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Godzilla ••1/2

Godzilla_(2014)_posterStarring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston
Director: Gareth Edwards
Screenplay: Max Borenstein, Dave Callaham
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 123 minutes
Release Date: May 16, 2014

Ford: Single, P-P Moral, Pro (Untransformed Lone Hero)

Mutos: System, N-N Moral, Ant (Untransformed Pure Evil Villains)


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(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, after watching this movie, I’m beginning to believe that size matters.

And that thermonuclear devices are the cure to all ills. Let’s recap.

Godzilla opens with old film clips of nuclear bomb testing in the South Pacific Islands. These clips, however, show mysterious jagged spikes coming out of the ocean near the bomb blasts. We flash forward to 1999 in the Phillippines, where a gigantic fossil of an unknown creature is unearthed. Workers discover that an egg pod is missing. Meanwhile, in Japan, a nuclear reactor is being rocked by unnatural seismic activity. Plant supervisor Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) sends a team of workers led by his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) to investigate.

The reactor collapses but not before Joe escapes, but not so lucky was his wife. We flash forward again another fifteen years to present day where Naval explosives expert Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the now grown son of Joe and Sandra) has just returned from overseas duty. He’s no sooner home than he gets a call that his father has been arrested in Japan for attempting to gain access to the closed nuclear reactor site. Ford takes off for Japan to collect his demented father.

In Japan, Joe convinces Ford that there is something alive beneath the surface of the power plant. They stealth their way into the facility and find an enormous egg which has fed on the radiation of the spent nuclear power plant. It hatches, demolishes what is left of the power plant, and kills Joe Brody in process. Ford is made a believer that there are greater things on this planet than he at first thought and attempts to return home to his family.

Greg, Godzilla is one large beast of a movie. Going into the theater, you pretty much know who the star of the show is going to be. Of course it can’t be any of the humans who are fighting the monster or who are fleeing from it. The star has to be Godzilla himself. (Or is it herself?) I’m not sure of the gender, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter, to any audience, is whether Godzilla is the kick-ass monster we want and expect him (or her) to be.

This film succeeds wildly in producing not just one giant monster but three of them, one of whom is of course Godzilla. These creatures have awe-inspiring size and an astronomically high MQ (Menace Quotient). A couple of the beasts sport a facial look that is just a bit too reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Alien from 1979. I’d say this similarity is more of a tribute to the timelessness of Alien than it is a criticism of Godzilla.

I think last year’s Pacific Rim foreshadowed Godzilla. That was a sleeper that featured giant reptiles that had to be vanquished by giant robots. But, unlike Godzilla, that movie focused on the characters in the story. The giant robots and giant lizards were just the backdrop to the ongoing human drama. Godzilla misses that mark completely. While we do have some human characters in this story, there is little drama between them. They seem to be merely tossed around by the actions of the monsters.

There is a problem with who is the hero of this film. On the one hand, the elder Brody, Joe, kicks off the film as the lead character. Then, after a prologue of sorts, younger Ford Brody joins his father in Japan. Then, at about the one-third mark, Joe dies and it is Ford who carries the rest of the film. But Ford doesn’t really have any goals to speak of. He at first just wants to get home to his family. Then he takes responsibility for a young Japanese boy who is separated from his parents. Then he is distracted by joining a military group to arm a bomb (he is an explosives expert after all). His motivations are all over the map and it makes the movie hard to follow.

I agree, Greg. The hero story is a bit of a disappointment. At the beginning, we get attached to Joe Brody, whose feisty, tragic edginess captures our attention and attracts our sympathy. But just as we’ve bonded with him, the poor man is fatally crunched by a monster and we’re seemingly left hero-less. Fortunately, Joe’s son Ford takes over the hero role, but Ford is less interesting as a character. Ford’s a bit plastic and a somewhat forgettable compared to his emotionally tortured father.

So we’re left with a movie that gets an A+ grade for it’s CGI effects of mammoth reptilian beasts destroying model trains and skyscrapers, but this occurs at the expense of a meaningful hero story. The decision to kill off Joe Brody so early in the movie is truly baffling, Greg. He was a good character and at the very least he could have buddied-up with his son to kill off the creatures. It’s a poor decision on the filmmakers’ part and it cost this movie a chance to be more than just a creature-fest.

Which leads us to review the villains in this story. Godzilla himself seems to be a savior as he dispatches the evil winged pair of monsters in the end. But at what cost? The city is destroyed with massive loss of life. The two pterodactyl-type monsters were clearly the bad guys as they killed everything in sight. But these monsters were just the obstacles to Ford’s heroic acts. He never really deals with them face-to-face. You might argue that this is a “man-vs-nature” story with Ford as the man and the winged MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) as nature. But it was dull from beginning to end with Ford running after the creatures and the creatures wreaking havoc wherever they went.

You’re right, the villains in this story turn out not to be Godzilla but the two MUTO beasts who really have no evil qualities unless you call a very healthy self-preservation instinct ‘evil’. These behemoths do wreak havoc on large human populations in their quest for food and reproductive success. One problem with the MUTOs is that we aren’t privy to the reasons behind their existence, nor do we every truly understand their relationship to each other or to Godzilla. They’re big and they’re bad, and the filmmakers have decided that that’s enough for us.

Scott, compared to other movies in this genre, Godzilla disappoints. For a longish, boring, CGI fest with no brains and pointless brawn I give this movie 2 out of 5 Reels. There is no clear hero and what we are offered is either a poor human meandering through the film or a questionable monster (Godzilla) who saves the day. I give these guys just 2 Heroes out of 5. And the flying MUTO are little more than beasts who want to reproduce and humanity is getting in the way. They get just 1 Villain out of 5.

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I enjoyed Godzilla a bit more than you did, Greg. Sure, it was two hours of pointless destruction, but this pointless destruction was a cinematic delight to behold. Never have there been more awe-inspiring creatures on the Big Screen. Yes, the story was thin and the hero was a disappointment, but these heavyweight reptiles held just enough interest to earn 3 Reels out of 5.

For a wafer-thin hero who was a snooze-fest to me, and for the boneheaded decision to kill off the one man who would have made a far more interesting hero, this movie deserves only 1 Hero out of 5.

The villains are the true star of the film, although you are correct that they are mere animals who lack the depth that a human villain would have. But I’m not going to penalize this movie for having a shallow villain any more than I would penalize Jaws for its simple-minded shark or Twister for its brainless tornado. These remarkable monsters, with their radiation fetish and fire-breathing capabilities, held my interest and deserve at least 3 Villains out of 5.

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