Chinese owned Legendary Media recently put out a new Godzilla flick with a big Hollywood budget and assembled under Toho supervision. The film is being, like many other films these past few years, suffering a divide between negative reviews from Anglophone critics and glowing reviews from lay viewers. Of course we live in a time where through mass market rent seeking, Disney has built a change sucking vaccum that manages to bathe in favorable "professional" reviews while putting out finished products with declining visual quality1 including computer generated animations sequences that bear little resemblance to "live action" as the term could be understood.
I took the Peruana to see the first 3D showing in the country yesterday. There were ~9 heads total in the auditorium though in fairness a 17:00 Thursday afternoon showing isn't going to draw a crowd here. To get to the verdict on the film, there's some context to wade through first.
Godzilla Final Wars - 2004
The last of the actor in suit films, this is the product of decades of very typically Japanese making the product more extreme than its predecessors in every dimension at the same time. The humans are in an indeterminate future where Japan is very incredibly important, dominating the world government and fielding airship/submarine/drill captained by a token Gringo Captain Coolie. The world government ends up being a reptillian plot which the Japanese and their Gringo Captain Coolie must save the world from through submission to Godzilla.
While the majority of the spoken language is Japanese, there are substantial stretches of conversation in English. None of the English is subtitled, either the Japanese viewer has languages, plural or shame.
The humans, human looking reptillians and their subplot with human/reptilian hybrid slaves and Keisers serve to frame the giant monster fights, of which there are many. Creature effects are done the honest, old fashioned way with 120 pound actors putting on 200 pound foam suits of armor and taking their lives into the rest of the crew's hands.
One endearing thread in the films is the very overt, Patriotic influence which pervades the film. The shortest kaiju clash in the film is 90's American Godzilla being summarily executed by honest Japanese Godzilla via the Sydney Opera House. Every Gringo other than Don Frye's Captain Coolie is an idiot.
Despite the ridiculousness of the Human element the film can be enjoyed as the pinnacle of an art that involves putting actors in costumes several times their own weight. Had it come out in 1984 rather than 2004 it could have been an international blockbuster.
Shin Godzilla - 2016
After Final Wars flopped at the box office, it took Toho 14 years to get the balls to put out another live action Godzilla film. Except Godzilla himself is no longer live action, instead being replaced by photorealistic2 computer animation. With Godzilla doing the kaiju bit solo, this film is all human drama. Godzilla's plot is limited to making landfall as a sort of larval Godzilla with gills, learning to breath air, and sprouting arms.
Shin Godzilla is a study in bureaucracy and its ineptness. Japan, that most super of world superpowers in Final Wars has been demoted to a sort of Asian Uruguay and given an ultimatum by the evil Yankees and still more evil UN to do something about Godzilla or get nuked. The Japanese Self Defense Force and US Military using hardware that exists in the real world manage to embarrass themselves being defeated in the field. Japan is saved from nuclear attack when Godzilla gets tired and takes a nap out in the open where the Japanese manage to freeze him in situ. The film ends with Japan facing an ultimatum to make sure Godzilla stays frozen or the nukes will fly.
The obsessive look at bureaucracy makes this film a slog but it remains far more watchable than any of the recent Marvel Presents Disney Space War Princess flicks.
Godzilla King of Monsters
The film most recently viewed, and the only one viewed on the big screen. Once again the human drama is back to framing and provoking the kaiju fights. The villain is an obnoxious old woman who became estranged from the father of her children after their son was collateral damage in an earlier Kaiju incident.3 She copes with her loss by working on a MacGuffin that can engage in a sort of rough communication with Kaiju. In Spanish the equivalent would be a sound board offering three inflections of "todo bien" along with "concha de la lora", "chupa mi culo", "Ã±eri", and "una moneda para comer algo".4 The MacGuffin this flick is less magic device and more generic device that happens to be the only one that holds a recording that reassuringly says "todo bien" in Kaiju.
The old hag field tests the boom box on a larval Mothra, and as soon as she achieves success her ecoterrorist buddies storm in and kill everyone but her and her surviving biogoop. That she was one of the eco terrorists is left less than credibly ambiguous to the camera until she broadcast a speech laying out the ecoterrorist agenda around the flick's midpoint. Nevermind that she woke up King Ghidora before the reveal while she was stuck between her buddies and her ex-husband in a mundane firearms standoff. All but the most broken risk/reward evaluators in that situation would favor letting the bullets fly and any number of gunfight deaths are favorable to waking up King Ghidora.
The sad anti-social truth the "professional" critics won't take is that old woman logic demands waking up King Ghidora. No, the unbelievable part of the film involving humans is the unjustified leap in technology. The film establishes itself as a sequel to a 2014 film that didn't feature any pronounced vehicles without IRL counterparts and only takes place five years in the future. In those five years the film's producers suppose not only will the V-22 tiltrotor aircraft become the preferred method for shuttling VIPs, they can have their own flying submarine/aircraft carrier without conceding to an indefinite leap into the future as Final Wars did. When the US struggles to bring a new aircraft of a familiar type into functional condition after two decades, bringing an unfamiliar and more complex type up in five boggles the running evaluator.
Every scene with Kaiju in this film is strictly excellent cinematgraphy. There is lots of excellent photorealistic giant monster on giant monster violence. Unlike recent Disney productions5 nothing that made it to the big screen was half baked. Godzilla is terrifyingly brutal and ancient. The three headed alien yet Asian dragon King Ghidora is an awe inspiring fount of terror. Mothra is the most nighmarishly benevolent giant insect that won't plague your children's nightmares because King Ghidora and a wonderful flying lava dinosaur Rodan will be happy to take that job.
While not a contender for the best film in history,6 this is a solid contender for the best application of computer generated animation in history, and it is unlikely to be beaten anytime soon. There is one particularly spectacular sequence which zooms out on the spectacularly awful Ghidora which lit a portion of the brain invoking feelings of reverance. The actual points to nitpick the movie with went unmentioned by the "professional" critics while everything else beats its contemporaries despite the objections of the "pros" to their shame. With a ticket to see the 3D print going for the same price as a kilogram of entrecot, it was worth the price of admission for the spectacle.7 The hardware in Huawei's flagship humilates Apple's flagship and so it seems Legendary's flagship has humiliated the last several Disney flagships for merely having been edited.8
- By this I do not mean the effects age poorly. I mean the effects in newer films stand out as more jarringly sloppy than in earlier films. [↩]
- In this area Toho succeeded where Disney increasingly fails. [↩]
- Godzilla did some pest control killing some nuclear dung beetles before they could nest [↩]
- In English the limited options could be represented as "we cool?" (inquisitive), "we cool" (reassuring), "fuck this", "suck my ass", "my friend" (as said to a stranger), and a generic provocation along the lines of "you got the time". [↩]
- Including critically lauded Black Panther where the apex fight scene could have been lifted from a Playstation 2 fighting game. [↩]
- Or even of the past year [↩]
- Walking back the Peruana asked if the mom died. It seemed ambiguous so the natural answer was "Espero que sÃ" and this met with joyful laughter. [↩]
- note: Japan went from superpower in their own minds to being this mere footnote in the review. Sure there were Japanese actors in the film, but Japan? WHy would Godzilla need Japan. All Godzilla wants is your submission. [↩]