I went to see “Godzilla” mostly because, from the previews, it looked terrible, and I couldn’t imagine it not being rancid, but the reviews were surprisingly strong.
Could first looks have been deceptive? Is “Godzilla” actually, gulp, good?
No, in fact it stinks like a city with a garbage strike during a summer heatwave.
First, the positives--yes, there are a few. Godzilla, the monster himself, looks properly ferocious. Additionally, there’s a scene where a number of soldiers need to parachute from over 30,000 feet into the city of San Francisco, and it’s spectacular--the finest scene in the movie. As the camera goes onboard with one of the jumpers, and then moves around the city and sky, it’s a thrillride. Finally, Bryan Cranston, of “Breaking Bad” fame, gives a gutsy performance. He’s the best part of the film, so, of course, they kill him off relatively early.
While Cranston does yeoman’s work, the nominal star of the picture is Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who--at least not yet--is simply not a leading man capable of anchoring a big-budget summer blockbuster like this, and the film suffers because of it. In addition, Ken Watanabe--as the chief scientist--spends most of the movie spouting vague platitudes about the power of nature while staring seriously into the horizon. His assistant, the fine actress Sally Hawkins coming off an Oscar nomination last year for “Blue Jasmine,” is given absolutely nothing to do. It’s not her fault at all, but, honestly, the movie would’ve been no different had she been taken out of it completely. Finally, David Strathairn, as the navy admiral in charge, spends much of the film uttering grave solemnities and--like frequent scene partner Watanabe--staring desperately into space. (Perhaps these two fine actors are thinking, “Why am I in this turgid bomb of a movie?” as they stare.)
Though it’s only a little over two hours, the movie drags on much too long, and it takes itself way too seriously. Look, you have a giant lizard battling a pair of Massive Unidentified Terrestial Organisms (MUTOs), so the whole thing is rather ridiculous. Would it kill you to have some humor? The secret to these summer action spectacles is a little levity. That’s what the Captain America, Iron-Man, and Spider-Man, etc., series do so well. Even “The Lone Ranger,” last summer’s debacle and not a good movie by any means, was rendered watchable and at least mildly entertaining with the frequency of laugh lines.
Speaking of laughs, I also saw “Neighbors,” where Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne eventually end up in an escalating war with a fraternity--helmed by a zealous Zach Efron--that moves in (obstreperously) next door to them and their new baby. It’s filthy, but funny, and it contains one of the most riotous fight scenes--between Rogen and Efron--that I’ve seen in a movie.
Admittedly, I was Efron-agnostic before this movie. Can he really act? Is he just a beefcake special? Is he really serious? Well, I’m not sure we have answers to those questions yet, but this role is perfect for him, and he handles it with aplomb.
Byrne is also excellent, especially in a delicious scene where she attempts to cultivate a romantic attachment between Efron’s girlfriend and the frat’s vice president--played by James Franco’s younger brother, Dave Franco--who also happens to be Efron’s best friend.
Curiously, it was Rogen who I was unconvinced by; perhaps because he’s usually the immature manchild, I had difficulty accepting him as a responsible husband and new father who just wants the frat to “keep it down.” However, my colleague, Nick Cicale, also saw the film, and he has no qualms accepting Rogen in the role, so your mileage may vary.
In short, don’t waste your money on the disappointing “Godzilla.” “Neighbors” is worth seeing--although you likely don’t need to run out and spend the cash to see it in a theater--but it’s certainly not appropriate for all ages.
Ryan Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @randerson_ryan.