Godzilla Review

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History shows again and again
How nature points up the folly of men…GODZILLA! – Blue Oyster Cult

In 1954, Ishiro Honda directed one of Japan’s most defining films: Gojira (translated into “Godzilla” for western audiences). Despite the fantastical premise – a beast created by nuclear weapons attacking Japan – many consider it a not-so-thinly-veiled reflection on the bombing of Hiroshima less than ten years prior. The atomic Godzilla laid siege to Japan in a way familiar to survivors of the the attack. As such, the film is quite solemn. Strangely, the character of Godzilla was then adopted by Japan as a national icon. Films like Godzilla Raids Again (1955) and King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962) made the monster a force for good as well as destruction. The franchise got so popular that it gained prominence in America as well…which led to an American version. That sucked ass. So much ass that the idea of another American version wasn’t even considered until this year’s release of Godzilla starring Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Malcolm In The Middle) , Aaron Taylor Johnson (Kick-Ass, Nowhere Boy) and Ken Watanabe (Inception, The Last Samurai).

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I had a bit of difficulty when thinking about how to describe the premise of the film. Not because the plot is confusing or vague, but just because expectation has such a huge impact on a viewing experience. Seeing the trailers for Godzilla with the titular monster hidden in shadow and roaring at the audience communicates a film not so different from the original: monster attacks city, everyone fall down, monster fall down too. I would imagine that for the average moviegoer, a sci-fi disaster film would be the go-to for the Godzilla franchise. Instead, the film deals with the threat of another monster with similar origins to Godzilla. When it becomes obvious that man is no match for the beast, Godzilla appears to be  the only solution.

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So basically Warner Bros created another “Godzilla Vs.” film and covered it up in order to sell it to a mainstream audience. Personally, marketing like this is a pet peeve of mine. I understand that major film distributors have to reach larger audiences, but misleading the moviegoing public often makes audiences feel bamboozled. I went into this expecting a more straightforward disaster movie and was confused when it became a monster battle movie.

So did that ruin the experience? No, not really. This film does what the previous American version failed at: creating sincere emotion in spite of the fantastic concept.

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The film begins with Cranston losing a loved one due to one of the monsters. His grief incites the plot of the film as he desperately tries to figure out what happened, thus placing it in a world similar to the original film where the destruction these creatures cause isn’t a joke. Not that this stems how awesome the destruction is; pretty much from beginning to end something is fucking something else up. The film definitely delivers on monster vs monster action with only minimal human intervention. This isn’t like Transformers where somehow humans are capable of fighting monsters. Any human who tries fighting any of these things gets a quick, meaningless death. As they should.

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Visually, the film’s CG isn’t particularly groundbreaking, but definitely successful. Godzilla himself looks a bit weird since the animators valiantly attempted to incorporate a lot of the original rubber suit design. As such, if you think that Godzilla inherently looks dumb, well then he’ll probably look kind of dumb here. It’s still a great recreation of the classic design. One of the best homage scenes is when inexplicably his back plates light up in before he unleashes his atomic breath. Little touches like that show that Warner Bros sincerely wanted to make a film in the tradition of the franchise. The film doesn’t highlight it’s monster’s designs as often as you’d expect, since the monsters in the film are often obscured by darkness and particle effects. This could’ve been an attempt to get cover up possibly disappointing CG or just a way to make the monsters more scary. Either way it works to communicate the titanic proportions of the monsters.

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Like many sci-fi films, Godzilla has some difficulties when it comes to exposition. A few times in the film scientist literally stand in a circle talking about plot points. This is one of those elements that is a holdover from the original Godzilla film, which also had a good amount of straightforward exposition. On the other hand, some elements are barely explained. The dialogue implies that the film is a sequel to the 1954 film with Godzilla being a known entity, but doesn’t actually tell us much about the specifics of the creature, such as why he’s compelled to heroism. By the end of the film, Godzilla seems to be more intelligent and goal-oriented than any giant monster should be, but this isn’t really touched upon. With that being said, Godzilla’s intelligence makes for one really badass moment at the end of the film.

Final Verdict

For me, this is a decent watch. I’m not really into Godzilla, but this is a faithful iteration of the franchise. The film irked me a little for being slightly different than what the commercials communicated, but what do you expect from Hollywood nowadays. Watch this film if you like Godzilla movies or just want to see a mildly fun action film. Don’t see it if you’re not into “Godzilla Vs.” films or don’t care about Godzilla in general.

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A few lingering thoughts…

  • Is there a rule saying the military has to shoot at monsters even if it has no effect? I don’t think you get purple hearts for getting stepped on.
  • Ken Watanabe speaks perfect english yet calls the monster the japanese name “Gojira”. Even stranger is that the Americans just casually start calling him Godzilla despite NOBODY establishing the translation. Why would they even bother to translate that? Are there other monsters called Gojira we haven’t met yet?
  • Bryan Cranston at one point claims that working at the nuclear plant shouldn’t give him cancer. Irony.

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review

 

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The Amazing Spider-Man series has had some big shoes to fill. Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man (2002) was basically our generation’s Richard Donner-directed Superman (instead of, y’know, Man of Steel). It not only reinvigorated the already successful Spider-Man franchise, it legitimized superhero film in general. This led to the current explosion of superhero films and, to quote the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Baron Strucker, “the age of miracles“. With all that in mind, what could the new Spider-Man series distinguish itself beyond adding on an adjective? The first film was both familiar and different. Mark Webb and Sony Pictures used many music and visual elements from the Raimi films but created a lore that impacts each film (Peter’s parents, Oscorp Industries, etc). Probably it’s most contentious element is Peter Parker himself as played by Andrew Garfield. This Peter Parker beckons more to the Stan Lee’s original vision: a smart alecky scientist with a nerdy-but-charming way with the ladies. I wouldn’t personally call this better or worse than Tobey Maguire’s portrayal, since Raimi’s Spider-Man was meant to be more of a “classic” superhero story with a more earnest protagonist. Overall, I think The Amazing Spider-Man was a solid iteration of the franchise. So what about the second film?

The premise: High school graduate Peter Parker is having turbulence in his relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) due to her father’s last request for them to be apart. Exacerbating his woes is the return of childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane Dehaan), who believed that Spider-Man is the key to curing his family’s hereditary illness. Further exacerbating things is the arrival of the villain Electro (Jaime Foxx), yet another victim of Oscorp’s piss-poor science regulations.

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Assuming that action is the first thing viewers for looking for, this film’s got a pretty decent amount. As with the previous film, Spider-Man’s acrobatics are portrayed  as more freeform and impulsive than practiced. He doesn’t move like an acrobat, he moves like a normal guy with massive strength and agility. This really shows itself while fighting the villain Electro, who he has to combat more evasively. One can tell that Mark Webb probably got excited when he realized that Spidey’s “Spider-Sense” meant that he could use gratuitous slow-mo, which he seemingly incorporated into every scene. While somewhat cliched at this point, at least it fits here. Unfortunately, the film’s so chock full of everything that there really aren’t many action scenes in it. It appears as if the filmmakers realized that themselves, given that we’re treated to an opening action scene that doesn’t even include Spidey and “action-packed” web-making scene similar to the one from the first film.

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While the film might skimp on action, it has plenty of romance. Now normally I roll my eyes at the cliche superhero romance, but I feel that Spider-Man – as the everyman – makes more sense with a love interest that characters like Thor or Batman. It helps that Garfield and Stone have natural chemistry, probably due to actually dating each other. They both have very natural humor and wit that makes their interactions fun rather than sappy. In a scene where they’re hiding in a closet (long story) they both connect on how cliched hiding in a closet is before having a bit of seemingly unscripted kissing. Many of their scenes wouldn’t be out of place in films like 500 Days Of Summer or Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Oh that hipster love!

Despite my enjoyment of the film’s romantic elements, it ends up being part of what makes the film inconsistent tonally. While I hate to draw too many comparisons between the Raimi films, one of their strengths was that they knew what they were. They were earnest and melodramatic superhero stories without much irony. These films attempt to be more modern (Peter wears a fucking Thrasher t-shirt at one point), which makes the moments where it slips back into cliche a bit more awkward.

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For example, hollywood nerd Electro wouldn’t be out of place in Batman Forever. Foxx plays him as a nebbish scientist with an inexplicable combover who becomes obsessed with Spidey after he saves his life. One scene has him (hilariously?) celebrating his birthday alone as he talks to a picture of Spider-Man on his wall. While I appreciate the film’s attempt to give him some humanity, because the character himself has no significance thematically, he lacks the same emotional weight of Green Goblin or even Sandman from Raimi’s trilogy. The tragedy of the character seems kind of insignificant to the film’s overall narrative as he becomes a generic villain.

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Harry Osborn also seems to be in a different movie at times; it’s hard to believe that the melodramatic Harry (who has a bit of a Children of the Corn vibe) was ever friends with the more laid-back Peter. To be fair, i’m not saying that Foxx or Haan put in bad performances, i’m just saying that they don’t necessarily fit into the film as well as they could have.

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Visually, the film is as gorgeous as one would expect from a Sony film. Electro is rendered magnificently as an electrical entity. Rather than just painting him blue and calling it a day, the filmmakers took the time to conceive elements such as making his skin slightly translucent in order to portray his vein’s lighting. As he grows in power, there’s visible reds and oranges underneath his skin which give off the impression of electric combustion. It shows that the effects guys really explored the idea of how an electric man would work visually. As far as cinematography, the only thing I noticed was an intriguing inclusion of a few dutch angles (a scene shot at a tilt). I suspect that they’re included just because the 60’s Batman series decided that all superhero shows and films have to contain dutch angles. To be honest, this is more of a stray observation and has little impact.

As an overall narrative, this film is okay when focusing on any of it’s constituent parts, if not necessarily forming a coherent whole. As mentioned, the love story between Peter and Gwen is fun and makes sense in context. Electro’s story is sad despite having a secondary focus. Harry Osborn’s conflict at Oscorp is equally as sad as his sympathetic goals fail to come to fruition. Do these elements sync up? Not really. They do end up impacting each other but more through contrivance than theme. Just look at how disjointed my premise summary was. As a sequel, it’s possible that the film slightly suffers from what happened the Spider-Man 3: there were several plots that they had to get through and no one thought through how they would intersect. What makes this better than Spider-Man 3  is that these plots are all solid on their own.

Final Verdict

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a fun film with an enjoyable love story and some good action. While it’s not as focused or as action oriented as it’s predecessor, it furthers the narrative journey of Peter Parker. While I wouldn’t call this film anywhere near the depth of it’s superhero contemporaries, it does manage to entertain.

Easter Eggs

Ravencroft Institute

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The facility where Oscorp takes Electro is basically Marvel’s equivalent to Arkham Asylum, used to house crazy supervillains such as the symbiotic Carnage and master of illusion Mysterio. It’s founder was Ashley Kafka, the lead scientist in the film.

Vulture’s Wings

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When showing Oscorp’s various powered armors, one of them appears to be a harness with wings. This is based on the villain Adrian Toomes aka the Vulture, who was an old man who invented a harness that allowed him to fly.

Felicia

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Harry’s secretary Felicia is most likely a reference to the Felicia Hardy aka the Black Cat, a thief who alternated between antagonist and ally of Spider-Man. They also had a fling. This sure sounds like another cat-themed supervillain…

Smythe

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The douchey scientist played by BJ Novak is a reference to Alistar Smythe, a member of the Smythe family responsible for creating the robotic Spider-Slayers. He went a little bit further and turned himself into a spider-slayer.

For more reviews:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

American Hustle

Thor: The Dark World

Gravity

Don Jon

Riddick

Iron Man 3

Oblivion

Fast And The Furious 6

For more thoughts on Spider-Man:

The Journey of Peter Parker From Amazing Fantasy to Amazing Spider-Man

Spidey Tackles The Human Torch: Spider-Man As An Anti-Hero

10 Thankfully Obscure Spider-Man Villains

For more thoughts on superheroes:

The Lois Lane Effect

Superstitious And Cowardly Cops: Police Corruption in Gotham City

Superman As Defined By Lex Luthor

Bats In His Belfry: Batman As A Heroic Psychopath

Ben Affleck As Batman: Why So Serious?

Iron Man: Real American Hero

Three Forms Of Comedy As Seen Through Justice League

Flash: The Quintessential Superhero

Hoverboy: The Most Racist Superhero Ever

From Comic To TV: Arrow As An Adaptation of Green Arrow

10 Freaky Yet Awesome X-Men You Forgot About

10 Stupid Attempts At Rebranding Famous Comic Characters