MOVIE MAN

‘Godzilla’ rampages through box offices and childhood memories

By Movie Man | Published Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Who doesn’t like Godzilla? Not many, judging from the fact that the groovy Japanese monster is 60 years old, has been in 40 movies, and this latest cinematic rendition of the creature raked in $93 million over the weekend.

Godzilla is still cool.

ABOUT THE FILM

Godzilla first rose from the radioactive briny deep in 1954 in the midst of the Cold War when everyone everywhere was sure the atom bomb was about to destroy mankind.

The prehistoric behemoth stomped ashore less than a decade after the devastating bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II. Japanese moviegoers could relate to their cities being demolished; an allegory was born.

The original movie was called “Gojira.” It was a monstrous success. Preparing for an American release, Toho Studios shoehorned in an American actor, Raymond Burr who would go on to play Perry Mason on TV. The plot was rejiggered into a pseudo-documentary and was called “Godzilla, King of Monsters!”

Godzilla was quite the rampaging critter, but it didn’t really unleash the giant “big bug” era that dominated the mid- to late-’50s. In 1953, “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” – an awakened reptilian/dinosaur monstrosity – stomped around much of the American East Coast.

However, it was Godzilla that struck the international nerve. Soon a franchise was born. Eventually, the humongous colossus went from destroying cities to saving mankind from a slew of other gigantic beasties.

Decades of “rubber-suited monsters” battling (including Mothra and Rodan) eventually evolved into camp territory.

The Movie Man agrees with most that the 1998 “Godzilla” remake (a 4), despite impressive computer generation, missed the mark mostly.

While also CG stuffed, this new “Godzilla” stays close to the original’s plot. There is no Smog Monster to defeat or a baby, Minilla, to protect. It’s just one gigantic creature taking care of business – just like we monster movie devotees love, even if it messes up a few skyscrapers along the way.

THE PLOT (SPOILERS GALORE)

Most folks thought that all that atomic bomb testing in the 1940s was for military defense. It was actually a method of secretly battling a monster before it wreaked havoc on the world.

In 1999, Joe (Bryan Cranston) discovers governments are hiding something that is causing massive electromagnetic disturbances. After a tragedy at a nuclear power plant, he devotes his remaining life to proving that something is not being disclosed.

His son grows up. Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a soldier, heads to Japan to bail his trouble-making dad out of the slammer. In a massive cave-in, explorers discover a MUTO – massive unidentified terrestrial organism.

The problem: There’s a second MUTO that’s escaped, and it’s a female. So the two MUTOs are headed to mate in San Francisco (where they can feed on radioactivity).

Perhaps you’ve noticed there is no Godzilla yet. He eventually shows up. Now the military, led by Admiral Stenz (David Strathairn), must decide whether to try to slay the MUTOs and Godzilla or, as a Japanese scientist suggests, “Let them fight.” Nature’s “balance” can be achieved by letting the ancient creatures duke it out, he says.

Unfortunately, that colossal struggle happens all over San Fran. Plus it’s two against one – even for Godzilla, that’s a chore. Just when he appears to have succumbed after the long colossal struggle … well, you can’t keep a good prehistoric monster down – especially when it’s a worldwide financial phenomenon.

WHAT WORKS

This is perfect CG. All the monsters are cool. The MUTOs are long and spindly, like freaky alien insects. But it’s Godzilla who looks astonishing.

Director Gareth Edwards admittedly borrowed from “Jaws” in keeping the great King of the Monsters mostly unseen for a huge chunk of the movie. And when he’s finally revealed for long stretches, it isn’t a disappointment.

Many of the scenes are deftly rendered: Godzilla’s spiky spine sandwiched between two mighty destroyers zipping along at sea; the trail a huge MUTO left as it hatched and headed out through the mountainside to the ocean, leaving a wide trough of destruction behind; illustrating just how gigantic Godzilla really is when one expansive foot covers more than an entire city intersection; the deafening roar and searing deadly radioactive breath; an impressive tsunami, and even the opening credits are fun in all their nostalgic glory.

Cranston brings some believability as the conspiracy theorist. He has a great scene with wife Juliette Binoche in 1999 when he must seal her in a radioactive chamber and watch her die. (But see What doesn’t work).

BEST SCENE (SPOILER)

Godzilla is pursuing the MUTOs when he comes across the Golden Gate Bridge. The monster seems to not want to smash it up. But there’s no way around and the MUTOs are on the other side, so, oh well, sorry about that. Godzilla just crashes right through it.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK

The plot is paper thin. Many times it’s hard to believe that such a government conspiracy could possibly be maintained or that no one, somewhere, would find some substantial disturbances in the earth’s electromagnetic field.

The humans are completely forgettable. And that might be a problem for some since the monsters, especially Godzilla, don’t show up for a long while. The dullest of all is Taylor-Johnson who is hard to root for.

The military keeps firing its dinky weapons at the critters even though it’s clearly useless. Godzilla’s bigger than a skyscraper – bullets ain’t gonna do it! And all electronics are snuffed when in proximity to MUTOs yet you keep sending jet planes at them?

And no stinger. Bummer.

SUMMING UP

Another fun part of “Godzilla” is that it sets the creature up as the savior of mankind – just like many of the old pictures did. This movie is a monsterfest, and that’s very cool. Hang in there and wait for the climactic battle. If you love creatures, you’ll enjoy “Godzilla.”

(And, no, Cranston does not play Walter White from “Breaking Bad” who feeds the monsters meth and mankind wins because the titans’ teeth fall out. And, also, the Movie Man wouldn’t have complained if Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla” found its way into the movie. Alas, it did not.)

NEXT UP

Another biggie: “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”

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