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The Godzilla Particle

The big guy's too small a part of his own movie.

The <i>Godzilla</i> Particle
Warner Bros.
Visitors to San Francisco should always bring a jacket.

Godzilla is the movie monster with the mostest. King Kong may be just one gorilla-chest-hair behind, but not even the greatest of apes can quite match the half-dragon, half-dinosaur who first stomped and chomped his way through Tokyo in Ishiro Honda's 1954 Toho Co., Ltd., extravaganza Godzilla. In that picture — even more so than in the sliced-and-diced retelling, featuring Raymond Burr, released in U.S. theaters two years later — our hulking, scaly friend embodies the kind of existential rage most of us never dare to express. Bigger than life, sadder than the sea, he's a being created by man's mistakes: Nuclear radiation has made him what he is, an origin story with an all-too-vivid real-life parallel. And so he stumbles through the city on a mindless bender, thrashing at power lines and crushing tiny houses beneath his mighty clawed toes. Clumsy, unreasonable, and disconsolate, he is us on a very bad day.

You could make a Vine of this moment just to watch it over and over for two hours.

That first Godzilla, and that first Godzilla, spawned dozens of spin-offs, including an overblown 1998 Roland Emmerich epic; for a time he was ubiquitous and unstoppable. But if he was irritable in 1954 Tokyo, Gareth Edwards's new desecration of his legend should make him want to eat Hollywood for lunch. This latest Godzilla features lots of actors you might really want to see — people like Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, and Sally Hawkins, not to mention Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, and David Strathairn — fumbling around in a story that hits all the wrong beats. To boil the plot down to its essence — a radiation-eating sub-H.R. Giger-type creature arises from the depths of the Earth, and Godzilla may be its only match — makes it sound so much more cogent than it is. The action jumps from the Philippines circa 1999, where a scientist investigating some weird formations in a cave helpfully observes, "This one looks broken, like something came out of it," to Japan around the same time, where some very bizarre things are happening in the vicinity of a nuclear reactor, to the present day, where we might be in Hawaii, San Francisco, or anywhere in between at any given time. It's hard to keep track, or to care.

If you're a Breaking Bad fan, and specifically a Bryan Cranston fan, you should know that he appears in the film for approximately 20 minutes, beating out Binoche by about 15. Their few brief scenes, particularly Cranston's, make for the best dramatic moments in the movie: Cranston plays one of those dogged, half-unhinged nuclear science dudes who knows something is wrong with the Earth, though no one will listen to him. It's your stock crooked-glasses role, but somehow Cranston makes you feel the sorrow and anxiety thrumming inside his chock-full-of-knowledge cranium. The fact that he's lost his wife in a nuclear accident — she's played with admirable breeziness, rather than nobility, by Binoche — makes his crackpot urgency easy to buy.

Details

Godzilla
Directed by Gareth Edwards
Warner Bros.
Opens May 16



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But who cares about any of that? Edwards and screenwriters Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham apparently don't, or at least they believe the audience won't. Mostly, Godzilla trots around at the heels of Aaron Taylor-Johnson, a not-bad actor in a thankless role and an even more ungrateful movie, who plays a Naval officer adept at defusing bombs. Because, you know, that might come in handy.

Then again, none of these humans, no matter how gifted or hardworking, stand a chance against the movie's true star, anyway. Edwards earned his stripes as a visual-effects artist, and he's directed one previous feature, the 2010 sci-fi thriller Monsters. To Edward's credit, the G-guy, when we actually get to see him, isn't too shabby: With his tiny, id-brain head and slow-moving, free-thinking tail, he looks prehistoric enough to make you forget, at least briefly, that he was probably created on a $2,000 laptop. He has a great moment when he looms, glamorously and ominously, from behind a row of orange-red lanterns strung up in San Francisco's Chinatown: They tremble in the air, their cheerful serenity disrupted by the vibration of his bad-mood footsteps and even more punishing glare. (It helps that Alexandre Desplat's score bears fossil-footprint echoes of Akira Ifukube's original "Godzilla March," one of the grandest pieces of movie music ever written and one befitting a 350-foot legend.)

There are two other great moments in Godzilla: One, when the scientist played by Watanabe — a wonderful actor who's as underused here as everyone else is — captivates a roomful of unimaginative military brass with a heartfelt story about the Japanese origins of our nuclear-radiated troublemaker, capping it off with the unbeatable kicker "We call him Gojira!" In the other, Godzilla uses his super-powered radioactive heat-ray breath to fry a something-or-other whose identity the spoiler police forbid us to reveal. You could make a Vine of this moment and charge people $13.50, plus $7.50 for 3D glasses, just to watch it over and over again for two hours — or, better yet, show it at MOMA. It's that awesome. But it's just one tiny beat in an otherwise way-too-big movie that, weirdly, doesn't give us enough of the one big guy we showed up to see in the first place. Instead, we get massive, elaborate sets — of destroyed cities, of caves, of nuclear-reactor innards — that could be anywhere but look like nowhere. Godzilla is one of those generic, omnipresent blockbusters that's undone by the very spectacle it strives to dazzle us with: Everything is so gargantuan, so momentous, that nothing has any weight. This Godzilla, no matter how cool his fire breath is, can't live up to the monster of our dreams. That one we still call Gojira.

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10 comments
James Leung
James Leung

Since this wasn't put in the descriptions: SPOILERS in the article. The film suffered most from the lack of a human drama. No character development and no human context. In the Toho films, the human characters ultimately view the monster as a reflection of their own human nature, the destructiveness and the violence. Godzilla's not some mangy stray dog in your backyard, rather he's the drug addicted sibling who destroys his life and lives of those around him. He is not outside of the human experience. He's supposed a part of it.

Rosenberg Mansfield
Rosenberg Mansfield

My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My neighbour's sister has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can't believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do,,,,,,,,,, W­W­W.C­­ASH­­2.U­­S

naschy
naschy

That is an honest, objective review of this type of film, which with all their sound and fury condition audiences into a state of hypnosis. This screenplay in so contrived, with all the same buttons pushed as every other 150 million dollar Hollywood blockbuster, that it is more unbelievable than the original film series it is based on. And most of those films weren't even TRYING to be realistic.

And like most of these megamillion films, Godzilla 2014 has a few spectacular scenes, like Peter Jackson's King Kong, or Pacific Rim. But that's no accomplishment. Give me 150 million dollars and I'll put together 5 minutes of onscreen spectacle for you. 

It's interesting that this reviewer seems to understand the original Godzilla's singularity more than the "fans", her final assertion is precisely what I felt at the close of this very typical, and pasteurized, blockbuster. 

I

tsylore
tsylore

"... who plays a Naval officer adept at defusing bombs. Because, you know, that might come in handy."


What the hell does this even mean?  Is there something wrong with bomb defusal as a career within the army?

cphere
cphere

This is what happens when you let hipsters review a movie! Jeez..

Knyght
Knyght

A single scene worth the price of admission yet you call the movie bad? Ummm Okay!

steelsix
steelsix

"And so he stumbles through the city on a mindless bender." "Enough to make you forget.. that he was probably created on a $2,000 laptop."

What is this exactly, humor, wit, sarcasm? It's a monster movie for goodness sake, did you expect something vastly different? Have you ever watched a classic Godzilla movie? Do you know what kind of GPU processing power it takes to render high quality CGI?

No offense, but this review sounds high school; it's a shame it counts.

Thumbs down Stephanie..

 

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