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Talk to any kaiju fan or feature creature purist and they'll defiantly proclaim there is only one true Godzilla: The aquatic dinosaur awakened and mutated by offshore US atomic bomb testing that was destroyed in the 1954 original flick. However, that film's Japanese production company, Toho, went on to feature Godzilla in over two dozen sequels and remakes spanning decades. Starting with Gojira's re-edited Americanized release, Godzilla: King of the Monsters! (1956) starring Canadian-born actor Raymond Burr, marquee highlights include King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962), Mothra Vs. Godzilla (1964), Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), Godzilla Vs. Space Godzilla (1994), and Godzilla Vs. Matthew Broderick (1998), director Roland Emmerich's notorious double Razzie Award-winning US re-imagining.
No, that last one was actually just called Godzilla - until Toho renamed it and its lizardy, egg-laying star beastie "Zilla", for the franchise's 50th anniversary big screen release, Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). Godzilla's legacy is extremely convoluted and weird. Roll with it or perish in the franchise's atomic breath. 2004 is also the year Godzilla became the only classic movie monster so far to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In this newest Godzilla, Aaron Taylor-Johnson delivers a fairly wooden but relatively decent performance as the unofficial main protagonist of this flick, leading movie goers through most of the ground-level action from his viewpoint as on-leave US Navy bomb tech Ford Brody. Ford is dragged back into his father's wild-eyed obsession over the 15-year-old Tokyo nuclear plant catastrophe that displaced and traumatized his family, only to be thrown deeper into the fray when Ford's attempts to rejoin his wife and son stateside are derailed by an unforeseen horror that escalates beyond human control. At the other end of a slim spectrum, Bryan Cranston doesn't do much but chew up his scenes with hammy, hollering, super-size crazy. As well, Ken Watanabe's character is poorly concocted as an apparently enlightened Japanese scientist, spouting vague wisdom about nature finding balance while he treasures a scorched pocket watch from Hiroshima. Intended meanings fall flat, and expectations lead to disappointment. There's so much wasted talent here, and yet that's not even the worst part.
Without much doubt, Godzilla (2014) would be an undemanding kaiju fun time if Godzilla wasn't in it. It has yelling and fleeing and great special effects. Although the characters are terribly cheesy, you get to sleuth along with an engineer and a scientist coming from different angles in investigating the truth about the same mysterious disaster. As the story progresses, you find out more about the guilty beastie at the centre of it all. No Godzilla, though. Screenwriter Max Borenstein's script feels deliberately plodding and unfocused as it attempts to be a unique Godzilla movie. However, this is as much a Godzilla movie as Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (1985) is a Godzilla movie. Neither is really about Godzilla, but Godzilla's in both. Despite Godzilla being featured prominently in this Godzilla movie's posters and trailers; barring the fact the name of this Godzilla movie is (wait for it) Godzilla, this isn't a Godzilla movie. It's a fraud-zilla movie. Once the opening credits finish cleverly rolling Godzilla's history reaching back to the 1950s, Godzilla vanishes for the first three-quarters of this movie.
Holy Fukushima, it's Godzilla with 75% less Godzilla.
This picture is an insipid tease. When a paying audience does eventually get to see this flick's titular monster, director Gareth Edwards pretty much doles trite peekaboo glimpses of the creature in the style of a burlesque fan dancer. Seriously. Presented in hindsight as a sort of self-appointed territorial guardian of the planet, Godzilla is actually sidelined and exploited as a seat-filling novelty hidden until the last act while you're force fed more of the non-Godzilla people stories and the non-Godzilla kaiju mystery. Instead of wall-to-wall Godzilla, you're given a big boring cockroach-like prehistoric bug Serizawa's been studying in secret, awakened to the modern world to feed off atomic radiation. It's called a MUTO, short for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism. Everyone on-screen is intrigued by and scared of the MUTO. Everyone watching the screen is still waiting for Godzilla to rise above all of the background noise and supporting characters that have hijacked this Godzilla movie. Turning this reboot into a lame episode that seems unwilling to overshadow its big screen predecessors with a stand-alone tale.
And, where is Godzilla during this installment? Quit nagging. You're never told. An hour-plus in, I guess Godzilla grudgingly finds an empty agenda time slot between binge watching Netflix in his underpants and maybe blogging Tofurky recipes from his fortress of solitude to miraculously appear. Like a big rubber chicken suddenly pulled in from off-camera by the hand of God at the eleventh hour, Godzilla brushes aside gauntlets of desperate military might bent on atomic destruction, and obliterates San Francisco's skyline while intercepting and fighting the MUTO. Like a 100 foot-tall Dudley Do-Right, here to save the day as a surprisingly random walk-on hero. It's goofy. And, far too little too late.
While it's great to see a hugely promoted multi-million dollar American Summer movie try to do something unique with a familiar Japanese pop culture icon such as Godzilla, the result doesn't work as a self-contained Godzilla movie and feels more like a box office bait-and-switch cash grab that tragically fails for anyone walking into this screening expecting to enjoy a story that puts Godzilla front and centre for its entirety. More a bit of contrived exploitation than a genuine reboot of the franchise, this flick is barely worth bothering with. Flee! Reviewed 05/14, © Stephen Bourne, moviequips.ca.
Godzilla is rated PG by the Ontario
Film Review Board, citing scenes containing some grotesque images
in a fantasy, comedic or historic context, use of expletives,
scenes that may cause a child brief anxiety, or fear, embracing
and kissing, and restrained portrayals of non-graphic violence,
and is rated G by la Régie du Cinéma in Québec.
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