Friday, 23 May 2014

British Politics and Gojira

TY, huffpost
Over the next 48 hours, I'm expecting the inevitable surge of political posts and blogs from my friends. Why? Because the United Kingdom Independence Party has done exceptionally well (relatively speaking) in the European Parliament and local elections, despite having dropped some interesting news bombshells over the past few weeks. On that last one, feel free to check the crime statistics; White British tends to commit a hell of a lot of them.

So rather than wax lyrical about something that the media's going to pound into your face for the next month or so, let's talk about motherfucking Godzilla - specifically, the critical reception. Spoilers are inevitable, but I will try to mark them out.

Did you know the Sun did a double page
spread of the tsunami with GODZILLA on it
I'm a huge fan of summer blockbusters; they're big, stupid and visually beautiful, and Godzilla was no exception. Kaiju films are something I know plenty about, but the bug never really bit me until Pacific Rim came out. Everything from the soundtrack to the visuals clicked into a big, stupid, visually beautiful 2 hour beat-down featuring one of my favourite British actors, Idris Elba. I could wax lyrical about it.

Instead let's talk Metacritic, and the lowly 62 score Godzilla has at time of me publishing this blog. Noah has a higher score at 68 for crying out loud. It's not all bad; a user score of 7.5 is nearer the mark but in a film as brutally faithful to the source material as Godzilla 2014, something's amiss here.

It’s always fun to watch scaly, skyscraper-size behemoths lay waste to civilization, but a bit more human drama wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Tom Huddleston from Time Out New York is clearly demented in his review, stating "It’s always fun to watch scaly, skyscraper-size behemoths lay waste to civilization, but a bit more human drama wouldn’t have gone amiss." Tom Huddleston seems to have missed the giant lizard memo. I admit the human factor suffers from World War Z syndrome, in that the expansion to silver screen has cast aside the individualism, but I'll throw Huddleston a bone here. The real fault is that the human drama is a bit shit. The main actor, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, is out of his element and the superb first thirty minutes highlight the problems; you can hand that to Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe. The latter does an excellent fly-catching impression with his mouth, but dammit if he can't nail those one liners. There's certainly enough drama, and while it meanders through good and bad the collective result is 'it'll do'.

The classic Gojira. Less hench.
Only the very weakest or strongest material goes for the throat

On the other end of the spectrum, there's the similarly recently-escaped-from-Bedlam Richard Corliss who drops a real hum-zinger, stating that "Edwards’ Godzilla dawdles toward its Doomsday climax; the movie could win a prize for Least Stuff Happening in the First Two-Thirds of an Action Film." Fuck me Corliss, I'll admit Alien was a tension-filled nightmare fest but it took its sweet time getting there, and so do many films of top-notch calibre. Equally, I can see what Corliss is on about. The human drama and the Kaiju drama don't mesh neatly, if at all. There's a nigh-obsessive gunwank occurring throughout the film with the American military masochistically getting slaughtered and rendered totally impotent. That's fine, but it's not a plot device except in the weakest of films (i.e. Battle Los Angeles).

What about the users? Well, the repeated rant is that Godzilla doesn't get to the point.

So what the fresh hell is going on? My guess is a two-pronged problem. There's a thing in DJing that's considered to be the fine art of keeping a crowd tense for that one amazing tune by constantly dropping in key bits of the song. Pendulum's Blood Sugar introduction, Psy's Gangnam Style's op, op-op - you know the kind of thing. You tease the crowd so when they get their inevitable payoff, it's all the more cathartic. You see the same thing in horror; build tension, build tension, false alarm, build tension, scary thing, rinse and repeat. Only the very weakest or strongest material goes for the throat.

Giant mechs, always a hard act to follow.
The problem is that Godzilla 2014 is ballsy because of this. Major spoilers COD4 style, It kills Bryan Cranston within 15 minutes. It does insane tension builds and then says 'fuck you, it's a seagull', and it hints and hints at an epic fight 3 times before it actually occurs. I admit, it's not the best fight, but dropping in the classic fire breathing thing? Sublime, awesome, and totally unexpected. It takes real skill for that to work, and to be frank, it misses the mark. Major spoilers over. 

This is what makes Godzilla both subtle and borderline arrogant; it takes an approach to tension and development that is incredibly slow boil that fails to appease (and in a way, pander) to audience expectations of immediate wish fulfilment. Yes, Godzilla takes an hour to appear but when he does, it's all the more powerful. Pacific Rim could pull off starting big because it could always go bigger - plasma cannons, swords, heavy ordnance, more robots - but in Godzilla we're all waiting for one thing; the Mutos and Godzilla to duke it out. Whether the time taken for that to occur is worth it is down to you as an individual - I'll admit the first 30 minutes of the film were by far and away the strongest, but it was a good ride nonetheless. If it were up to me, I'd have gone the much creepier route and made the Muto way, way more powerful and concentrated on the human thing to the extreme, making it encompass the classic force-of-nature Gojira material - then an insane fight to finish. But hey, there's always Godzilla 2, right?

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