Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Why Godzilla Fails as a Movie

I don’t do “top worst lists” of any kind of movies ever. And movies like Godzilla are why I don’t do them. Sure, there was that one point where I made that one blog that nobody read which involved what I thought to be some of the worst games of 2012, but the reason I felt they were so bad was because they were soulless, cash grabbing, boring messes. But when something sets out to actually try to be what they thought was going to be special and noble only to just fall short by a lot of levels and make it into the sort of “bad” territory that Godzilla falls into, I would start to feel bad for calling it something like “one of the worst of such and such.” And, make no mistake, if I made the worst of 2014, Godzilla would probably make it on the list. Granted, it wouldn't be in a very high position on the list and they are definitely worse movies out there, but Godzilla’s bad parts are just so bad that the parts in this movie that are actually really good kind of make the bad parts stick out even worse.

And make no mistake, the parts that are good in this movie are just so good. Unfortunately, all of the good parts happen by the end of the movie. Everything before the end is the movie feeding us a mess of a story that’s tortuous and boring to sit through. And those boring moments are the parts that I want to talk about because they miss the mark by so much, it’s really baffling when you think about it.

Oh, and, by the way, this is going to be a thorough analysis of the movie, so there are going to be spoilers.

Anyways, here we go.

The movie starts like just about any monster movie. In fact, the point of reference you can make here is Jaws, where the looming threat of the movie starts at the beginning, but it’s only a small taste of what’s to come. In this movie, it involves a major accident happening in a nuclear power plant in Japan. Bryan Cranston’s character, named Joe Brody, but why would anyone bother remembering the character’s name when just calling him Bryan Cranston is easier,  thinks that this major accident wasn’t from anything natural. This major accident kills Bryan Cranston’s wife, giving him a personal vendetta with what happened at this nuclear power plant. So far, this all works. It looks like we have a clear protagonist where they set up the characters history, he’s being played by everyone’s favorite actor of the now, which is Bryan Cranston, and, best of all, he’s being played by Bryan Cranston. Bryan Cranston is a good actor, and if it were up to him the carry the entire movie on his shoulders as the only good character, he probably could have saved this movie.

But then the movie gets turned on its head when you realize that Bryan Cranston actually isn't the main character as he dies towards the beginning of the movie.

Instead of the only character in the movie that was sufficiently written as a character being the protagonist, we get a boring military guy who just runs around and doesn’t really do anything to affect the plot. Also, he’s Bryan Cranston’s Character’s son, even though this doesn’t really matter throughout the rest of the movie. You might think they were trying to set up a thing where they have the main character act as a surrogate to view all of the main events that happen in the story. You know, somebody like Watson from Sherlock Holmes or Bilbo Baggins from the Hobbit are there as a way to help ease in the audience on the events of the story with the same understanding as the main character. 

Bilbo isn't somebody who goes on adventures and he isn't somebody who’s really familiar with any of the strange things that happen outside of his home. Sure, he gets his moments of heroism here and there, but if the story had just been about the Dwarves going off and skillfully doing all of the things without a character that the audience can connect with, it would have been pretty boring. But the Dwarves keep on facing challenges and they need Bilbo’s help every once in a while. And, by the fact that they chose a character who everybody would assume was incredibly inept is something that is used to all of the Dwarves’ advantages. With Watson, he is used because he has about as much as a fascination with Sherlock Holmes as most of the readers or viewers do. He’s inept at solving cases as most people are and he doesn't see things the same way Sherlock Holmes does. He’s pretty much there so Sherlock Holmes can explain how he solved the case.

Explain it to me, Sherlock...explain it to me, hard...

Now, with all of this in mind, why did they choose this kind of character for the new Godzilla movie? It’s pretty baffling, because he’s not really involved with the plot all that much and he’s not really there to view any of the action that’s going on as all of it happens pretty much wherever he isn’t. People have pointed out that the actor playing this character, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, is pretty bad in this part, but I’d go as far as saying it’s because he really isn't giving anything to do, even if he is the main character. I would have accepted it if he was there because he was reluctantly following Bryan Cranston around because he didn't believe it when Bryan Cranston was really sure that something big and evil was going on. I mean, it could have worked out this way as he thinks Bryan Cranston is crazy only to find out that he had a point and it turns out that he was right and that the government should be careful when they are hiding things, especially if it involves the safety of passerby citizens. So, Bryan Cranston’s son could have been pulled into these situations where Bryan Cranston is doing all of these things to try to save people and the fact that nobody believed him caused catastrophic events to everybody, which could have produced a direct conflict between the main characters, the government, the citizens, and the monsters.

But, instead of something like that, we get a story that doesn't really have any conflict with any of the characters at all.

Anyways, the movie does a time jump where its 15 years after the terrible event at the nuclear power plant, but, now, we’re following the main character of the movie. As we established, the main character is Brian Cranston’s Character’s son, and he’s an army guy. It starts off with him coming home to his family and I guess we’re supposed to like him because he has a family? Like, he has a caring family he comes home to after he’s done doing army stuff and this is supposed to make us feel stuff? Yeah! Nice try! How about a character who would be interesting even without a family? Or maybe a character with a clear motivation throughout the movie? Oh wait, that’s right! They actually have that character, but he dies.

Anyways, the family gets a call saying that the guy’s father got arrested in Japan because he was investigating something that the government was hiding. It’s up to the main character to bail him out, but Bryan Cranston decides to drag him along in order to prove that the government is really hiding something. The main character doesn't believe him but he goes along with it anyway. They go to their old house in Japan and they get the seismograph record from the Nuclear Power Plant incident. Then, they go off to investigate a place that has been shut down due to radioactive activity. Except, when they get there, they find out there the place isn't toxic at all, which means that the government must be hiding something if they don’t want any people in the area. This gets them arrested but, instead of throwing the guys in jail, they decide to bring them along to the thing they’re hiding because Bryan Cranston has the record from that terrible incident when people thought that any recordings of it had been lost. It turns out that the seismograph records that Bryan Cranston has match with the seismographic readings that are happening in the area. This confirms his belief that they are really hiding something.

And, yeah, shocker! It turns out they really are hiding something.

Who could have seen that one coming, except for everyone...ever?

So, nothing immediately wrong is going on with the plot so far. I mean, yeah, the 15 year jump leading us to boring characters where they skip all of the build up and conspiracy kind of hurts the movie by...well, a lot, but all of things in this movie go by in a sort of consequential order. One event leads to another, which causes something else to happen. It doesn't fall into the “And then this happened!” trap that some other summer movies fall into. But when the first monster shows up, that’s when this movie officially starts to fall apart. The guys get readings from this radio-active egg which hatches and releases the first monster in the movie. And, when this happens, everybody thought the same thing…”That’s not Godzilla! That’s the Cloverfield monster!” But my immediate next thought was actually a pretty positive one because I didn't know the movie was going to handle things this badly, but I was really excited to see that this movie was going to lead up towards monster battles. But, this was the point when Bryan Cranston dies due to all of the destruction which made me realize “Oh...I guess Bryan Cranston isn't the protagonist, it’s going to be the boring military guy.” I realize I’ve only kept on referring to him as the main character but that’s because the character is so bland and boring that it’s really not even worth remembering his name. Only that his last name was Brody, but that’s because it seems like we need all of the guys who fight monsters are named Brody for some reason. There’s Jason Brody from Far Cry 3(he fights one monster in the game, that counts!) and then there’s Adrien Brody from real life.

Well, since the main character is a military guy, they bring him to a military base and fill him in that the giant monster is called a MUTO, which stands for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object, even though they seem to know a lot about these monsters if they calling them Unidentified.  But then they talk about a new monster that they have been researching and trying to kill for years...except they can’t. So, they gave him a name...Godzilla. But then one Japanese guy says that Godzilla is actually a good guy. I guess he knows this because he’s Japanese...oh...I know that might sound kind of bad, but this movie doesn’t really give an explanation of why Godzilla is the good guy other than that one Japanese guy says he is. He says he’s there to bring balance to the force and to destroy the sith.

Surprisingly, Googling "Godzilla with a lightsaber" yielded results

But the main character is sent to Honolulu so he can go back home from an airport. Though, the reason they dropped him off at Honolulu was because they were there because they were expecting the MUTO or something. And the MUTO comes and destroys stuff. And, at this point, in a weak attempt to raise the stakes, the main character gets stuck with a kid who gets separated from his parents. And since this kid is a kid, I guess we’re supposed to hope that he doesn’t die because he’s a kid...I dunno. The fact that the kid got involved did absolutely nothing for the rest of the movie. Forget that a lot of kids probably died when the monster attacked, the fact that this kid survived and made it back to his parents makes everything okay...I suppose.

But, then, it finally happens. A strange but enormous monster appears out of the ocean. The audience feels it coming. It creates a huge wave destroying streets in the city. The creature comes out with each step plunging through the earth. There’s a great shot where they show the camera all the way from the bottom to the top of this enormous figure. There he is! There’s Godzilla in full form! He releases the mightiest of all screams. It’s iconic! You can feel the tension building and you think “Holy shit! This is going to be awesome!” And then...it cuts to a couple of news clips of the MUTO and Godzilla fighting and then...there’s the aftermath of the city.


Everything that’s wrong with the movie is summed up by this entire sequence. For one thing, the Main Character gets caught up in a monorail that gets destroyed by the MUTO, where he has to hold on tight to survive. But, then, after that, all of the action takes place off screen. There isn't any direct conflict with any of the characters we know and the monsters. And the movie doesn't even bother to show us too much of what the monsters are doing, even though, until this point of the movie, everything was building up to this scene. And the fact that the movie just decides to not do anything with the scene where we finally get to see Godzilla in full form, I kind of wonder if Gareth Edwards wanted to make a Godzilla movie in the first place. I almost kind of feel like he had these copy cats of the cloverfield monster that he just fell in love with and, after finishing a script with these monsters, he got called into a meeting and got asked “Hey! This is kind of cool, but...do you think we can add Godzilla here?” So they just shoehorned him into the movie. It may not have happened like that...but it sure feels like it.

Sorry! I'm busy with other movies right now, so I can't be in this one for long.

So, let me compare this to King Kong. “Which one?” you ask. Well, the Peter Jackson one is going to illustrate my point better as that movie and the new Godzilla movie try to paint the main monster as being sympathetic or the main hero. However, the original King Kong does what the new Godzilla movie was trying to do, only a lot better as well. Both King Kong movies understand build up and plotting and conflict. But the new King Kong does what the new Godzilla movie was trying to do, which was make their monster an icon again.

In Kong, there’s talk of a mysterious beast on the island they are going to, but nobody is really sure about it. Also, everybody feels like they are wasting there time by going to this island and they don’t like dealing with Carl Denham in the first place. But, when they end up there, they realize it’s actually a really dangerous island filled with natives who perform sacrificial rituals. In their attempt to escape, Anne gets captured and ends up getting caught up in one of their rituals, where they offer Anne to the mysterious beast of this island.

When the beast collects Anne, we only catch glimpses of him from Anne’s point of view and we see him as being incredibly scary. After an hour of build-up, we finally get to see King Kong in full form, and it all works because everything before this point has been leading up to here. Anne manages to break away from Kong because she still feels she’s in danger in front of him. However, she manages to find herself in the midst of even more scary creatures and ends up getting chased down by dinosaurs. At this point, we’re afraid for her and hope she makes it out alive. 

Suddenly, however, Kong appears out of nowhere in order to save Anne. Whatever Kong is doing during his fight against the dinosaurs, he always makes sure that Anne is unharmed. And when there is a final confrontation with the last Dinosaur, we see Kong and the Tyrannical Lizard standing across from each other with Anne in the middle of the two beasts. Except Anne finds herself siding with King Kong because she realizes that he has been trying to protect her. And, at this point, we’re fully on board on siding with King Kong. He’s protecting a character we've come to know and understand and we know that Kong winning this fight is what is going to help Anne survive.

Huh...I guess we didn’t need a Japanese guy to tell us that Kong was one of the good guys, it was actually the story that told us that.

Even in the original, since Ann's life was determined by whether Kong won or not, we we're still rooting for everybody's favorite giant gorilla monster!

But Godzilla is a story about the humans and how they have to deal with Monsters coming in and messing up their cities, right? That would be fair enough, except...none of the characters we follow in this movie are directly affected by the monsters. Sure, some soldiers die and cities get destroyed, except they are more of a statistic and we don’t really get a feel of the impact on the monsters. Cloverfield had us following characters that were directly affected by the monster that was invading, and we spent the entire movie hoping they would survive. They weren't military guys or they didn't have any special powers in order to help save the city, they just had one goal in mind: to get out of this mess alive.

I guess you could say that the main characters had a goal to destroy the monsters and you could consider every time they failed to save a city as something that would affect them. But they always cut away from action and we never really feel any of the conflict throughout the entire movie. They cut away from the monster battles and, any time they have any direct confrontations with the monsters, anything the main characters do are completely inconsequential and they never really affect the plot all that much. I guess there was that one time when they were trying to transport nuclear bombs to see if they can use it as a weapon, which causes the monster to come by and take one of the bombs as nuclear bombs are a part of his food, so maybe we can consider that part working.

It nearly worked when they finally showed Godzilla in full form because that was the only part in the movie where there was any sort of build up to anything. But everything after that is just people waiting around until they finally get to the final battle of the movie. Because of this, I just don’t remember anything that happens between the sequence in Honolulu all the way up to the final battle. There’s no momentum in the plot anymore and they don’t take the time to really do anything with the already boring characters they have. The rest of the movie is just the Japanese guy saying “trust me, Godzilla is the good guy, he’s our only hope of stopping the monsters.”

"Go fight the monsters by yourselves, I'm napping right now!"

But, we finally do get to the end of the movie and the reason why this part is so good is not just because it’s when we finally get to see Godzilla fight with the monsters, but it’s also because we finally get to see conflict play out. The military is having a direct fight with the monsters, hoping to save San Francisco. And they've finally decided that Godzilla is one of the good guys and we hope to get to see him defeat the monsters in order for the city to be saved. And the military actually does stuff that progresses things like helping Godzilla out, especially with The Main Character being able to distract one of the MUTOs by destroying her eggs, which saved Godzilla's life. And the moments of Godzilla fighting the monsters are so well staged and well directed that it really does almost make the entire movie worth it just for those scenes.

But, in the end, that’s what the entire movie was missing. Any real sense of conflict or drama. The only character with any sort of motivation or personality gets killed off in the beginning of the movie and were left with a bunch of characters that we don’t know much about or really even care about. I think they were trying to go for an angle where nobody is sure that Godzilla is the good guy and the would eventually have to accept that they need his help because any attempts they had fighting against the monsters were futile, but they don’t show any conflict between the characters who trust Godzilla and the ones who don’t. And, because of this, it makes it feel like the movie is waiting around until the very end where they finally feel confident enough to show monster action, or any sort of conflict at all.

Maybe some people found Pacific Rim overly simple and broad, but at least it understood the very basics of conflict. The Kaiju were always a looming threat throughout the entire movie and it was all about doing everything they could in order to stop the invasion. And, as far as build up goes, the reason why Jaws does it so well is that, even though we don’t see the shark until the end of the movie, we feel the impact of what the shark is doing to everybody. It’s causing people to fight, to divide, to get scared. In Godzilla, there isn't any real impact to any of the characters we know. Stuff just happens off-screen without us feeling anything for anybody.

What can be a more noble goal than "Cancelling the Apocalypse"?

So, the movie didn't fall short because there wasn't enough of Godzilla or monster fights, but because it lacked any real or meaningful conflict throughout the majority of the film. However, it does have the potential for conflict. It has all of the ingredients to make a really good movie. But they didn't seem to know what to do with the ingredients other than they knew that people wanted to eventually see monster fights...and that they wanted to attempt the whole build up in order for them to look smart and intelligent in movie making without really understanding how building up to scenes work.

In the end, I don’t think Godzilla is all that bad of a movie. It’s just disappointing and underwhelming in a lot of parts. Things don’t work in the movie and they spend way too long before they finally show any real drama. But, by the time it gets to the good parts, it’s all handled so well that it really does make this movie “almost good!” Here’s hoping for a better future for our hero, Godzilla!

No comments:

Post a Comment