Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with my thoughts on that big new Godzilla flick all the kids are talking about.
I was so excited for this one that I pestered the nice folks at Warner Bros publicity for a month or three about securing tickets to the world premiere. They were able to dig me up some seats somewhere and I booked my airfare, begged friends to crash at their place and made my way out to Los Angeles.
Now, the site has a little bit of an iffy reputation when it comes to World Premiere reviews of Godzilla movies. In defense of Harry's '98 premiere experience, that sounded like the craziest star-studded party ever and as soon as he came back and rewatched the movie out of that context he wrote an “I'm so sorry, I got caught up in the moment” retraction.
My premiere wasn't nearly as crazy. I mean, it was really cool to see a movie in the Atmos-equipped Dolby Theater, which is where they hold the Oscars. The place felt very church like and as one of the last remaining film bloggers that still gets a little swept up in the ceremony it was also a little surreal to wander around before all the important people got there and recognize moments from the recent Oscars. “Hey, that's where Ellen took that selfie... And that's where Harrison Ford demanded some pizza...”
I ended up with decent balcony seats and was near some fellow movie writer types, including THR's Borys Kit and Shock Till You Drop's Ryan Rotten. I actually didn't see any of the famous people pile in. One moment the lights were on in the theater and the next moment everything was dark and the Dolby Atmos thing played. No introduction, no announcement to put your 3-D glasses on, it was just suddenly time to watch the movie.
Now you know the setup, my feelings going in and the environment which I saw the flick. What about the movie itself?
The short version: they got the monsters right. Hoo boy, did they get the monsters right. Godzilla himself is treated with the awe he deserves. All aspects of his design (look and sound) are perfect and Gareth Edwards teases him so hardcore that when the big payoff happens it's epic and crazy and fun.
The humans faired a little worse, sadly. The most interesting and invested character is Bryan Cranston's Joe Brody, but he's not the lead of the movie. You wouldn't be able to tell that from the trailers, which are centered pretty solidly on him and Big G. His son, Ford, played by Kick-Ass's Aaron Taylor-Johnson is the lead and we spend most of the movie with him.
That's not a bad thing. Taylor-Johnson is a great young actor who can say a lot without saying a lot if you know what I mean. The problem is that we're told what's interesting about his character, not really ever shown it. We're told he's a bomb disarming expert (which you know is going to come into play later), but we're never really shown that. We're told he was in the armed services, but his adult arc starts with him leaving them to go home and see his wife and kid. We're told a lot about him, but what is shown is just a guy trying to find his way home.
We know he's nice, we know he's brave, we know he loves his family. The problem is by necessity of the enormity that surrounds him he's always a passive part of the story. It's not a bad choice for the pesky humans to have little to no real impact on the monsters, but it does create an uphill battle to make their involvement in the story worthwhile.
Take Elizabeth Olsen's Elle Brody, for instance. I have no earthly idea why she's in the movie other than to give Taylor-Johnson someone to get back to. She's very underwritten to the point that it just feels weird to keep cutting back to her as the main story progresses.
The rest of the cast are filled with character types and not characters. David Strathairn is Admiral Exposition, for instance. He could be the stern army guy in any random disaster movie. Ken Watanabe is probably served the best of the supporting cast, but he's role still boils down to “stare in awe and say some cryptic shit.”
In a movie like this you could fumble the human characters as long as you get the monsters right and I don't think anybody would deny that Edwards knocked it out of the park as far as Big G and Muto are concerned.
I mentioned above that Edwards teases Godzilla and I think he does it so much and so well I can easily see him catching shit from fans for cutting away from the action too much. If you've seen Monsters you know that Edwards' strong suit is putting something big and epic into a real human context and he does that a lot here. So much so that it almost feels like he's fucking with us on purpose when he cuts from a big action build up moment to seeing most of it play out on a TV somewhere in the background.
The more distance I get from the movie, the more I respect that choice and admire what it does in setting up a truly epic final act, but I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't a little annoyed while watching that the action kept happening off camera.
Ultimately, it's not a mistake. Without a doubt it was a creative choice that gets you so wound up and wanting some real payoff that when it comes it's the most awesome thing ever. By the way, I tried so hard not to make that last point not sound sexual, but it's pretty goddamn impossible even though I deleted words like “climax” and “foreplay.”
Visually, Edwards pulls off some amazing tricks. There's some ridiculously beautiful shots, especially when the HALO jump happens. You know they figured out it was awesome when they made the red flare stuff central to the poster campaign.
You can also tell that Edwards is incredibly influenced by Spielberg. There's the obvious nods like the main family being named Brody (and for extra Jaws nerd points the wife is named Elle Brody (Chiefy's wife's name was Ellen, of course), and Taylor-Johnson's son is named Sam, which is Quint's first name), but visually there's a whole lot of Spielberg going on.
There are shots that reminded me of Jurassic Park (not even big reptile stuff, either... simple helicopter landing shots that had me flashing to JP), Jaws (Godzilla's back plates cut through the water like a shark fin for a good deal of his travel) and some of the disaster imagery from War of the Worlds.
I don't mean to imply Edwards rips off Spielberg wholesale. Not at all. He understands visual storytelling in much the same way Spielberg does. Tone, pace and even the tease feel very much like he's trying his hand at the same tools Spielberg uses.
So despite some of my complaints with the writing of the human characters, I want to be clear that this isn't just some big effects extravaganza... I mean, it is that, but there's a visual storytelling element that is very specific and guided by a singular voice. This isn't Emmerich's Godzilla just trying to give the audience spectacle. The human characters aren't goofy and stupid like in the '98 film, they're just not as fleshed out as they could have been.
If they were handled better then this movie could very well have been a kind of modern Jaws. You get the feeling with both films that the human characters are just holding on for dear life as nature has its way with them.
And have their way nature does. Godzilla looks outstanding. I've read criticism that he looks “fat” but in the movie he just looks like something you don't fuck with. He very much looks the part of nature's weapon to maintain balance. He's solid, he's pissed off and boy does he hate other Kaiju. He could give a shit about humans and that's just the way I like it. He's just on a mission to ruin the Muto's day.
Speaking of, all the monsters in the movie are treated with care, not just the title character. The bad guys come across as sympathetic, just animals trying to stay alive, which is a touch I loved. If Godzilla is the homeowner that'd scoop up the spider and put it gently outside, the Mutos are the ones that whip out the can of Raid and lay down the law Apocalypse Now napalm style. Neither one considers humans a real threat, but the Mutos are annoyed with them and don't step with care, if you catch my drift.
They're just dickish enough for us to root for Godzilla, but sympathetic enough to give them a little extra flavor than just being the punching bags during the big fight scenes.
Godzilla gets a hell of a reintroduction here. I would say it's the best he's been treated by America thus far, but that's kind of a low bar, isn't it? The trailer for this Godzilla is better than the whole of the '98 film. I can see Edwards returning for a sequel that goes a bit Destroy All Monsters and if he does that I'm going to lose my shit a little bit. All I ask is they figure out their human characters a little more. I know it's kind of tradition for Godzilla's human characters to be exposition machines, but I think that's something you could stray from a bit and not piss off too many people.
If you don't think I'm trustworthy enough to vouch for Godzilla being treated right, let me end this with a little anecdote from the after party.
I ended up talking with producer Thomas Tull and while I was thanking him for helping me out with the tickets a Japanese man came up and Tull immediately looked nervous. “So, what did you think?” The man answered that he and his colleagues were amazed with the movie and couldn't believe how perfectly Godzilla was captured. “This is the Godzilla from my childhood.” He said this with a hand over his heart, I swear to God. Tull looked taken aback, both relieved and amazed at the same time. After the man left, Tull leaned over to me and said, “He's the head of Toho.”
Premiere after parties are always a place of much pleasantry, but you could tell both the Toho guy and Tull were really emotional about the experience and that moment was something special to witness firsthand, let me tell you.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on the flick. I'm excited to check it out again soon, if only to be with some friends and hear their reactions when Godzilla really turns shit up to 11.
I'll leave you with a cool shot of a tribute to Godzilla that was the centerpiece of the after party: