In principle all Godzilla needed to do was be better than Roland Emmerich’s New York-set mess (featuring: Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller! Chief Wiggum! Leon the Professional! Rain! More Rain! Massive Suckage!) And all right-thinking people were rooting for it since a) Roland Emmerich looking bad b) the director of Monsters c) Walter White.
Well. The best bit is the opening credits, which have probably the only bit of genuine wit in the whole movie. If you get the movie on DVD, you’re going to be pausing all the way through the opening credits to see all the extra comments they added in about everyone; they get redacted before you can take in more than the sense that they’re funny, and it’s a great notion. Enjoy it. You’re not going to need to chuckle again for the next two hours.
What’s quietly amazing is that this was Gareth Edwards’ second movie, and his first movie’s entire crew fit in a van; the crew list for this movie would barely fit in the same van, and somehow Edwards ran them anyhow. I commented when I blogged Monsters that he should have been running a medium sized country, not making guerrilla movies and it turns out I was right. But he could only shoot the script he was given, and dear god, it’s not great. Emmerich’s Godzilla is dumber in every way and yet it might have been more fun to watch.
The amazing unforced error is wasting Bryan Cranston, who is dead, dead, deadily-dead-dead before we even glimpse Godzilla. The torch passes to the actor playing his son Ford Brody, who looks like a cross between a canned ham and a drunk Joaquin Phoenix. He gets to carry the whole rest of the movie, and it’s like watching an octopus carrying worms in a string bag; you know it’s not going to work, and you know you’re not going to enjoy watching it not working. All the while you’re begging for the focus to shift to literally anyone else, but it stubbornly stays on Ford Brody, who is the carved timber Zelig of Godzilla’s universe, present for every damn thing that happens, logistics, logic, physics and sheer lack of charisma be damned.
In other corner, Godzilla his own self. It’s nice that they try to make him more than just a force of destruction, but the script can’t help trying to make him an avatar for the importance of nature. Yeah, about that. I lost count of the number of people who explained straight to camera that Godzilla, king of the monsters, is an apex predator, the last survivor of a whole bunch of huge animals who had their own ecosystem back when the world was full of radioactive materials. The climax of the movie is Godzilla fighting and destroying two other throwbacks to this weird ecology, and when he’s through killing them and laying waste to San Francisco in the process, he doesn’t even nibble on them. Apparently the Japanese complained bitterly that this Godzilla was an American Godzilla because they thought it was too fat; if you ask me, he got fat because he was eating all the wrong kinds of food. This is a monster who lives on radiation and he’s just killed two other monsters who’ve been snacking on actual nuclear warheads for the rest of the movie. Why go to all that trouble if he’s not going to eat them?
Edwards does his best with this nonsense, channelling the same stuff which made Monsters work so well; keeping the monsters not quite in shot and concentrating more on the people. And there are set pieces which stand out; a high altitude parachute drop is particularly good, with the parachutists all trailing red smoke as they plummet down into half-ruined San Francisco. On the one hand, it looks great, and on the other the smoke trails make sense; to do their job they have to stick together and the smoke helps them to stay in formation. Some of the other spectacular shots are not so smart; the good guys race to a nuclear waste storage unit to find a monster. By the time they get there, the monster has broken out of the store; by gouging out half the mountain it’s under. You’d think the helicopter escorts for the convoy might have noticed that on the way in….
Other idiocy abounds. The cool looking parachute drop is so that the good guys can defuse a nuclear bomb that they were hoping to use as bait/destruction for the monsters. The monsters love nuclear weapons, so they just grabbed the bait and took it to their impromptu nest in the rubble of San Francisco, not quite the plan. So now Ford Brody has to parachute in to find the bomb and defuse its clockwork timer before what’s left of the bay gets way bigger and more radioactive. Why bother? It’s a nuclear weapon which has been grabbed by monsters who eat nuclear weapons and crush everything they touch. There’s no way in hell the thing is going to work after they’ve got their hands on it.
Dumbest moment in the movie goes to the TV ticker at the end “King of the Monsters saves our city” says Fox news, panning over the rubble field which used to be San Francisco. A better movie would have made that sarcasm.