There isn’t a movie monster as big as Godzilla, both figuratively and literally. It’s amazing, though, that a movie creature this destructive and awesome has been absent from our theaters. Outside of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim and Matthew Reeves’ Cloverfield, monster films have seemingly crept away from our shores, hiding in a deep abyss. Maybe studios felt monster films were a thing of the past, especially with today’s intensifying focus on superheroes. Or, Roland Emmerich’s 1998 abomination of a Godzilla film eradicated the public’s interest in the monster in the same way Batman and Robin soured Batman’s image. Regardless, 2014 marked the return of Japan’s most lovable fire-breathing reptile in Gareth Edward’s Godzilla. Much of Godzilla’s first act focuses on the insinuation of destruction than the act of it. Covering two separate time lines, we’re introduced to geological anomalies with sinister undertones. And in the first act, the film is distinctly focused on Joe (Bryan Cranston) and Ford (Aaron Johnson), a father and son convinced there’s a monster wading in the waters. In time, the world unceremoniously meets two ferocious creatures called MUTOs. Their existence prompts the awakening of Godzilla himself, shifting the film’s focus from humans to the terrestrial.
Impressively lensed by Seamus McGarvey, there’s an ominous beauty in every frame of Godzilla, further accentuating the destruction and wrath generated by the titular character and his new enemies. Never has a city in ruin looked so depressingly inviting. And Edwards can certainly stage action sequences that are as artful as they are thrilling. Alexandre Desplat’s tyrannical score certainly helps the proceedings, too. But the ultimate downfall of Godzilla is its human element. As I mentioned before, the first act of Godzilla is solely dedicated to the human struggle and exposition. Led by a fantastic Bryan Cranston, he relentlessly makes us feel his character’s pain, Edwards imbues the film with an overpowering sense of dread. When Cranston exits the picture and the mega monsters appear, it’s a reasonable trade on paper, as Godzilla’s presence is wildly engrossing. The problem with Godzilla’s screen power is it overshadows the human characters who are frantically avoiding his malicious battle with the MUTOs. Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, and Sally Hawkins are all terrific actors left with nothing better to do than spout science laden dialog or tremble in fear, all while Aaron Johnson assumes the lead role with the charisma of an empty box. Johnson’s blank, docile stare stifles the film’s sense of awe. Although there’s enough goodwill created in this film to call for a sequel, Godzilla is unsuspectingly done in not by human firepower or ingenuity, but their blandness.
The Interview (3.25/5)
After North Korea allegedly breached Sony’s security systems and released a treasure trove of embarrassing sensitive information, Seth Rogen and James Franco’s The Interview evolved from a stupid comedy into a political touchstone. Suddenly, the guys who brought you Jonah Hill being raped by a demon in This is the End, were, if only momentarily, defiant provocateurs spitting in the face of a ridiculous regime. Outside of North Korea’s shallow posturing, the most ridiculous aspect of The Interview phenomenon was that very few people had even seen it. At the time it only screened for a hand full of critics, so it’s dumbfounding how much notoriety it attained in spite of being an unknown commodity. The film begins with a simple premise: Dave Skylark (James Franco) is a shallow, putrid celebrity interviewer concerned with generating tabloid fodder over crafting worthwhile conversation. Dave’s producer, Aaron (Seth Rogen), has bigger aspirations than celebrity schlock. Enter in Kim Jong un (Randall Park), a massive fan of Skylark’s, who wants the grinning idiot to interview him. Aaron sees his shot at legitimacy. Skylark and Aaron prepare for a meeting with North Korea’s fearless leader, until the CIA interferes and contracts Skylark and Aaron to kill Jong-un.
The pieces are in place for a skewering of celebrity obsession and political ineptness, but The Interview doesn’t have the bite. Part of the film’s problem is it doesn’t particularly have anything insightful to say about the media or a vicious dictator like Jong-un. Jong-un is a manipulative asshole who doesn’t particularly care for his country; I think we already knew this. Mind you, there are a few laughs emanating from Jong-un’s guilty pleasures, particularly his admiration for Katy Perry songs, but not much beyond that. Rogen and Franco’s unpredictable ad-libs also hurt the film. In a film like This is the End, where there really isn’t a plot thread being pulled from beginning to end, improvisation and extension of jokes/scenes aren’t a hindrance because they aren’t derailing the film’s momentum. But when there’s a great deal of improvisation in a concept comedy like The Interview, where there’s a more definable narrative structure, the free-flowing nature of Rogen and Franco inhibit the film’s rising action. For example, one of the film’s most important framing devices in the beginning, the presence of the CIA, is abandoned in the film’s second half in favor of long-winded scenes about honey potting and a prowling tiger, weakening the film’s driving force. In spite of bloated scenes, Rogen and Franco are certainly charming, and when they deliver a worthwhile joke, they do so in a big way. But The Interview feels like a mediocre comedy masquerading as a political satire. Ironically, the film’s content isn’t nearly as damning as its subject’s response to it.