This is going to be long, because I procrastinated on The Amazing Spider-Man 2 review, and now I’m trying to kill two birds with one stone. So bear with me. All the spoilers ahead.
Let’s start with Godzilla, already one of my favourite movies of the year.
I usually eschew monster movies
because I’m not a little boy because I’m not the kind to revel in the spectacle of ugly beasts having a showdown (ugly beasts including but not limited to zombies, nightmare serial killers, aliens and predators). BUT, occasionally, I’m willing to stick my head out if the movie looks good enough. And Godzilla is more than good enough, it’s GREAT. It delivered everything the trailers promised: a stunning, atmospheric, thrilling panorama of destruction and monstrous fights (in every sense of the word), that frivolous things like preferences don’t matter, because this was worth *every second*. Even the parts which didn’t make sense. It’s like Jurassic Park — terrifying as hell, but a pop cultural milestone that no one who cares about movies should miss.
Here’s the trailer again for your appreciation:
The film is *so* beautifully shot, parts of which are already glimpsed in the trailer. The sudden silence after all the lights went out, broken by the *pop* *pop* *pop* of the soldiers shooting the red smoke grenades — which provide such elegant contrast against the darkness — and the camera following their trajectory to reveal parts of Godzilla. The fight brought to the airport with the airplanes exploding in a domino effect. The halo jump into the ravaged city from Ford’s perspective (again with the trailing red smoke from each parajumper), to the sound of his breathing through the mask and a ratcheting tension-filled score the lower they descend. Etc. etc.
I also loved the opening credits, which interwove the cast and crew names in redacted reports of Godzilla sightings over newsreel footage of the preparation and detonation of a nuclear bomb in 1954. I have never been so interested in reading opening credits before.
An hour passes before you get a full view of the eponymous creature, and only at the end is there an extended climatic showdown, but it works. If you had seen Godzilla any earlier, there is a high chance of getting monster fatigue. As it is, the fight at the end is so long it already feels interminable; because though we get ringside seats to only the final, literal deathmatch, the monsters have actually been wreaking a trail of destruction for the entire movie, even if we mostly see only the aftermath, and so I was more than ready for them to stop. Teasing us with brief footage of their skirmishes through news reports — a smaller screen within the screen — makes the full-frontal clash of the titans pay off where it matters, to maximum effect.
Unfortunately, so much focus has been placed on creating the monsters that the filmmakers forgot about developing compelling human characters and meaningful stakes too. (They do try, with the aid of several well-placed children in danger, but those feel cheap and contrived as a result.) Bryan Cranston gives an impassioned performance as Joe Brody, the grieving scientist convinced of a government cover-up in the nuclear plant collapse that killed his wife (Juliette Binoche), but he’s taken out of commission early in the game, which came as a surprise because I thought *he* was the main character.
The baton is passed on to his son Ford instead (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who is, alas, not particularly impressive here), whose arduous journey back home to his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son you are supposed to care about, but I didn’t, because I was too busy marvelling at his enormous luck (or lack of) in embarking on a route that places him smack in the middle of every single M.U.T.O. (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) attack.
The rest of the characters feel little more than glorified extras, though there are several distinguished names in the cast. I love Ken Watanabe, but his sole purpose here seems to be delivering dialogue in an accent I swear wasn’t so incomprehensible before, and standing around gaping in shock. (Or as one film critic calls it, “The Spielberg Face”. On a side note: I noticed the first, third and fifth trope in that link when watching the movie! Though I didn’t recall immediately that they were all from Steven Spielberg films.)
In addition, the plot is filled with holes that regrettably cannot be glossed over even with gorgeous cinematography and epic monster fights. Firstly, if the M.U.T.O. hatched and managed to escape from the Philippines to wreak havoc on the nuclear plant in Japan in 1999, how did the scientists wrangle it back into a chrysalis in which it would remain for the next 15 years?
The military also made tons of ludicrous mistakes, the foremost being their plan to unleash a nuclear bomb on monsters which FEED on radiation, as their solution for getting rid of them. (They gave some weirdass explanation which I didn’t quite catch, but the gist of it doesn’t make sense anyway, because huh? Why would you want to give it more fuel!) It makes as much sense as the scientists letting the dormant M.U.T.O. feed on the radiation from the destroyed nuclear plant so they can study it, instead of bombing it straight to hell the first chance they got. (Insert quote about the arrogance of man thinking nature is in his control, yadda yadda.)
Also, why haven’t all those people caught in the radiation leak of the initial collapse of the power plant (which includes Joe and Ford Brody) died yet? If the M.U.T.O.s feed on radiation, why were they weakened by Godzilla’s atomic breath? Why did Godzilla unleash his atomic breath so late in the game? Actually, why was Godzilla so helpful to the humans, considering they tried to kill him off in 1954? Plus, everyone who survived the attack at the end is probably going to end up dying horribly of radiation poisoning, given the proximity of the bomb to the city when it exploded.
Yet, in spite these gaping plot holes, I can’t find myself to care, because the film looks so stunning, and the monster sequences are superb and effective. I’m finding it very hard to take the opinions of people who dislike the movie seriously, especially if they complain about having too little Godzilla in it, since it is my very biased opinion that they have no taste whatsoever. If they want a show with tons of in-your-FACE monster battles, they can watch Pacific Rim.
In contrast, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is… well, not as bad as the critics have been proclaiming, but nowhere near my favourite superhero movies either. The visual effects are undoubtedly amazing — re: the slow-mo Spider-sense shot of him going up the bleachers in Times Square and saving the people, as well as the fight with Electro at the power plant — and Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have such palpable chemistry it is no wonder they took their relationship off-screen and are dating in real life. The scenes focusing on just the two of them will fit just as well in a rom-com; and the song in the music video below, which I fell in love with immediately when it played during their amicable meeting after the break-up, is one of the many things that emphasise that angle.
However, I have a major beef with Electro as a villain. The whole concept of the character feels too over-the-top, even for a supervillain. (I tried imagining Samuel L. Jackson or Michael Fassbender as Electro, and decided even they couldn’t have made him cool, so it probably isn’t Jamie Foxx’s fault.) This is a guy so downtrodden and neurotic when we first meet him that I already have trouble liking him in the first place. And then he unluckily falls into a vat of ELECTRIC EELS, doesn’t die, and turns into a naked blue man crackling with electricity. Which is just plain *weird*, and doesn’t look at all cool, even though I’m sure the visual effects artists worked very hard on making him look right — or as right as naked glowing blue men can look anyway.
Also, due to the slight similarity in powers, Jamie Foxx seems to have modelled Electro after Emperor Palpatine, himself a prime example of an exaggerated character — fingers stretched out like he’s playing the piano, zapping electricity at his enemies whilst cackling with glee. I really feel Jamie Foxx wasn’t well-used here. Neither was Paul Giamatti, who played what can only be kindly called an overblown caricature of a villain in his 5-minute turn as the Rhino. I don’t know why he even bothered signing on for the movie.
Dane DeHaan is slightly better as Harry Osborn/the Green Goblin, but his arc took several sharp turns to get from Peter Parker’s best friend to archenemy in like 30 minutes. He also looks really weird. Seriously, he looks born to play a villain, in the same way that Andrew Garfield looks like a perpetual teenager, even though the latter is already 30. This role really suits him to a T.
Because my friend inadvertently spoiled the ending for me — in one of the rare few times that I *didn’t* actually ask for spoilers — I didn’t feel the punch in the gut when Gwen Stacy died. (With all the foreshadowing, I might have guessed it myself; but I would have liked to be given that choice.) Nevertheless, it was still terribly sad, because her relationship with Peter was the best thing in this movie. Sony Pictures better pray they find another charismatic star in whomever plays Mary Jane Watson, because Emma Stone has raised the bar for romantic leads.
In box office news, Godzilla narrowly broke The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s opening weekend record for this summer (US$93.2 million vs US$91.6 million), and it had the biggest opening day of this year so far (US$38.5 million), far exceeding expectations by at least 50% (the movie had been tracking for a US$60 million plus opening). I’m glad, because it is the better movie and it deserves to. Of course, the record will be broken again this weekend by X-Men: Days of Future Past, and possibly by Transformers: Age of Extinction next month; but at least Godzilla has gotten all the good buzz and will earn the tons of money that this beautiful, beautiful film merits.