Mladen and Del review ‘Godzilla’

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.