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Breaking Down The Monster: The Best & Worst Of 'Godzilla'

Features
by The Playlist Staff
May 19, 2014 3:03 PM
31 Comments
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Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros.’ “Godzilla” (our review) did so well this weekend (almost $200 million worldwide) that by Sunday they had already announced a sequel was in the works. And of course, with a massive opening like that, it’s to be expected. The monster movie is a triumph, at the very least, for director Gareth Edwards. His directorial career started with “Monsters," a super lo-fi, low-budget monster movie about an unlikely pair of strangers trying to travel from Central America to the United States, in a world (and particularly the border of Mexico), now infested with gigantic creatures, that resembles a police state.

Having little to no budget, Edwards had to rely on characters, dynamics, chemistry and inventiveness: the filmmaker and former VFX helmer had to use his disadvantage—not really able to show his creatures—to his advantage. And cleverly he did, only showing the creatures in small bits, from the characters' POV and playing coy with the monster throughout until the very end (and even then you only got dark, rare glimpses of them). It totally worked, and if you’ve seen “Godzilla” and are reading this you’re hopefully thinking, “Damn, that’s exactly what he did for his new kaiju monster film,” because he adopted the same methodology for “Godzilla.” And good on him for making such a successful leap from small indie to gigantic tentpole; this risk pays off in many respects.

But “Monsters” was Edwards’ baby. He wrote it, directed it, acted as his own cinematographer and was the head production designer on it; this was his world and his vision. Consequently, “Godzilla” is much the same, it feels mostly like a unified vision and from a filmmaker who’s likely going to be ratified with a modern day auteur stamp any minute now if he hasn’t already. But where “Godzilla” drifts away heavily from the filmmaker is in the writing.

When you’re a studio that has a $100 million-plus project on your hands, you bring in the big guns and then it can often become writing by committee or writing to fulfill certain trope obligations. And while Edwards worked closely with his writers, there are quite a few hands that the script passed through. Dave Callaham is credited with the story and Max Borenstein is credited with the screenplay—only one screenwriter isn’t so bad, right? True, but Frank Darabont also did a uncredited rewrite of the film and we've been hearing that at least one more well-known young and popular auteur did an uncredited rewrite as well. And this is where “Godzilla” really starts to lose focus and some of the ballsy gambles in the movies just don’t work. But “Godzilla” is here and not going away. We thought we’d take this opportunity to take a look at what worked and what didn’t in the latest iteration in this movie about the King Of All Monsters. Suffice to say there will be *spoilers*, so please don’t read until you’ve seen the movie.

The Good

Intentions/Ambition
“Godzilla” has its heart in the right place. This is a would-be intelligent and inventive summer tentpole in the vein of filmmakers like Christopher Nolan or Rian Johnson. Never does “Godzilla” feel like a cash-in. Its first act is a long set-up and investment in the story; the movie isn’t just about monster fist-fights, and the film, while not always successful, at least aspires to something ambitious and awe-inspiring. In other words, Edwards is a well-meaning, genuine filmmaker who brings a big level of authenticity to “Godzilla.” It (almost) never feels silly, it has an air of drama, real stakes, consequences and global implications. This is intended as serious filmmaking and we hate to bring up Nolan again, but it feels cut from the same cloth; to take a fantastical subject and treat it with honesty and respect in hopes of translating something genuine to the audience. In that regard, “Godzilla” mostly succeeds.

The Visuals/Cinematography
While “Godzilla” DP Seamus McGarvey (“Atonement,” “The Avengers”) has spoken out about 3D recently—“I think it's very much a marketing gimmick. As a cinematographer I absolutely despise it”—he’s done it before. Most notably during “The Avengers,” with McGarvey noting in the same interview that shooting native 3D on the set of that blockbuster movie lasted one day. While “Godzilla” wasn’t shot in 3D, it is being released in the format (converted, of course), and while it’s not particularly enveloping the way films like “Hugo” and “Life Of Pi,” it doesn’t hurt the movie either. “Godzilla” looks appropriately dark in trying to shroud its mysterious, camera-shy monster, but it’s not oppressively dark or tenebrous to an affected degree. The movie looks good and the POV style—you mainly see the monster from the human’s perspective, which means legs and tails and not full view—might be frustrating to some, but it feels natural and realistic.

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31 Comments

  • MegaSolipsist | July 9, 2014 5:21 PMReply

    This movie was so boring, criminally wasting the only good actors it had and focusing on the bad ones (even Kick-Ass was bad in this), showing nothing of Godzilla to the point where I got irritated at the constant teasing and relegating the big guy to a cameo at the end. And when he did show up he looked terrible, a waddling, badly animated monster with terrible, cartoony facial expressions.
    At least the 1998 movie was fun in a campy kind of way. I could enjoy it as a bad movie, but this one was too good to enjoy as a bad movie, too bad to enjoy as a good movie and far too boring to ever re-watch.

  • Juan Czarmar | July 24, 2014 5:52 PM

    O MY GOD. Thank you LOLMEISTER

  • LOLMEISTER | July 21, 2014 11:27 PM

    Cartoony? Are you serious?

    All I hear from this is a little baby crying and whining.

  • Caister101 | May 29, 2014 1:12 PMReply

    Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche were both perfectly fine but everyone else was ineffectual and had land characterization, so there was little reason to care for anything after Malcom's dad died. And that was a THIRD of the way in! As soon as you realize it is going to be a monster-fighting-monsters movie instead of a monster movie it becomes silly. I was not a fan of Pacific Rim, but at least that film stayed silly and fun for its target audience and worked well for others. This film wants the action of Rim at the calibre of Nolan, which doesn't work and so you are left with a film that struggles to be any one thing, and so ultimately disappointing. The Emmerich film is at least a fun family suitable film.

  • jawsnnn | May 26, 2014 9:14 PMReply

    I don't know how any one can ever say that Elizabeth Olsen acted at all in this movie. In my opinion she was the blander one of the two leads, and considering Aaron Taylor Johnson was very plain, that's saying something.

  • wolverqueen | May 26, 2014 4:49 AMReply

    Shitzilla, this was a terrible movie. How on earth has it done so well? Pacific Rim was in a different realm to this. It was slow, boring, Godzilla looked like a bad plastic toy. Not nearly enough action... all the building up, Jaws style crap was irritating. Script awful and the score !! My god that was bad. Nothing good about it at all.
    Very Bad.

  • Elcid Asaei | May 22, 2014 7:11 PMReply

    Spot on! It's encouraging to read a review that isn't mincing its words, be they good or bad, or ugly. I saw the film in 3D and that was also one of my pet hates about it. The fact it wasn't shot in 3 dimensions made for a very unengaging experience where the monsters, when they finally appeared, never jumped out at me. The glare on the 3D glasses also annoyed me, but that wasn't the film's fault. I always say, if it wasn't filmed in 3D it wasn't meant for 3D so quick cashing in! :)

  • nyaus | May 22, 2014 10:24 AMReply

    the score is so bad. just blah. doesn't "help" the film in any way, doesn't push anything forward. just lays there. seems phoned in.

  • SHERA | May 22, 2014 8:59 AMReply

    I never understood WHY Godzilla and the MUTOs were fighting. They never addressed it, only indicating the MUTOs were some sort of parasite.

    If you haven't seen it, do not expect a strong script. The movie is really about special effects and that part was pretty cool. Keeping Godzilla partially hidden was much better than seeing the entire monster.

  • Jesus People are Dumb | July 21, 2014 11:35 PM

    If you really think they didn't say why Godzilla and the MUTOs were fighting, then you obviously weren't paying attention. Cry some more.

  • cory | May 22, 2014 2:37 AMReply

    Why is the ship captain running the whole military campaign, and why doesn't he stay on his ship? The nuclear bombing of Godzilla shown from the old 1950's footage is the Castle Bravo testing, a 15 megaton bomb. It is a bit disrespectful that this test was used considering there was innocent lives lost (accidental) from this test. Secondly, as a history nut, I laughed when David Strathairn, Super Navy Captain says that the decoy bomb that they plan to kill the MUTOs with is much larger than the previous bombs (i.e. the old Castle Bravo testing); even going as far as to faulty state that it was kilotons and not megatons. Secondly, that was the largest bomb the USA has ever detonated, and most presumably closest to the largest bomb we currently have, the only thing that could make those look like "firecrackers" would be the Tsar Bomba, a Russian bomb denoted with a 50 megaton yield. The film has the nuclear bombs as part of an old Titan rocket, but there wouldn't be a need to haul the whole rocket around on boat and train, all you need is the warhead (the tip, or the part that actually has the explosive). Where are all the Black-hawk helicopters? Surely we use those more than the UH-Huey in today's modern military.

  • El | May 21, 2014 3:46 AMReply

    Who's the "well-known young and popular auteur" who did an uncredited rewrite? Was it Neill Blomkamp?

  • benutty | May 20, 2014 3:39 PMReply

    I think it's problematic to fault the film for the "hidden Godzilla" aspect because it's evident that Edwards intends for us to not know much about Godzilla. Through his work with Monsters and now with Godzilla, it seems as though Edwards' POV is to create worlds where while humans are the focus and core of his stories they know very little about the world (by way of the monsters) that they inhabit and in a sense fall out of focus because of it. In Godzilla the monsters notably show very little interest in humans--they aren't trying to eat them, they aren't displaced by them, etc.--and have their own motivations. This contradicts most approaches to monster movies and challenges the typical notion that EVERYTHING in our world must be filtered through its relationship to humanity. If you're going to fault a director for a part of their film being unexplained then you have to acknowledge whether or not this was their intention.

  • Franka | May 20, 2014 4:00 PM

    If you read closely, no one really faults it at all. in fact, it's in the "good" section.

  • Alex L | May 20, 2014 2:12 PMReply

    I saw the movie twice this weekend, once with my kids. I think the second viewing made the human drama more clear. I do feel like Taylor-Johnson did not get enough lines to express himself. I think the movie was edited somewhat in a hurry - it was finished in March, after all, and it could have spent more time with the characters. But with the exposition angle, I think they felt they had held back from showing Godzilla enough. As for Cranston, I think he elevated a lot of his scenes, above the material. I don't think anyone else in the film could have said "take us back to the stone age" and it would have worked. That came through in the second showing, because you're going "what???"

    I do feel like the people in the tower had no business being there when the flying MUTO went by. Not evacuated? That was bizarre to me. The scene was awesome - leading to the face-off - except for that.

  • Alex L | May 20, 2014 2:13 PM

    I mean you're going "what?" in the first viewing.

  • Guillermo | May 20, 2014 11:40 AMReply

    Think of King Kong and how terrible of a movie it was. Mostly, I believe, because its premise does not transcend to our reality not matter how much you try to make a good script out off it. A giant gorilla climbing the empire state building and falling in love with a woman?? SMH....
    Anyone could have though the same of Godzilla. Two monsters, a giant moth fighting a giant dinosaur like creature?? Garrett Edward made the best out of such improbable commercial subject. For a movie that doesn't fit our reality in terms of the story, giant monsters fighting in big city (aka Pacific Rim), Mr. Edward made the impossible possible.

  • My God | July 21, 2014 11:37 PM

    You must be a lot of fun at parties.

  • Ugh | May 20, 2014 9:04 PM

    A movie doesn't have to feel REAL to be fun or entertaining. It just has to work in the world it's presenting. The Marvel movies sure don't feel real but they're a blast.

  • TYLER | May 20, 2014 11:14 AMReply

    I don't know why everyone refuses to actually look at Ford Brody's character and motivations. His stoicism is absolutely central to the themes of the movie. He's reacting to his father throughout the entire movie and dealing with his abandonment issues (the train scene with Brody trying to return the lost child to his parents is ANYTHING but random). His main driving force throughout the movie is that he doesn't want to be like his father; he wants to be there for his wife and son. Claiming that "Nothing Ford does has anything to do with the first act of the movie," is objectively untrue.

  • TYLER | May 23, 2014 10:31 AM

    Wasn't talking about Taylor-Johnson or his acting. Just the character/writing.

  • Andre | May 22, 2014 12:16 PM

    So quick to defend such a crappy character "Tyler" or should we say..."Taylor-Johnson." And for the record, stoicism is an absolutely stupid choice in this movie because it doesn't help us empathize with Brody as much as fear or desperation would. There are more interesting ways to develop a character arc than just looking blankly at a green screen, you're not Chris Pine bro.

    Godzilla's face in the last scene of the movie was more expressive than all of Aaron Taylor-Johnson's filmography. You're just making excuses for a guy who can't outact a CGI monster.

  • Ryker Johannson | May 19, 2014 11:31 PMReply

    I'm not sure you understood the movie - I mean, you get some of the themes, but Godzilla didn't kill Cranston's wife - MUTO did. Teaming up with Godzilla is the perfect progression, which is why Ford Brody does it in a total man on monster bro-down. Cranston would have been down without a lot of weird angst to get over.

  • Movie Bear | May 19, 2014 5:07 PMReply

    LOVED this movie. A+ for effort, B- for execution, resulting in in a solid B from me. I agreed with almost all of the points until your last one, regarding his 'atomic breath'... Out of place?!?Are you kidding? Sure it wasn't explicitly expalined or reasoned out in the movie. But who cares?! The hair on my arms raised up when this happened in the movie...Both times. People in the theater actually clapped and cheered! Cant remember the last time I experienced that at the cineplex. Weird that I had almost forgotten about this ability altogether until he used it. One subtle thing... it's clear that using this ability significantly drains Godzilla of his strength. Thus illustrating why it was conserved until those perfect moments.

  • BEF | May 19, 2014 5:23 PM

    Playlist, update to likes and I'll like this comment

  • borezilla | May 19, 2014 4:31 PMReply

    I thought that even Cranston wasn't very good in this. Like he was trying to oversell the bad script or something. People have so much good will towards him because of Breaking Bad that they'll think he's really good in something that he's not particularly good in.

  • BEF | May 19, 2014 4:21 PMReply

    I thought Taylor-Johnson was fine; I liked that Cranston's ending occurred off-screen. Everything felt a little off kilter and askew and to good effect -- it is, well a monster feeding on nuclear drainage, after all, being askew is kinda necessary .....

    What didn't work well for me were Wantanabe, Strathairn and Binoche ... Binoche because she had so little screen time it'd've been better to have a less known/worshipped actress ... Strathairn because he seemed above the material (I just imagine him on set looking at a screen, sighing and asking, "what's godzilla doing now) ... Wantanabe was just really bad -- mouth agape, struggling for every word ... Taylor-Johnson was fine. Outclassed by Olsen, yes, but he doesn't have to be a marvel.

    What else worked: the opening credits -- a great streamline through 'Zilla and Bikini history with redacted titles ... great!.... and the story of nature vs. warfare ... you can't bomb things back to the stone age when the nuclear age shows its face! The child watching the news footage ... reminds me of when I watched Godzilla as a kid and called it a dinosaur.

  • Franny | May 19, 2014 4:08 PMReply

    Good piece, totally agree.

  • alp | May 19, 2014 3:27 PMReply

    You are not the first person to realize "form" is, and (more importantly) *always will be* second to "content" in movies, particularly the tentpole business.

  • ALP | May 25, 2014 5:59 AM

    Ha! Pretty good comeback there, gabe. Now try this on for size, genius: I guarantee I already have your money.

    Figure that one out and get back to me. Operators are standing by!

  • Gabe toro | May 19, 2014 4:02 PM

    Wow. Then why don't you direct one?

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