Friday, May 30, 2014

Godzilla: Monster-bashing good, but lacking great characters

Director: Gareth Edwards
Stars: Aaron Tayler-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston

I’m not normally one for creature features, and that still holds fairly true after watching this new Godzilla flick. Gareth Edwards’ film follows the story of Ford Brody (Tayler-Johnson), a U.S. Navy soldier and explosive ordnance disposal specialist. As soon as he returns to his family after a tour of duty, he is immediately called to Japan to bail his crackpot nuclear engineer dad (Cranston) out of jail. Once the two are reunited, they search an abandoned nuclear power plant where they uncover a massive operation doing research on something (hint: it’s probably a monster). Here’s the plot twist: it IS a monster, and as soon as that one appears, two more come out of the woodwork. They fly, they swim, they fight. BOOM. Godzilla movie.

The acting in Godzilla is spot on, and the casting is superb. Going into this movie, however, a friend of mine told me to watch out for all the strong female characters in the film. As the credits rolled, I couldn’t find a single strong female character at all—except maybe the one female monster that Godzilla fights. Other than that, the women in this movie appear to be quite useless: Dr. Serizawa (Watanabe) has a female research assistant whose role is absolutely pointless, and she only wanders in his wake to look shocked, apparently. I was really hoping that Ford’s wife, Elle, was going to pick up the slack in this department, but she was incredibly disappointing. Her only purpose throughout the film was to worry and cry about Ford while not doing anything herself. Again, great acting and great casting, but it might have been the fault of the writing on this one.

Speaking of writing flaws, let’s talk about the military’s plan to lure out and kill the monsters. It’s almost halfway through the movie when we discover that Godzilla and his two monstrous adversaries feed off of radiation, whether it comes from sapping energy from a nuclear power plant or from guzzling barrels of radioactive waste. The baddie-monsters are on top of any nuclear power source like flies on a gut wagon, so what’s the military’s response? “Well, we’ve got all these nukes just sitting around…” One guy exclaimed that the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan near the end of WWII were “just firecrackers” compared to the nukes we have now, explicitly noting that nuclear weapons today aren’t measured in kilotons anymore, but megatons. So…let me get this straight. The monsters nom-nom on radiation, such as, oh, I don’t know, a bunch of nuclear weapons…and you want to use nuclear weapons against them. Why not just put the world’s nuclear arsenal out on a table with some twenty foot tall candles and let the baddies have a nice romantic dinner with a main course of radiation? This seems like a major plot hole.

The real solution to this mess was suggested by Dr. Serizawa early on: humans, just sit down, shut up, and let the grown-ups handle this (and by grown-ups, I mean the 100’ tall radiation monsters). Serizawa says that we should just let Godzilla take care of the other monsters and get the hell out of the way, which is basically what works. As Godzilla goes on the hunt to restore balance to the world by killing the other monsters, the Navy follows Godzilla as he swims the breadth of the Pacific Ocean—watching all those battleships and destroyers form up on the massive radiation-fueled reptile gave me flashbacks to the old Weekly World News tabloids where Bat-Boy joined the war on terror. Where the old Godzilla movies used the beast as a warning against the destructive power of nuclear energy and nuclear armament, this new Godzilla flick promotes the idea of human hubris: throughout the movie, humans are scurrying around making plans (and spectacularly failing at those plans) when the only thing that can stop a monster is another monster.

Thinking of the structure of the movie, the first two-thirds of the movie were rather dull, and the plot only picked up when the monsters started going at each other in the last chunk of the film. Again, the lack of strong female characters was incredibly disappointing, especially because the beginning two-thirds of the movie were all character-driven with human characters. By having a few more interesting characters, it could have been a much better movie. Another review I glanced at said that there wasn’t much action in this movie for being labeled as an action movie, and I wholeheartedly agree.

If a Godzilla II were to come out, would I go see it? Maybe, maybe not. Godzilla wasn’t a bad movie, by any stretch of the imagination, and the special effects alone were worth paying for the ticket. I even watched this movie in 3D, and that’s something I rarely do, since most 3D movies throw things at the audience, and that seems rather gimmicky to me. In the case of Godzilla, however, the 3D felt very natural—it never once pulled my attention away from the story with a stupid shot of something flying at my face. Overall, Godzilla was okay, but I don’t think I’ll be rushing to buy a copy of it later down the road. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Introduction, and the Amazing Spiderman 2 Review

Welcome to my new blog! Here, you’ll find movie reviews for newer movies from various genres (along with a healthy dose of sarcasm—no, really, a lot of sarcasm).

For the longest time, I’ve wanted to write a blog like this, but I never had the time or the ambition to do it. I took several television and film classes in college which sparked my love for film; it was never just about watching movies, though, but rather writing, filming, and acting in movies. More than anything, I just like to have fun with movies, whether it’s watching them or making them, and this is the primary focus of this blog.

The movies I like watching are normally action-based, although I like to watch a broad smattering of things. When I say action-based movies, sometimes I truly mean dyed-in-the-wool actions flicks with Arnold Schwarzenegger lumbering around and not looking at the explosions he’s caused (you know, like action heroes do). Other times, action-based movies fall more into the sci-fi or fantasy realm, but a big portion of those action-based movies I like are superhero movies.

Now that I’ve set up the perfect segue into this first post, here’s my latest viewing!

The Amazing Spiderman 2
Director: Marc Webb (oh, the puns!)
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Paul Giamatti

The Amazing Spiderman 2 follows the story of Peter Parker, a teenage boy who was bitten by a genetically-modified spider, thus giving him arachnid-like superpowers. “Spiderman” is an apt description of a superhero with arachnid-like powers. In this sequel to The Amazing Spiderman, our friendly neighborhood webslinger faces off against baddies such as Electro and the Green Goblin, both products of the evil Oscorp company.

A more apt title might have been “Spider-boy,” since the story of The Amazing Spiderman 2 devolves into a structuralist superhero plot full of teenage angst—even among those characters who aren’t even teenagers. Peter and Gwen Stacey continue their romantic fling from the first movie, though Peter is now plagued by images of Gwen’s father, killed off by the Lizard in the climactic final battle. Peter has to make the cliché decision that Tobey Maguire faced in 2004’s Spiderman 2: do I live a normal life with normal relationships, or do I accept my responsibilities as the guy who was accidentally bitten by a super-spider? We see the same double-identity crisis in almost all superhero movie sequels, such as Batman wanting to hang up his cowl and be with Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight, so I found the structural plot of The Amazing Spiderman 2 to be a bit played out.

Another played-out theme in The Amazing Spiderman 2 was the real-world grittiness that Webb was trying to spin. (Get it? Webb? Spin? I’ll show myself out later.) Webb seems to be emulating Christopher Nolan here by trying to bring that same Batman grittiness to the Spiderman universe, like how the Rhino looks like an Ironman suit (you know, shaped like a rhino). The character Spiderman seems to be geared more so toward younger audience, which seems fitting, since Peter Parker graduates from high school in the first few minutes of the film, and that Batman-esque grit doesn’t seem to fit the light-hearted, quick-witted feel of Garfield’s Peter Parker.

By trying to establish that real-world grit like Nolan, the Electro character in The Amazing Spiderman 2 annoyed me—a lot. Max Dillon, played by Jamie Foxx in the film, starts out as your run-of-the-mill electrical engineer for Oscorp, and he is saved from death one day by Spiderman. Spiderman tells Dillon something to the effect of “I need you, buddy,” and Dillon becomes obsessed with Spiderman like a teenage girl with Bieber-fever. The film attempts to set up Dillon as mentally unstable, as he plays out violent scenarios in his head and apparently hears voices (which are portrayed during the soundtrack in a corny dubstep rap). The mental instability of Electro is pushed a little too far, though, because he seems more like an unruly teenager lighting fires (or electrocuting things) for attention from Spiderman. Where Nolan’s villains like the Joker or Bane actually made me uneasy because of their lack of humanity, Electro never seemed like that much of a threat in this movie because he didn’t want to hurt anyone—he just wanted to be noticed, like an emo kid that just needed a hug.

In all honesty, I really prefer Garfield’s portrayal of Spiderman as a sharp-tongued kid when compared to Maguire’s straight-laced, one-liner superhero. With Garfield’s excellent and fun portrayal of Spiderman, along with the awesome on-screen chemistry he has with Emma Stone, the protagonist side of The Amazing Spiderman 2 was right up my alley. That being said, the antagonists of the film—the attention-seeking Electro, the daddy-issues Green Goblin, and the tacked-on Rhino—didn’t hold up their end of the movie.

Thanks for reading!