Review Roundup - Monster Miss

GODZILLA (2014)

After the fun but immensely shallow Pacific Rim, and having seen Gareth Edwards previous film Monsters the stage was set; he could build a perfect bridge between the two. His first feature's strength was it's subtle use of giant creatures as a back drop for some good human drama. While it was nothing mind blowing there was a lot of potential to be seen in the world building, the clever use of low cost effects and the misdirection of the title. The problem is that while it's true that these elements are present in his move into big budget film making, there are a number of other problems that overshadow this. In what should have been an absolute victory for the Big G having last been wasted by Hollywood in the 1990s, things don't work out. Instead of balancing the two elements, neither the spectacle or the drama is handled in a way that works.


Straight off the bat the parts done really well stand out. Brian Cranston dealing with a nuclear accident in the opening scene sets the scene for the major strengths - engaging characters with motivations that work, and tension building through growing disaster events. It would be easy to plan out a story that brings his emotionally wrecked engineer into a collision with Ken Watanabe's biologist as both are invested from differing viewpoints. But the focus shifts early on to bring a lot of one dimensional military characters instead, for reasons that are unclear. Rather than delivering on what could be dramatic scenes between these two, Cranston's son played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson comes in after the plot moves forward in time several years. His family melodrama has no weight, the character has zero personality, and to makes things worse the way the monster parts of the story unfold are written in for complete convenience from his job as a bomb disposal expert to the path of destruction managing to arrive just where he is at the time. This weakness could have been saved by pure monster power but the problems don't end here.

Introducing the idea that these are ancient animals reliving their old life cycles is a great idea, and the way things play out to reflect current world concerns in a great use of the themes from the original 1954 movie. But not once but twice, the big battle scenes are cut short. Instead of a first and second act finale to hit those beats and keep things going, cameras cut away awkwardly to show other events instead. It's cringeworthy when they decide to end a sequence early and show it on someones TV in the background of another scene, or literally close the door on an attack when survivors get into a shelter. Maybe they had financial problems? This might have been acceptable if the sequences at the very end where amazing but the problems persist and they have way too many obscured shots from the perspective of ground troops or moments shown in dark and dusty nighttime environments. The great designs are shown off several times but don't get utilised nearly enough. All the excitement is sucked out, and it's very confusing to see the build ups done right and the outcome then totally fumbled. It's hard to say what went wrong when they clearly have the tone down and know how to build up tension in several great scenes. They even manage to give the creatures some humanity in what are the best moments, playing against expectations. But it's a big shame that these are fleeting.

2/5

BONUS REVIEW
X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST


X-Men as a screen franchise has had a troubled history, so while this latest entry is thankfully a great time I am always amazed it came back from the depths of a wasted Last Stand and the shambolic Origins: Wolverine. Hitting a number of the same notes as First Class, this remains a light but fun story using the younger cast members and real world history and a stepping off point for some absurd but entertaining set pieces. In what could happily be a final note for the series, a Terminator style future filled with death and grey wastelands collides with a colourful alternate 1970s where scary robots are created by evil mustache wearing scientists. As a result there are far too many mutants, many being on screen only to display their own visually impressive powers. At this point it's clear which ones are being introduced for special effects scenes rather than characterisation. But it balances the bleak and the fun pretty well in the end, despite a lack of real focus - while First Class worked best when it was trying to be a Magneto film this could have done better being more about Mystique or Professor X. Still, it's great to hear the X2 theme again and their is a lot to like even if at times it feels episodic.

3/5