Mladen and Del review ‘Godzilla Minus One’

Image courtesy of Toho Studios.

Starring Minami Hamabe as Noriko Oishi; Ryunosuke Kamiki as whiny Koichi Shikishima; Sakura Ando as Sumiko Ota; Kuranosuke Sasaki as Quint, ah, Yoji Akitsu; Munetaka Aoki as Sosaku Tachibana; Hidetaka Yoshioka as Hooper, ah, Kenji Noda; and a toddler who cried as needed, among others. Directed by Takashi Yamazaki. Rated PG-13. Two hours, 4 minutes in length. Theatrical release.

Mladen’s take

“Godzilla Minus One” ain’t no “Shin Godzilla” but it’ll do. My concern is that Toho Studio’s new filmmaking philosophy is to render Godzilla movies more people-centric, rather than monster-focused, to draw more theatergoers and yen. How do I know? Because “Godzilla Minus One,” which is a crappy title for the movie, by the way, has trounced all of its other Godzilla releases at the Japanese and global box offices.

I concede that I almost fell into Toho’s people matter trap, which Del, no doubt, willingly threw himself into. Hamabe’s Noriko and Ando’s Sumiko are terrific in the film and, well, stunning, as in pretty as heck. Their presence almost offset our hero’s whimpering demeanor. All I could think about when Kamiki’s PTSD-ed former Zero fighter pilot Shikishima was on the screen was how much he reminded me of self-loathing, angst-ridden, crybaby Shinji in the “Evangelion” franchise.

“G -1.0” is a reboot of the reboot (“Shin Godzilla,” 2016) of 1954’s “Gojira.” Where “Shin Godzilla” was an innovative and imaginative rework of the heralded kaiju, “G -1.0” is a true-blue re-tell of “Gojira” down to scenes like the attack on a commuter train and a structure used by radio reporters describing Godzilla’s rampage toppling. Oh, the film’s ending is wanky, albeit intriguing. 

Am I a disappointed Godzilla fanboy? No. “G -1.0” is a very good movie. When the monster appears, the action is fabulous, though derivative. Shades of “Jaws” and even the MonsterVerse’s “Godzilla vs Kong” flow through “G -1.0.” But, oh, boy, the battle between the newest Godzilla and former Imperial Japanese Navy heavy cruiser Takao is something to behold. The ship’s fate is a combination of HMS Hood, USS Arizona, and IJN aircraft carrier Akagi exploding. That scene, when I play it again and again on my home theater using a 4K disc, will be so loud that my neighbor’s will call the PD to file noise complaints. Just you wait. 

Most importantly, “G -1.0” pays tribute to Akira Ifukube’s iconic Gojira score, as well as director Ishiro Honda’s vision of the monster. Hell, Tokyo’s Shinagawa ward is featured but, regrettably, there’s nary a Serizawa in the film. Still, there’s no question that you’re watching the real Godzilla, Toho’s Godzilla, rather than the non-real Godzilla, which is now that rambunctious, no-charisma, no-lineage creature of the MonsterVerse.

Yeah, go see “Godzilla Minus One” at the theater. Make sure it’s a Dolby or IMAX venue because this movie demands a sound system like no other. You Godzilla amateurs will love the people story in the film and you fanboys will get just enough G to look forward to Toho’s next release. My hope for, I don’t know, “Godzilla Plus One,” is that Toho mimics a sci-fi kaiju movie that takes its cue from Jordan Peele’s “Nope,” also somewhat of a dumb name for a film. “Nope” achieved a right smart balance between captivating humans and a fresh, big-ass monster. But it can’t be interpreted as a movie about people with the kaiju playing a supporting role.

Del’s take

“Godzilla Minus One” isn’t your grandfather’s Godzilla.

Critics and moviegoers are raving about Toho Studio’s latest iteration of the iconic lizard. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 4.8 out of 5 rating, Simon Abrams of calls it a “well-calibrated popcorn movie,” and The Guardian says it’s one of the very best of the Godzilla series, giving it 5 out of 6 stars.

High praise indeed. So why was I so bored?

Which isn’t to say “Godzilla Minus One” is a crappy movie. It’s quite good, and Mladen, proving once again that even a blind squirrel can sometimes find a nut, rightly encourages moviegoers to see it in a theater, preferably an IMAX, to make better use of its sprawling 2.39: 1 aspect ratio. Oh, and don’t forget the Dolby surround sound.

And kudos to Toho Studios for trying to address the human quotient in its Godzilla equation, which in the past was relegated to comical stereotypes that served no purpose than to lecture the audience about whatever denunciation-worthy subject was trending at the time of filming. Don’t listen to Mladen’s crabbing about people-centric vs. monster-focused – he was long ago absorbed by an alien pod and no longer possesses human emotions.

Sure, the movie’s about a giant monster that flattens part of Tokyo. But it’s about a lot of other things, too – for instance, national identity, and the role of bushido, the honor code, in postwar Japan. The movie’s protagonist, Koichi Shikishima (played by Ryunosuke Kamiki) is a World War II kamikaze pilot who chickened out, which makes him a disgrace to himself and a traitor to his people. He lands his plane on Odo Island, where he’s exposed as a coward by members of the garrison stationed there. Later, he fails to act in a crisis and several men are killed, and his status as coward is cemented. He spends the rest of the movie trying to atone for that sin.

“Godzilla Minus One” is surprisingly candid in addressing issues of postwar sentiment in Japan vs. prewar militancy and honor, which steered me away from my traditional interpretation of Godzilla as a metaphor for the hubris of science, specifically the development of the atomic bomb. It occurred to me (maybe wrongly) that the monster could be a symbol of the United States itself, a behemoth that descends on a moral, honorable Japan and wreaks destruction without regard to who or what was deserving of such treatment.

But the movie has its problems. The first act is excruciatingly slowed by character development – not even interesting character development. I found myself propping my head on my hand, awaiting the arrival of monster mayhem. And it may be a backhanded compliment to suggest “Godzilla Minus One” is the least ridiculous of the Godzilla films but still has its moments. For instance, when the movie tries to explain the absence of America in the fight against Godzilla, it suggests the United States is fearful of a Soviet response. Apparently the scriptwriters never heard of Korea or Vietnam.

The Godzilla in this movie is an angry, muscular Godzilla, shrugging off the slow evolution that has taken place since 1954 when the monster first appeared as a symbol of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to more recent times as Godzilla became a kind of benevolent protector from kaiju thuggery. FX are top-notch and the destruction is worthy of a Roland Emmerich film. I loved Godzilla’s radioactive breath, which set off spectacular, nuclear-like explosions. Very cool!

Also, I was impressed with Naoki Sato’s score, a perfectly calibrated synthesis of wonder and horror as the monster wreaks havoc on Tokyo’s Ginza. Yet it made room for elements of Akira Ifukube’s original “Gojira” theme, offered as a deserved homage.

Overall I’d give “Godzilla Minus One” a grade of A-. It’s an attempt to modernize the monster mythos while honoring its roots. Apart from a slow first act and a few sillies thrown in – what would a Godzilla movie be without a few sillies – it’s a good monster movie.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros. and Toho.

“Godzilla vs. Kong” Starring Alexander Skarsgard, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Shun Oguri and others. Directed by Adam Wingard. 113 minutes. Rated PG-13. Theaters and HBO Max.

Del’s take

It’s quite the compliment to the Florida Panhandle that “Godzilla vs. Kong” opens with the king of the kaiju unleashing radioactive hell on the Apex Cybernetics facility in Pensacola, though I doubt the Chamber of Commerce is holding mixers to revel in its newfound celebrity. Still, it’s cool for us nerdists and might help the next Pensacon recruit some real celebrity muscle.

Meanwhile, that maiden salvo of destructo-porn sets the pace for this third installment of the “new” Godzilla, who in my book looks a lot less charming or even convincing than the original guy in the rubber suit. Freshened up with modern FX and a 21st century sensibility, Godzilla stomps onto the screen as an avenging angel out to punish mankind for making such a sloppy mess of the Earth. But then he’s always done that.

Next you’ve got Kong, the giant ape, who has received an updated and politically correct sentience PLUS a sense of morality to boot. When the two square off it’s not a clash of titans but a clash of value systems, with an evil corporation – yes, there’s always an evil corporation – operating as the fulcrum for the conflict.

“Godzilla vs. Kong” is the story – well, it’s three stories really – of Kong’s attempt to finally go “home,” Godzilla’s attempt to make sure he remains at the top of the apex predator heap and Apex Cybernetics’ attempt to obtain a new and powerful energy source that will allow them to engage full-throttle in various evil, shadowy, corporation-y things.

The particulars are a lot more confusing and I will go into them only to the extent of setting the stage: The Apex Corporation has discovered a new source of energy in a hollow realm at the center of the Earth and needs this energy to adequately power a “project” it is working on. It hires expert Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) to lead an expedition there, assisted by Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her hearing-impaired daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who are studying Kong. Apex needs Kong to show them the source of this new energy. Meanwhile, Godzilla, responding to its natural imperative to be the biggest and baddest monster of ’em all, senses the presence of Kong and goes on the offensive, much to the chagrin of Monarch Project scientist Mark Russell and his monster-attuned daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown). She teams up with conspiracy investigator and podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) to investigate Godzilla’s newfound aggression and whatever link that might have to Apex, and drags along her buddy Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison) as comedic ballast.

Did I mention it was complicated?

Suffice it to say that all three storylines converge and loose strings are tied after some romp ’em stomp ’em, bad-ass kaiju/Kong butt-kicking. Some of the resolutions are happy while others are merely satisfying. The point is, the viewer will have been entertained for two hours and Legendary Entertainment and Warner Brothers will have earned another $200 million, which should keep the lights on over the next few weeks.

The performances are all good. I would single out young Kaylee Hottle as Jia, the remaining member of a tribe that was extinguished on Skull Island by a natural disaster, as the showcase of the lot. She and Kong were kindred spirits in loss, and her performance effectively portrayed that subtextual link in their relationship.

The rest of the movie was not as compelling. The original “Godzilla” exhibited a kind of primeval ferocity that has endured over the past 66 years and inspired countless sequels and remakes, most of which traded the animal nobility of the original for cheap yucks and self-parody. The modern iterations – “Godzilla,” “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” and now “Godzilla vs. Kong” – exchange parody for politically correct, touchy feely emotional imperatives that are no more satisfying to the palate than a quivering plate of tofu prime rib.

What saves “Godzilla vs. Kong” are the spectacular special effects, the fight scenes between Kong and Godzilla, and Kong’s humanity, which worked a lot better than it should have. It really felt like Kong was one of the characters and not merely a CGI-generated killer ape.

If the story had been as strong as the acting and special effects, I’d give the movie an A. As it is, “Godzilla vs. Kong” gets a B. It’s better than some other B-graded movies but not as good as others, and I think that’s fair. I can’t advise you to see the movie in a theater in the middle of a global pandemic, but I expect it’s a visual spectacle on the big screen.

Mladen’s take

“Godzilla vs. Kong” is a bonkers movie. Del’s modulated review of the film is, ah, too modulated. Because “G v. K” is utterly bonkers, the film deserves an extreme grade, A or F. But, because I saw the movie at an Imax theater my perception has been distorted. Let me tell you, Imax sound makes my fairly sophisticated, newish AVR-driven, 7.1 surround-sound system sound like an AM broadcast from 1930.

“G v. K” is an F, if you’re interested in a story that links the Monsterverse’s previous three movies to its fourth. I was insulted by the film’s flimsy, disingenuous effort to make it seem part of a continuity. Particularly distasteful was the improper dose of homage to the name of Serizawa. Depending on my mood, I may even characterize it as insulting. The physics of Hollow Earth is bonkers. Godzilla and Kong balancing while they fight on a ship that’s, I don’t know, a magnitude lighter and significantly less wide than the beasts are tall is bonkers. G and K fall overboard to fight underwater and the humans try to help Kong by launching Hedgehog-like depth charges to disorient the reptile and it worked. Bonkers. Why wouldn’t Kong get disoriented, too, and continue on his merry way to drowning? Huh? If the Kong whisperers were worried about Godzilla sniffing out Kong if the ape left his Skull Island containment facility, why would they transport Kong by boat across the Pacific? Godzilla is amphibious. Godzilla lives in the ocean. Godzilla has, apparently, extrasensory power to detect an Alpha interloper. Transport by water was bonkers. Hell, a few scenes later, the humans are moving the ape to Antarctica via sling and a lot of helicopters. Bonkers storytelling to the left of me. Bonkers storytelling to the right. I bonked my head a few times to orient myself to the insane worldbuilding, the deconstruction of the storyline in the preceding three Godzilla films, or the uselessness of the daughter of the bad guy. What the hell happened to the eco-terrorist dude in “Godzilla: King of Monsters” who bought a severed Ghidorah head from some down-on-their luck fishermen?

In the areas – vision, plot, script writing, directing – that make or break a movie, “G v. K” is sheer F-ness. Really. No joke. I’m serious. The fact that the visual and sound effects are so good augments the F-ness. It’s clear that producers and the director thought they could substitute coherence and the internal logic an impossible movie premise must generate for a lot of spectacular FX fighting and some damn fine sound effects. The soundtrack is good as is most of the acting. Where Del the modulator gives the kid in the film kudos, I bow to Rebecca Hall’s Andrews. Her delivery of lines and an assortment of gestures help mitigate the harshness of the dys-reality of the realm created in G v. K. Hall did for “G v. K” what Mila Kunis’s Jupiter did for “Jupiter Ascending,” plausibly explain or soften the absurdity of what unfolds on the screen. 

Yes, I’ll probably see “G v. K” in an Imax theater, again. Yes, I’ll buy the movie in Blu-ray format when it becomes available. But, listen to me, “G v. K” is crappy, unless you’re sound-o-phile.         

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of Warner Brothers.

“Godzilla” Starring Aaron Taylor Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Brian Cranston. Directed by Gareth Edwards. 123 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Mladen’s take:

The obvious first. The new Godzilla film stinks. Don’t let Del’s opinion fool you. He doesn’t know Godzilla from Godthab … the capital of Greenland.

Discussing the movie’s plot and acting is pointless because its star is nothing more than Godzilla-like. For example, I’m Brad Pitt-like because I’m an upright walking biped.

So, let’s talk monster morphology and physiology from a purist’s perspective.

I’ll use Toho Studio’s last major Godzilla type, the one that debuted in the film “Godzilla 2000.” It’s labeled AG for “Authentic Godzilla.” The Godzilla-like animal in the new film is “Poser.”

Godzilla from afar.

• AG: An upright walking monster with distinct body parts, such as a neck, prominent spine plates mimicking curved blades, and contoured limbs. The tail is longer than AG is tall.

• Poser: A hunched garden slug-like silhouette with a small head attached to an anorexic body that terminates in legs with, get this, cankles. Its back plates are stunted and the tail short, almost stubby.

Godzilla up close.

• AG: Sleek, cat-like head large, expressive eyes looking forward and a mouth featuring large, expressive canines.

• Poser: Small head with nearly colorless beads for eyes tucked into a puffy face, as though the animal was dehydrated from an all-night drinking party. Put together, the face is a blur with its major components – snout, forehead, and jaw – blending into each other almost indistinguishably.

Godzilla’s fire breath.

• AG: A searing plasma, white-amber in color and liquid in texture, projected from the monster’s mouth. It’s launched with a head movement. AG’s head rotates sideways 30, 40 degrees and then juts forward. The monster sometimes takes a step toward its target, maybe to brace against the death ray’s recoil. When the fire breath hits, it explodes, engulfing the target. It is preceded by the spine plates glowing the same vivid color. They heat the air around them, causing convection currents.

• Poser: A feeble blue that looks like its origin is a LED light someone stuck into Poser’s throat. Come on, the death ray is supposed to be generated by nuclear fission, not your local electric company. The spines glow the same soothing blue. There’s nothing intimidating about Poser’s fire breath attack and it barely damages the critter it’s fighting.

A caveat before I address Godzilla’s signature physiological trait, the one that stays the same no matter the monster’s Toho iterations. It could have rescued the new Godzilla film, though the creature’s morphology was sullied.

I appreciate the director taking Godzilla seriously. The monster isn’t mocked as it was in the other Hollywood re-make of Godzilla starring Matthew Broderick. And, there a couple of deferential nods to the Godzilla franchise’s early years.

That three, let alone one, giant monster, can exist today is treated plausibly and sincerely. The acting wasn’t bad and the plot good. 

It’s just tough for me to accept that there’s not enough imagination out there in moviemaking land despite the graphics computing power available to modern-day producers and directors to render a classic Godzilla as a force of nature by making it look, well, natural and fearsome and indestructible.

Okay, now the one indelible physiological must for all Godzillas: its roar-screech.

• AG: A growling rumble rapidly ascending in pitch to a banshee wail that then trails off. I don’t know, it’s the sound of a titanium spike scraping across a steel ingot with the frequency slowed and amplified. Or, the roar-screech mimics an elephant’s trumpet inside an echo chamber that amplifies lower tones, while distorting all of the sound.

• Poser: A grizzly bear with laryngitis.

I give the new Godzilla an A for effort and C+ for execution.

And, I’m still trying to figure out why Godzilla faints near the end of the movie. Was it tired from its battle against the other monsters, which resembled a cross between the Gyaos in Gamera movies and the alien invader in “Cloverfield.”

Or, was the director trying to build sympathy for the monster by making it look like it had died to save mankind?

If it was the latter, the director failed because he never developed Godzilla’s personality and, believe me when I say, Godzilla in past renditions had a lot of it.   

Del’s take:

I broke Mladen’s heart because I wouldn’t come to his house and listen to a proper Godzilla roar in Dolby SurroundSound.

Sorry, Mladen. Godzilla’s roar, or whether he was fat, or if his head was too small, weren’t on my list of priorities.

What I wanted from “Godzilla” is what I want from every movie – interesting characters who generate empathy, a decent plot, dialogue that works, and a set of rules consistent with the movie’s internal logic.

What I got was boring characters about whom I cared little, a bullet-riddled plot, flat-affect dialogue, and a set of rules that were indeed consistent with the movie’s absurd internal logic.

“Godzilla” opens with a cool segment of backstory: The Pacific nuclear “tests” of the 1940s and ’50s were attempts to kill the giant serpent. The movie then segues to a Fukishima-style disaster at a nuclear facility in Japan. Brian Cranston’s character is the director of the facility, and during the disaster his wife dies in a reactor breach. Jump to today – Cranston’s son, played by Aaron Taylor Johnson, is an explosive ordnance disposal technician who flies to Japan to bail his father out of jail. Seems daddy believes Japanese authorities are hiding something at the reactor disaster site and he’s right – a giant monster has been feeding on the radiation and springs into the world – make that “stomps” – just as Cranston and son arrive at the site.

What follows is a jaunt halfway across the world as the monster makes its way to Yucca Mountain, America’s nuclear waste disposal site (which, by the way, contains no nuclear waste, as its commission was halted by the Obama administration) to meet up with a second MUTO (massive unidentified terrestrial organism) and hatch a batch of monster babies (totally overlooking the two Diablo Canyon nuclear facilities between Los Angeles and San Francisco).

Luckily for mankind, Godzilla is in pursuit as its place as the top alpha predator is threatened by the MUTOs (which bear more than a family resemblance to the monster in “Cloverfield”).

Cranston is able to imbue his role with emotion, but Johnson and Olsen spend most of the film gazing dumbly into the distance. They simply have nothing to say, and it was impossible for me to develop any affection for either. A Japanese scientist, played by Ken Watanabe, is kept by the military as an adviser, but spends most of his time mouthing gassy admonitions about the perils of pissing off Mother Nature.

The characters are wasted.

Special effects are superb, though I grew tired of the gray and brown color palette. The score is at times shrieky, helping the action on the screen to lapse into farce. Edwards’ directorial style is interesting, though I’d say he relied to heavily on foreshadowing. After we’ve seen the monsters, there’s no point in showing us the aftermath of their rampages. Let’s see the buildings tumble!

To me, Godzilla is a metaphor for whatever issue rules the day – nuclear warfare, man tampering with nature, you name it.

But in “Godzilla,” the monster strikes me as a metaphor for the inability of modern storytellers to tell a decent tale.

Overall, I’d rate it a C+.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a journalist and author.