadcast on the SyFy channel, hopefully they'll cut it to 90 minutes (with commercials). Other than Godzilla's protracted appearance, only the acting talents of Watanabe (who was nominated for an Academy Award as Lord Katsumoto Moritsugu in the 2003 film, "The Last Samurai"), Cranston and Binoche give this film any value. In particular, Watanabe's character was greatly underused. Given that this film is released worldwide, and given that most of the people on this planet are Asian, when will "Hollywood" allow an Asian actor to lead an "A" level, multimillion dollar "franchise" film?? When??? Even though he created the TV series "Kung Fu," Bruce Lee, who arguably, remains the greatest martial artist in film history, was denied a starring role in his own TV series, so he left "Hollywood" and became a successful international film star. Racist "Hollywood" did not court Lee to star in the Hollywood-sanctioned "Enter the Dragon" until after Lee was the most popular action star in the world. Even now, the best we can expect of "Hollywood" is to feature Asian male stars (and never Asian femaile stars) Jackie Chan or Jet Li in "co-starring" roles with White actors, because White actors and only White actors can give a "Hollywood" film box office "credibility." Likewise, White actors are the featured stars in this film about an icon of Japanese cinema, with Godzilla relegated to a co-starring role to appear only in the last third of the film. Clearly, not much has changed with Hollywood's view of the world.
Casting (by Heike Brandstatter, Katie Doyle, Sarah Finn, and Coreen Mayrs) was particularly substandard and racist. Why substandard? Given the prominence of this film and the leading role of "Ford Brody," the best they could do is cast, who, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, really? And why racist? Clearly, as presented in every film, Godzilla originated in Japan, and the Japanese have more expertise about "Godzilla" than anyone else. Nevertheless, "Hollywood" intentionally chose to primarily cast White people for both key and supporting cast members. Let's hope there's a remake of "12 Years a Slave" and let's see if "Hollywood" will primarily cast White people as slaves. Get it.
As expected, special effects and technical aspects were solid, which was necessary given the extremely poorly written script.
Recommendation: In a word, "Netflix" it, or wait and grab a copy from the $5.00 bin at Walmart.