Tag Archives: Gareth Edwards

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

rogue-one

To paraphrase another space based pop culture phenomenon: “It’s Star Wars, but not as we know it.”

With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, we do away with the Skywalkers, the Jedi, the Millenium Falcon and the Force, but welcome a new cast of characters in what is a hugely enjoyable first Star Wars big screen spinoff.

Sure there have been spinoffs before: The below-par Wookie and Ewok spinoffs way back when, the whole (now non-canon) expanded universe of novels and comics; a few games; the somewhere between average and excellent animated shows Clone Wars and Rebels.

However, Rogue One is Disney’s first opportunity to deviate away from the story of the Skywalkers, perhaps beginning a new version of what they have already done with the Marvel MCU; and tell us how we got to what we saw at the start of Episode IV: A New Hope in 1977.

Rogue One tells us how the fledgling Rebel Alliance got its hands on the Death Star plans – and it does it very, very well. Gareth Edwards, whose previous work includes the interesting Monsters (2010) and the disappointing Godzilla (2o14), pulls off a space-based heist movie with all the added action and battles you would expect from a typical Star Wars adventure.

There are really two main characters, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn); the former is the daughter of the Death Star designer and criminal-turned-rebel hero. Jones carries this role out with aplomb, confidently and ably leading the film and the band of rebels as they go about their mission. It’s notable that female leads and heroines are becoming more commonplace these days; and she looks every bit the part.

Mendelsohn’s Krennic is the overseer of the Death Star’s construction and has the intimidating duo of Grand Moff Tarkin (more on him later) and Darth Vader breathing down his neck – quite loudly in some obvious cases. He shows an intimidating side when dealing with his foes and underlings; and an intimidated side when dealing with his superiors.

The support cast are also excellent, if underused. Perhaps “underused” is not the right phrase, but even the male good-guy lead, Diego Luna (playing Cassian Andor), is not that present in the film. Donnie Yen plays the nearest-to-a-Jedi Knight we have in the blind martial arts expert Chirrut Îmwe, who, while not attuned to the force, is certainly a believer in the light side. Of course a blind, force worshipping martial artist with a big staff that beats up stormtroopers automatically becomes one of the coolest characters. Mads Mikkelsen plays Jyn’s dad and the reluctant designer and developer of the Empire’s biggest weapon. Whilst we don’t see too much of Mikkelsen he is, as always, on top form. However, the show stealer is the droid K-2SO who has all the charm of C3PO and R2D2 but three time as much wit.

Just briefly back to Tarkin, who in A New Hope was played by the late, great, Peter Cushing. Now, rather than recast the role – tricky considering this version is the same age as he is in Episode IV – or leave the character out altogether, they have rendered him completely via CGI.

Now the likeness is uncanny, but it is quite obviously CGI. Was it needless? Perhaps. But I was willing to overlook it. Strange when you consider how all the CGI additions that George Lucas added in wound be up no end. But I know that, Lucas involved or not, LUCASARTS and LUCASFILM have always looked to push boundaries in terms of effects and technology, which I suppose should always be encouraged.

The film is beautiful to look at. Some of the locations they have used for some of the (stupidly named) planets just look stunning. There are enough nods and call backs to the original trilogy to keep fans happy without laying it on as thick as Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. Oh, and there is just the right amount of Vader.

Perhaps not as enjoyable as last year’s The Force Awakens – which invoked the same amount of excitement in me as the original Star Wars – and perhaps more recently Guardians of the GalaxyRouge One is certainly less flawed, more gritty, and tells a good, self contained story.

Advertisements

Failed Critics Podcast: Unfriending the Monsters

infernalWelcome to another episode of the Failed Critics Podcast! Our special guests this week are Mike Shawcross and Andrew Brooker (that we know of, there could also have been a spooky spectre lurking on our Skype call) who join our regular hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes.

We review two new releases, the cyber-slasher Unfriended and the “infuriating” Monsters: Dark Continent alongside our usual quiz, news and ‘what we’ve been watching’ sections. The latter of which sees Steve finally complete the Harry Potter franchise, dropping the mic at the suggestion of a proposed remake; Mike reminds us all how good Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is; in full old man moaning mode, Owen apologises for disliking Bryan Coyne’s Infernal; and Brooker gets disappointed with Gareth Edwards’ Monsters.

Much like the past few weeks, our news section is dominated by Marvel and particularly Age of Ultron, which has run away with the recent US box office records and smashed them to bits. However, DC manage to squeeze in on the action with the emergence of the first images from their new project, Suicide Squad.

Join us again next week for a top secret triple bill and new release review of Spooks: The Greater Good.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

Monsters: Dark Continent

Infuriating and unnecessary sequel with an identity crisis.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

monstersA few years back, next to nobody director Gareth Edwards came out of nowhere and wowed almost everybody with his feature debut, Monsters. A super-low budget monster invasion movie with hardly a monster on screen. Praised for its direction and pretty well received by more-or-less everyone that saw it, it earned Edwards a place at the big boy table and a job resurrecting Godzilla for Warner Brothers last year. I didn’t watch Monsters, as much as it was recommended to me I just skipped past it. In fact, I only watched it a few days ago in preparation for watching its sequel and to be honest, I wasn’t wholly impressed. I thought it was a 90+ minute slog through to the end, with not an awful lot happening to keep me interested. I genuinely struggled to keep my eyes open and prayed for a swift end just so I could get to bed!

Now don’t get me wrong. I an definitely amongst those that praise Edwards’ technical skill. I’ve got some experience with the Autodesk and Adobe software he used to create his effects and I know what he done was no small feat. But all the skill in the world can’t make up for poor acting and generally rubbish story telling. The Cloverfield style of barely showing you anything of the monsters until towards the end is a decent tension builder when it’s done right. Unfortunately in this case, I just don’t think it worked. A symptom that, in my opinion, seems to be following Mr Edwards around seeing as my complaints about Godzilla were almost identical. But, before I go off on a tangent about my worries and what him being handed a Star Wars film could mean for that franchise, I’ll crack on with my thoughts on Monsters: Dark Continent.

Before I start though, a little insight. This is what happened before Dark Continent even hit pre-production (Disclaimer: this may not actually have happened, but without this explanation, there is no valid reason for the existence of this movie). It’s 2013, Iraq war movies are enjoying a massive comeback. Zero Dark Thirty, Lone Survivor etc. all enjoying a butt load of success and even getting Oscar wins. In the scramble to get the next big desert war movie, a couple of hack writers (said with no feeling of irony, whatsoever) let’s call them Tom and Jay, sell a treatment to Vertigo Films about a rag tag collection of Iraq war first-timers going on a mission to rescue a captured team of soldiers behind enemy lines. Now Jay and Tom, they work tirelessly, really working themselves ragged trying desperately to get all their ideas onto paper, never has a pair worked so hard for so long. After spending close to 45 minutes on their masterpiece, the dynamic writing duo head back to the production company, script in hand, proud as punch and ready to start filming. At this point, film company execs all start having heart palpitations. Their guys, their ticket to the Oscar party have spent half an hour writing a script that essentially says “Desert war tropes and nothing else” in crayon and Tom and Jay are over at the window trying to work out which side of the glass tastes the worst.

So at this point, any and all film producers are kicking these writers to the kerb, losing their rag at Tom and Jay and the way they lied about being able to string a sentence together or put thought, character or emotion into anything more interesting than a stale digestive. But not these guys, they’ve got a better idea. “We just made a load of free cash off that Monsters thing. Let’s use this script, add a load of those weird octopus things to it and call it Monsters 2

And so, Monsters: Dark Continent was born.

Essentially, I don’t have to tell you much more than that. Dark Continent is set ten years after the first Monsters film. The alien visitors have spread from their comfortable little quarantine zone on the Mexican border and are now a worldwide issue. But they aren’t the enemy anymore. We have learned to live with them as just a part of out world, as part of our countryside like sheep and cows, humongous ones with tentacles! In this world we now share with the monsters, apparently we are still at war in Afghanistan and the United States military is still full of generic jarhead wannabes and pretty much every war movie stereotype soldier you can think of. There’s the guy that just had a baby before going on tour (although, the directors at least got a real baby so it’s got points over American Sniper) the guys that grew up together that are like brothers, the angry Sargent and the not quite so common angry black sidekick who thinks he’s R. Lee Ermey giving his angry speeches and trying to add some pretty flat and uninspiring comic relief.

After their first mission together is reasonably successful, this group, this band of idiots, are given the task of rescuing a team of soldiers captured behind enemy lines and are almost certainly being tortured by the hostile Afghan force they are still fighting. They must battle the desert, the insurgents and the monsters while they try to complete their task. Not long into their mission, the guys are hit with a roadside IED, disabling their Humvees and forcing them to walk to, well, somewhere, I’m not entirely sure where. You know what? I don’t think it’s important. Twenty minutes after they set off, I’d actually forgotten they were on a mission. They were just a bunch of muppets lost in the desert. Like the SAS searching for Saddam Hussain, not really knowing what direction to stumble towards next.

From a filmmaking perspective, Dark Continent is riddled with issues. It’s not as dull as it’s predecessor but at the same time it’s not got the redeeming features that the original Monsters has. There’s no skill to be shown in its effects work and there’s certainly no skill to be shown in Tom and Jay’s writing or direction. Everything is blatantly stolen from other, much better films. Like Delta Farce. Silly colour tinting, over saturation, slow motion explosions, instead of showing the skill that Edwards showed with his Adobe software, these guys have googled “how to be Zack Snyder with windows movie maker” and rolled with it. The film starts with some terrible, really badly written, tacky narration that is peppered across the whole movie that serves no purpose other than to annoy. Maybe worse than the poor use of narration is the terrible, terrible music direction. Some scenes are forgivably quiet when there should be something in the way of a score, but man. There’s one scene, a night incursion into a suspected insurgent encampment that should be insanely intense (ignoring the black dude from Detroit on over watch that’s rapping about his night vision goggles). We’ve all seen these scenes play out. They’re silent, all you can hear is footsteps and every creak of a door should have you on the edge of your seat. But that just doesn’t happen here. Whoever was in charge of editing the music in decided, against all rhyme or reason, to keep the prelude to the sneak-a-thon nice and quiet, except for the rapping soldier. But once the sneaking starts, all tension is broken by the bizarre addition of a cheap late 90’s hip-hop backing track overlaying the action. I shit you not.

As the film progresses, the titular monsters add almost nothing to the proceedings. Being reserved, more or less, to background scenery and something to shoot at on occasion instead of people. They are seen roaming around the desert and running like cattle together but they could literally be replaced with any other animal. Sheep, bison, kangaroos, whatever, and they would be just as effective a side-story for the soldiers and their travels. More so maybe. You wouldn’t have to spend money on a giant CGI sheep and could maybe throw some at a couple of decent actors or someone to rewrite the screenplay, or teach Jay and Tom how to colour inside the lines. Like I said at the top of this review, I’m no fan of the original Monsters, but to see the animals fall to a fate usually reserved for shit serial killer franchises, being shoe-horned into a movie they have very little business being in must be heart-breaking for its creator.

Like it’s original, Monsters: Dark Continent is dull, poorly paced and lacking in substance. But worse than that, it’s unnecessary, it’s a cheap cash-in and it’s just a sad film to watch. Evidence that the “We can churn out anything and sell it to you” mentality is still rife in Hollywood and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon. Take it from me, you’d be better off burning your money than spending it to sit in a dark room and watch nothing happen on that big screen really, really slowly.

Failed Critics Podcast: X-Critics: Hours of Future Mutterings

XMenDOFPWelcome to this week’s bumper Failed Critics Podcast, ans the usual suspects and special guest Carole Petts get in touch with their younger selves and combine their efforts in attempt to stop catastrophe: Steve winning the quiz and picking a film worse than Cutthroat Island…

They also find time to review new releases X-Men: Days of Future Past and Maleficent, as well as a clutch of teen-focused dramas in What We’ve Been Watching, including Short Term 12, The Selfish Giant, and The Kids Are Alright. Not only that, but we even find time to discuss the departure of Edgar Wright from Ant-Man, and the recruitment of Gareth Edwards for a Star Wars spin-off.

Join us next week for reviews of Edge of Tomorrow and A Million Ways to Die in the West.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

The Failed Critics Podcast v Godzilla: Destroy All Critics!

ROOOOOOOOOOOOAAAARRRRR! Welcome to Critic Island, and we’ve assembled a cavalcade of monster critics to discuss the legendary Japanese kaiju, Godzilla. King Steve and MechaOwen are joined Space Matt Lambourne, and the returning Three-Headed Monster, James Diamond.

As well as reviewing Gareth Edwards’ modern take on the Godzilla series, the team also discuss some classic (and not-so-classic) films from the cult series, while Owen’s very own king of monsters (not his penis) attempts to destroy his house while we record.

Join us next week for our review of X-Men: Days of Future Past.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

Godzilla – From destroyer of worlds to defender of Earth

How does a franchise will so much history succeed in being fresh and relevant in the modern era? Matt Lambourne gives us the low-down on how 2014’s Godzilla falls in line with it’s predecessors.

godzillaAfter well over a year of personal unbridled anticipation, Godzilla finally launched this weekend. I have been looking forward to this film more than any lined up for 2014 and as a fan of the series I had enormous hopes and even bigger expectations for Gareth Edwards‘ reincarnation of The King of The Monsters as detailed in my preview piece on FailedCritics.com.

First of all, let me get this off my chest; we were lied to. In the early trailers for this movie it was touted as a return to the role of unprejudiced destroyer for Godzilla. I specifically refer to the Robert Oppenheimer monologue used in these trailers, which powerfully leaned towards this conception. Let me explain the Godzilla timeline in brief and how he has been portrayed in the numerous movies he has appeared in for the benefit of those reading who are less familiar with its history.

The original Gojira of 1954 was a monster created as a bi-product/consequence of Nuclear experimentation; a warning to mankind that dabbling in such powers would ensure its self-destruction. Godzilla was rampant, aggressive and terrifying to literally everything around it. It would not ignore people or buildings, or boats in its path; it saw everything as potentially hostile and was equally hostile in return, seemingly without motive. It’s this mentality that made it terrifying, particularly within the psyche of the generation who were recovering from the Nagasaki and Hiroshima A-Bomb attacks.

The role of destroyer was consistent for the first several Godzilla movies produced by Toho, up until 1964’s ‘Ghidorah – The Three Headed Monster’. At this point Toho began to portray their star asset as a saviour of the planet, protecting Japan from Monsters invading from outer space and crossing over from some of their other intellectual properties such as Mothra and Rodan.

This began an almost annual release of Godzilla squaring up against often less-impressive foes and the series being tailored to a more family based audience. The initial ‘Showa’ era ran until 1975’s ‘Terror of Mechagodzilla’ before the series took an almost 10 year hiatus.

Thus beginning the rebirth, in 1984s ‘Return of Godzilla’ (Godzilla 85′ outside of Japan), Godzilla returned to its most destructive form, a direct sequel to 1954 original that totally disregards everything that has happened in between and would reinforce Godzilla as humanity’s greatest threat. This would remain consistent during the entire second series of movies (The Heisei era) until 1995’s Godzilla vs Destoroyah.

Toho brought Godzilla back one more time after Roland Emmereich’s abomination in the Millenium series that began with Godzilla 2000 and ran until ‘Godzilla: Final Wars in 2004 which is notable for killing off 98’s impostor Godzilla (known as Zilla in the film) with the plots taking a more science-fiction base, but Godzilla remaining as an antagonist to mankind.

So where does Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla fall amongst this lot? Well, in short it probably falls much closer to the heroic Godzilla of the Showa era post 1964, although there is certainly a lot more collateral damage than in those earlier family-friendly flicks. For me it is not the Godzilla I’d hoped for. I was hoping for something more akin to Return of Godzilla, a Toho origin story with a Hollywood budget.

I think Edwards does an excellent job of making this film beginner-friendly as well as relevant enough to quench the thirst of the long-standing Godzilla fan. It certainly doesn’t take any prior knowledge of Godzilla mythology to enjoy this instalment. There are nice touches that respectfully nod to previous films, such as the specimen tank labelled ‘Mothra’ in Brody Sr’s house, the inclusion of Dr Serizawa (as per Gojira) albeit in a different role, the reference to King of the Monsters after the concluding battle scene. Also the MUTO creatures appear vaguely similar to that of Orga from Godzilla 2000, although they are much leaner and agile. Whilst the film succeeds in giving tribute to the source material, it is very much its own story.

It’s clear to see the film takes much inspiration from its predecessors and uses the material in a very respectful manner. The traditions of Toho remain intact and no doubt the fan-base will swell for both the Japanese versions and the newer American Godzilla. Whilst it isn’t everything I hoped for and more, it is a triumph in its own right. I won’t go into scoring or labelling of the movie as Failed Critics will be speaking in depth about this on this weeks podcast, but the bottom line is this should be enjoyed and celebrated, even if it is Godzilla USA done right rather than a reboot of Toho Godzilla.

Go get your fill, there will be few blockbusters this Summer that will impress in some form or another as this succeeds in doing.

Matt is writer and podcaster at Failed Critics and can be found either on twitter @Matt_Lambourne or in his bedroom watching old Japanese Godzilla VHS tapes.

Godzilla

It comes maddeningly close to excellence, but Godzilla is fatally flawed.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

godzilla-nature-has-an-order-trailer-7You ask people why Jaws works and most will reply that it’s because you don’t see the shark all the time.  Jaws is paced expertly, saving the big reveal until the very end and instead spending its run-time teasing you with little glimpses of it and showing you the effect of its terror, constantly baiting the audience with the threat of the shark and the promise of the shark but realising that it doesn’t carry much impact if it’s on-screen too often.  They wouldn’t be wrong, it’s a key component of the suspense tease of the film, but it’s not the whole reason.  Jaws also works because it has characters; real characters with multiple dimensions whose plights were just as interesting as that of the chaos the shark was wreaking.  They didn’t feel incidental to the plot and, most importantly, it didn’t feel like their existence is just marking time until the shark can turn up and do its thing.  That’s why their boat trip to the sea to find the shark is so captivating: you’re scared for people, not just waiting for fireworks.

Gareth Edwards’ remake/adaptation (whichever you want to call it entirely comes down to your personal perspective) of the classic 1954 Japanese monster movie Godzilla is a master of The Tease part.  It gets that having Godzilla turn up from frame one and tear sh*t up until the last of the 123 minutes the film runs for are done is a bad idea, one that would create fatigue for the audience and end up making his rampage duller the longer it ran on.  It gets that you don’t give a clear shot of the monster until it’s close to wrapping up time because that lets the audience fill in the blanks, an act which is frequently scarier than whatever you’ve actually come up with.  And it gets that you don’t deliver on your promised monster smackdown at the hour mark of your two hour film because that leaves you little else to go after for the second hour.  It gets all that, and its masterful approach to The Tease is why every even-slightly prolonged section involving a monster is giddy-inducing instead of “seen it all before”.  It gets that better than any film I have seen in the cinema in a long while.

What Godzilla forgot, though, in the gorgeous execution of The Tease, was to add any characters.  This basic, fundamental tenant of pretty much any great film is completely lacking here and that fact is what almost kills the film.  Godzilla gets so much right, The Tease, the cinematography, the score, the effects, that it comes close to excellence; when this film is on, it is frakkin’ on!  But by skipping out on this one thing, this one crucial element, the film is kneecapped irrevocably.  What could have been an excellent film, a strong contender for one of the year’s best if/when some of the Summer’s more promising titles flop disappointingly, is instead a frustratingly good one where its flashes of greatness are heavily outweighed by the one thing it does wrong which, not coincidentally, makes its biggest strength almost just as much of weakness.

OK, that’s the spoiler-free version.  I’m not saying that the rest of this review is going to dive into every single aspect and plot-point or anything, but it is going to have to reference something that a fair bit of the marketing material did a good job of hiding if you weren’t voluntarily looking for it.  And, honestly, I kinda wish I didn’t know it going in, because then I might have appreciated The Tease even more.  So, if you haven’t seen the movie or you just plain don’t care, stop reading now.  You basically already know what I thought about the film by this point, anyway.  If you have seen the film or just plain don’t care, keep reading.  Again, there are no giant spoilers (the thing I’m referring to is basically made explicit by the 45 minute mark) but you may enjoy the film more if you go in dark to its plot and stuff.

Still here?  OK, then.  Let’s talk about The Tease.

Wisely, Godzilla saves its giant monster smackdown, between Godzilla and a new creature classified as M.U.T.O. (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object), for the final 20-or-so minutes.  In addition, you don’t even get a clear shot of the titular monster until the very last minute of the film.  Instead, the film baits you and teases you.  A shot of his enormous foot here, the disappearance of its tail as it slinks around a half-destroyed building there; as you probably expected.  What you probably won’t be expecting, though, is just how far the film takes that tease.  Godzilla doesn’t just limit The Tease to a shot of the monsters, it also limits it to the destruction in general.  There’s a section where a M.U.T.O. begins destroying Las Vegas in broad daylight, but the film cuts away to the aftermath just as the destruction is ramping up.  The M.U.T.O.’s escape from its dormant pod is shot in low light, with occasional flashes teasing us as to its appearance but it also basically cuts to black when it seems like we’re really about to see some mayhem.  And, in the film’s standout example of how it gets The Tease, there’s a bit in Hawaii that I absolutely refuse to spoil because it will be the point where you are either on-board with what the film is trying to do or where you check out in frustration.

If you can’t get what the film is trying to do, you may find the whole experience the film equivalent of yelling “either sh*t or get off the pot!” at someone.  I, however, adored it as it trained myself to savour any piece of monster destruction I could get; it made those moments hit that much harder.  And when the film finally lets go of the reigns and gives you what you came here to see?  Man, it is an amazing feeling, let me tell you.  The fight itself is a slow, primal, animalistic affair, like watching two mad caged animals going at one another (which makes sense, considering the fact that they kind of are animals), that may have been underwhelming for most audiences in a post-Pacific Rim world if that build-up hadn’t been so masterful as to make a release, any release, feel like the coolest thing in the entire world at that moment in time.  I cackled with maniacal glee multiple times during this film and that was even before the really amazing moments entered the fray.  Edwards and his team get it, they get how to make what otherwise would have been mundane instead be a super awesome piece of ridiculous fun because they build up to it near-perfectly.

Credit should also go to the cinematography and visual effects.  In line with the teasing nature of the film, the cinematography holds off on giving you a clear shot of monsters causing carnage until near the end of the big fight.  Instead, it opts to show the action from a ground level, from the perspective of a bystander in the chaos, to fully impress upon you the scale of the action and the destruction.  It more than works, the first time the M.U.T.O. clambers out of its hibernation pod and effortlessly breaks through the containment barriers is shot on the surface just above the containment pit which makes the reveal of one of its legs that much more of a “sh*t has gotten real” moment.  There’s a section on a train bridge which manages to communicate the pure terror of being in the same area as a giant monster better than a lot of recent films I have seen.  And then there’s the entrance of Godzilla himself, which takes about an hour to occur, incidentally, and which really needs to be seen to fully grasp the effect of.

However, and thankfully, Godzilla also gets that shooting action from the perspective of bystanders (to make it feel like you are really there) does not give carte blanche to make the action incomprehensible.  Shaky-cam is kept to an absolute minimum and pretty much any action depicted on screen is shot by cameras that are steady and clear.  You can always tell what is going on where and who is involved when.  Everything is clear, everything is viewable and you have absolutely no idea how happy I am to finally see a Hollywood film that understands that shaking the camera like an epileptic having a stroke at a flashbulb convention does not make things more exciting.  And on that note, yes, a lot of the destruction and more monster-heavy sequences are shot at night under cover of darkness.  But, and this is crucial, the film still lights proceedings enough that, combined with the stable camerawork, you can still tell what’s going on at all times, which works gangbusters during the finale.

The score, meanwhile, handled by Alexandre Desplat, is damn near perfect here.  Eschewing both the gritty drone of your Hans Zimmer (or Hans Zimmer wannabes) and the faux-John Williams score of a lot of modern day blockbusters in favour of something that resembles classic Hollywood that’s been a bit updated for the modern day.  There’s a lot of brass, drums and urgent violins, bombast, that recall the style of classic monster movies from the 1960s.  But when the action slows down and the film is instead trying to create a more unsettling atmosphere, Desplat is more than happy to oblige with severely off-key instruments or, in a segment that I’m pretty sure took place on the Golden Gate Bridge, a choir that sounds like its announcing the incoming apocalypse.  It backs the action exceptionally; creepy and portentous at one moment, bombastic and energy-filled the next.  I realise that I’m doing a terrible job describing it, it’s one of those things you really need to experience to get why it works.

As for the effects… well, you don’t really need me to tell you how good this film’s special effects are.  You’ve seen the trailers, you know what to expect.  The M.U.T.O.’s design is excellent, heavily indebted to that of a bat but twisted enough to make the result much more nightmarish with its long, spindly arms and horrifying eyes, face and mouth.  Godzilla, meanwhile, is likely going to be more subjective.  Yes, he is much bigger than anything else in this movie and the scales on his back are rather a bit terrifying when they’re all you can see of him swimming through the water and bearing down on the camera, but his face is also rather a bit cute.  He looks strangely endearing and a bit huggable at certain angles which should spell the death-knell for his design… if it didn’t fit with his character in this particular film, which it does.  When it comes time for the monsters to make some destruction, though, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that things look great.  Not only do things get smashed real purdy-like, the monsters move with real weight and heft.  Not clumsiness, but force, how one would probably expect two animals of their size to move and duke it out and it is ultra-convincing.

So, right now, I imagine that you’re prepping to go to the cinema and fling all of your hard-earned moneybills at the people who hand out the tickets.  You’ve probably read all of that and decided that this is officially your favourite film of the summer, sight unseen.  And, in fairness, were there not this giant, puss-filled flaw blemishing Godzilla’s face, you’d probably be correct.  There were a tonne of highs in this film that I am expecting the rest of the summer to have a hard time matching.  Unfortunately, Godzilla has a giant problem that keeps dragging down the rest of the film the more and more it ruminates in my brain.  Hell, if everything else surrounding this problem wasn’t so good, it would have killed the film outright for me.  So, here’s the problem.

Godzilla has no characters.

Now I know what you’re thinking.  “Callum, that’s not a problem for me.  I didn’t come here for world class storytelling.  I came here to see giant monsters tear sh*t up.”  And you are more than welcome to want that out of your movie.  That still doesn’t stop it from being a problem, though, and it becomes a major problem because it almost serves to undermine the hard work that The Tease puts in.  We spend so much time with these humans whilst waiting for the next glimpse of a monster that the realisation finally sets in: I don’t care about any of these characters because none of these characters are characters.  At best they’re exposition machines, at worst they are quite literally nothing.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with Lieutenant Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who, to put it in the bluntest possible terms, does nothing.  He has a wife (Elizabeth Olsen), a kid, a father (Bryan Cranston) who lost his wife, Ford’s mother, in a nuclear power plant destruction 15 years prior that he insists was not an accident, and he works in the army as a bomb disposal expert.  All of this is just window-dressing for the fact that he does nothing.  At no point during the story does Ford have a narrative reason for being in a scene, at no point during the film does he alter the course of the plot (barring one instance in the finale that seems to have been engineered to stop me going on this rant, take a guess how that turned out) and at no point does his character display any personality or charm or charisma that makes spending time in his company in any way worthwhile or interesting.  I could excuse this if the point was to show what the perspective of the film’s events would look like to a guy on the ground, except that most of the carnage scenes don’t involve him or even focus on him, instead locking onto various other crowds of bystanders.  His scenes feel poorly copy-pasted on from a much less interesting and dull version of Godzilla; you could excise them entirely and lose nothing, yet pretty much the entire first hour involves him or characters and events relating to him (because OF COURSE), even though they add nothing to the film.

This focus on Ford and his various acquaintances comes at the expense of a much more interesting angle involving the U.S. military and two scientists’ (Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins) attempts to stop the monsters and contain the damage, with the military trying take care of things themselves, making things worse in the process, and the scientists (one of whom is the world’s leading expert on Godzilla and WHY WAS HE NOT THE MAIN FOCUS OF THE FILM) attempting to convince them that Godzilla is their only hope.  Unfortunately, thanks to the focus put on Ford and his attempts to get back to his personality-less family, nobody here gets to do or say anything that doesn’t amount to spouting exposition which, again, means that Godzilla has no characters and nobody worth giving a damn about.  I’d call the humans one-dimensional but that insinuates that there’s enough going on with them to class them as one-dimensional.  Maker, I cared more for the M.U.T.O. and that’s supposed to be the villain and had that caring come from one single ten-second scene!

Which, ultimately, is what nearly causes The Tease, which I have already named as the film’s secret weapon, to become its biggest weakness.  By spending so much time in the presence of these non-entities masquerading as people we’re supposed to care about, it makes the appearance of some monsters that much more of a treat.  However, it also makes the quick snatching away of that treat even crueller because we’re thrust back into the company of these characters that have no bearing on anything and barely factor into or appear during the carnage caused.  This should either have been focussed on the military and the scientist’s attempts to save people from the wrath of the monsters or a personal tale of people stuck in the middle of the chaos trying to get away.  Instead, Godzilla wants to do both and it does so at the expense of the two coalescing and crafting characters that we, the audience, are supposed to give a damn about.  Rather than having the human side feel just as relevant, it feels like we’re just marking time until Godzilla is allowed to show up.  None of these scenes are dull, it’s just that they coast by on the promise of more Godzilla and have no real reason in this film to exist.

Oh, and whilst I have the time, I’d like to quickly comment on this.  Because the film doesn’t have real characters worth investing in and it can’t be bothered to go back and craft some, Godzilla instead tries to engender some sympathy for the people stuck in the wreckage of the mayhem by putting kids into the centre of it and going “LOOK!  WON’T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!”  It does this three times, which is three times too many, and it never works.  It even strands an entire school bus full of children on the Golden Gate Bridge in gridlock when Godzilla shows up, for the love of the Maker!  That’s how blatant it is in trying to get a “OH, NO!  PLEASE DON’T HURT THE CHILDREN, GODZILLA!” reaction out of you.  It’s cheap, overly-manipulative and I’d get angry if were done with a single bit of effort or care, which is not.  Can we please retire this device and instead invest some effort into creating actual characters that we, the audience, will care about in future?  Is that too much to ask?

I am really glad that I don’t have to score films here on this website, because I’m honestly stumped with regards to this film.  Look, when Godzilla is on, it is f*cking on and the feeling that comes from those moments of genuine excellence have been almost unparalleled for me, so far this year.  When it works, it more than works.  It’s never anything less than an enjoyable and watchable film, even with the total lack of characters.  The issue is that it touches excellence so often that it can’t help but call even more unwanted attention to that “no characters” issue, not helped by the fact that only Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe & Sally Hawkins seem to be putting in any effort (with Watanabe’s facial expressions and general mood leaving hints of a far better lead character story, that for some reason the film chose to ignore in favour of Lieutenant Beef McFaceSlab), and that issue is retroactively spoiling the film for me.  Hell, it may even happen to you, too!

Godzilla, then, is ultimately one of those movies that comes at you with a tonne of potential and fulfills maybe half of it.  When it does deliver on that potential, it is sensational, but it also makes those times when it doesn’t sting even more and ultimately makes the film a disappointment.  A great time, but a disappointment all the same.

Callum Petch wades through the buildings towards the centre of town.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Godzilla: King of the Previews

KingGhidorah92In a look ahead to his most anticipated film of 2014, Failed Critics’ in-house Kaiju aficionado Matt Lambourne talks through the Godzilla mythology and why you should be getting excited about one of this summer’s biggest blockbusters!

Back at the Failed Critics end of year podcast, we all made our case for the film we were all most looking forward to in 2014. My fellow critics chose shrewdly, perhaps projecting their my refined cinematic tastes to better educate our listenership. I however prefer to stick with dead-certs. I take comfort in knowing precisely what gets my blood-pumping, what really unleashes my inner-child as only a good movie experience can stimulate (see my 2012 film of the year review for Dredd, as an example).

Since I first heard Hollywood was taking another stab at Godzilla, I’ve been apprehensive. It’s not a source material particularly known for its calibre of strong acting, emotive storytelling or character building. Our editor-in-chief at Failed Critics, Mr James Diamond made an excellent point during our most recent podcast, that Hollywood has not always treated comic book material with the respect it deserves, however the Superhero movies of the last 10 years have been made by people who grew up reading and idolising the source material and the results really show.

Godzilla I truly hope will be the same. When Roland Emmerich completed work on the 1998 Hollywood incarnation of Godzilla, I met it with optimism initially. As I cast my mind back as an excited teenager at the time, it featured a fairly mouth-watering sneak-preview a good 12 months before it was even released (click here). Unfortunately the movie was everything wrong with American remakes and the Godzilla mythology was utterly disregarded by Emmerich, save for retaining the original Godzilla roar being the only homage paid to the Toho original.

It’s fair to the say, the world hasn’t been crying out for a sequel to the 1998 abomination. Toho, the owners of the Godzilla trademark were so intent on removing the US version from the record books that they reinvented the US monster as a different character entirely, known as Zilla in 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars. The pain lasts long in the memory for fans of the Japanese work and so we can be forgiven for being tentative about committing to the new American vision for Godzilla.

That said, much like the recent return of great comic-book movies, 2014’s Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards, a man who respects and cherishes the mythology. The film is getting a Godzilla geek but with a Hollywood budget to hopefully create something very special and I for one am very excited.

So who is Gareth Edwards?

You’re forgiven for not knowing much about him, this is his 1st major film. His most prominent work is 2010’s ‘Monster‘, which did not exactly set any box office records alight, yet he achieved a very interesting premise with almost no budget and certainly caught the attention of some of Hollywood’s moneymen. Edwards is a self-confessed Godzilla nerd, who much like myself got his first experience of Godzilla watching Channel 4 late night specials, akin to the sort of thing we’d get on Film4 today.

It’s fair to say that Edwards understands what the the central motivation for Godzilla really is… not the silly WWE style tag-team wrestling matches against other monsters as the series slowly dilapidated into, but more the fear of nature at its most savage and how catastrophe will ensue when men dabble in powers they cannot possibly hope to control.

This should mean that Edwards’ Godzilla is more akin to the 1954 original.. a murky and pessimistic view of a society still reeling from the affects of the Atomic Bomb and ever paranoid that it may happen again. My hopes were substantially raised when I saw the initial (supposedly leaked) preview trailer, featuring Robert Oppenheimer quoting an exert from the Bhagavad Gita, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”. That was all the reassurance I needed to know this film will deliver on a massive scale!

So why get excited?

You should get excited because this will not be like the 1st American effort, or even the majority of the cheesey Japanese ones. This is the spiritual successor to the 1954 original. If you’re not familiar with that movie it is a fine exercise of praying on the insecurities of its viewership, much like the original Alien perhaps was, however you’re substituting Nuclear Holocaust for Phallic shaped violation, but whatevs.

This isn’t a monster versus monster movie, it’s not going to be kidnapping any good looking women and holding them hostage and certainly isn’t going to get Jamiroquai another gig. This film will be a dark disaster movie, kind of like if Armageddon was directed by Game of Thrones’ George.R.R Martin. There will be few lights at the end of even fewer tunnels, people will experience pain and suffering and it will be all in the name of humbling the human-race into its rightful place of being a slave to mother-nature and that we should not fuck with it.

The good news is, that to depict the human element, Edwards has recruited some top talent that are actually worth watching (no Ferris Bueller). The casting of Ken Watanabe (The Last Samuari / Inception) straight of out the Japanese Premier League of casting is a massive seal of approval for that market. Along with the ever lovely Juliette Binoche (Chocolat) and Kick-Ass‘s Aaron Taylor-Johnson we can hope that the dialogue will be snappy and engaging. Then comes the leading male role, as served by the ever popular Bryan Cranston, whom Edwards has gone on record as stating he never saw him in Breaking Bad before casting him! If that is true then respect must go to Edwards for not surfing on the proverbial public wave of love currently being shown for one of TV’s greatest ever series, and signing him up purely on artistic merit.

Hopefully, that has you chomping at the bit as much as I am. Living on a cinematic void like the Isle of Man, I am flying to Liverpool on release weekend to enjoy my not-so guilty pleasure in the glory of IMAX. If you need to research or simply get warmed up, I have a top 5 Godzilla movies for you to enjoy in anticipation of the May release, just over 6 weeks away!

5. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)

One of the highlights of the Heisei resurrection of Godzilla movies, G v KG is one of my favourite of the Monster battle royale type movies and is packed full of great action. It’s unique in that it was distributed by Manga Entertainment for its home release, who are better known for their Anime work and thus introduced Godzilla to a new generation in the 90’s. The film also has one of the more sophisticated science fiction plots of any Godzilla movie, featuring a genesis story that stays true to the original 50’s Gojira, whilst binding it to a complex but sensical time-travel story.

The time travelling, meant to rid the world of the birth of Godzilla (via Nuclear testing), actually duplicates him and also births King Ghidorah, arguably Godzilla’s greatest rival in all of the mythology. It also produces one of my all time favourite ‘bad quotes’ from a scene featuring non-other than Steven Spielberg’s dad!

4. Destroy All Monsters (1968)

A member of the original Toho series of movies, Destroy All Monsters should be appropriated renamed ‘Kaiju  All-stars’ as it’s a wonderful coming together of all the monsters in the Godzilla mythology up until that point and was originally intended as the final ever Godzilla movie.

The film predominantly takes place on Monster Island (Jurassic Park for Kaiju, basically). It features undertones of intelligent thinking, friendships and allegiances between the Monsters and a prevalent good versus evil plot that makes this a great gateway movie into the Godzilla universe, especially for children who will appreciate the variety of Kaiju on show.

The film’s highest is a massive 7 Monster tag-team (who side with Godzilla) attacking the massive 3-headed Space Kaiji, Ghidorah in what is a series highlight reel, with the various monsters showing off their individual abilities to defeat their adversary. Definitely one of the geek’s favourite fight scenes in any Godzilla film.

3. Return of Godzilla (aka Godzilla 85) (1984)

Following a decade-long hiatus, this is the first Godzilla movie of the Heisei rebirth (also known as the Versus series). It’s a retelling of the original mythology as this is a direct sequel to the original Gojira that conveniently forgets the other 15 or so or movies that took place during the original Toho series.

It’s one of my favourites as it features my preferred incarnation of the Monster itself (also seen in Godzilla vs King Ghidorah), as after many years of being portrayed as a human-friendly super hero of sorts, Godzilla returns to being the villain. Yes, he pretty much turns up, destroys shit and threatens world peace. This provides an interesting sub-plot, as Japan unleashes a new flying weapon known as the Super-X to disperse the monster, whilst the Russians panic into launching a nuclear missile him! Interestingly enough in the US re-edit the Missile appears to be deliberately aimed at Tokyo instead! Nice bit of Cold-War politics playing havoc with the edit there.

This film features the most aggressive and perhaps most scary version of the monster in all of the films to date and whilst not as charmingly campy as some of the older movies, it has some satisfying action sequences and improved effects over its predecessors make it a real landmark film in the mythology.

2. Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995)

The last of the Heisei series and being that it was Toho’s 40th anniversary special, they just decided to knock it on the head. Yep, Godzilla… the indestructible force of nature, dies in the movie. Obviously, we know he returns in Godzilla 2000 so don’t get too upset, although I will admit to shedding a tear or two in the climatic sequence to the film *sob!*.

The film is the most sentimental of any of the series that come before it, featuring Godzilla and Godzilla Jr fighting a monster that was spawned from the man-made Oxygen Destroyer that took down the original Monster in Gojira. To make it easy for the kids of today to understand, the Monster Destroyah is a little ‘OP’… basically kicking the ass of Godzilla and son for the duration of the movie, whilst Godzilla Sr’s body is in meltdown due to his atomic heart giving out on him.

We basically witness the slow dismemberment of Godzilla prior to the army, who by the way have had zero ability to harm any Monster in about 30 films, manage to take out the Monster that’s just killed Godzilla. *say what?!?*. Anyways, the action in this film is quite brutal and witnessing the death of Godzilla will be a very hard image for any fan to take. That said, the film ends beautifully with the death of Godzilla and his energy transferring over to the dying little Godzilla Jr, who then becomes empowered and sets things up convenient for the Millennium Series, starting with Godzilla 2000.

1. Gojira (1954)

Put yourself into your most comfortable chair, darken the lights, get some snacks as we’re going to be here for a while. Gojira comes less than 10 years after the original Atomic Bomb attack on Hiroshima and really prays on the insecurities of a paranoid and fearful nation. If you put yourself back a few years and remember the reaction to films about the 9/11 attacks and the reaction they drew (even if they were terrible), then imagine how it must have felt to have lived in the generation that survived two nuclear attacks and then see Gojira? I can only imagine it was pretty terrifying.

Gojira, unlike its successors, isn’t a B-Movie, it’s a real catastrophe movie. There are no other monsters involved and the film takes a very serious tone, unlike anything that came after it. Gojira itself is a symbol of Atomic annihilation, created by minds who experienced the real-deal in the 40’s. Being a 2nd World War buff, I have a lot of respect for this movie and understand why it’s held in such high regard as a cinematic classic. Really it should be reviewed entirely separately from all other Godzilla movies as its intended purpose is much different.

So, in case you hadn’t figured it out yet, Gojira is the Japanese name for Godzilla, loosely translated as Gorilla-Whale, although fans of the series would almost universally agree his closest comparative species are that of a T-Rex and Stegosaurus. The monster is of course a man in a rubber suit, which sounds like a barrel of laughs but it was no such thing for Katsumi Tezuka & Haruo Nakajima (Seven Samurai) who shared responsibilities for portraying the Monster. The suit was notoriously uncomfortable for its incumbent through its weight, thickness and lack of agile movement, not to mention the operator couldn’t see!

The suit operator regularly fell ill to heat exhaustion and they would often lose tremendous amounts of weight during the filming of the initial Toho series, talk about suffering for your art! But back to the film, the atmosphere really makes it a convincing plight for the residents of Tokyo, it’s grim and foreboding and only enhanced by its lack of colour… even the Monster is scary! Overall, the movie is very tense and for such an old film it puts together a remarkable Science-Fiction plot and ties together the genesis of Godzilla very well, something I fully expect Gareth Edwards’ film to pick up and run with.

The film’s climatic scenes are full of inner-turmoil, whereby a professor creates a weapon powerful enough to kill Godzilla. However the weapon threatens the existence of life on Earth at the same time creating a perfect analogy to the nuclear disaster that Japan had only recently experienced. Initially the professor is reluctant to release the Oxygen Destroyer but, as with Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb, he is forced to relinquish it for ‘the greater good’. An uncomfortable premise for anyone’s disposition.

I’d recommend picking up the subtitled Japanese version as the US re-edit is very much tampered for US audiences, featuring actor Raymond Burr (yes, Perry Mason) narrating over almost the entire movie, an early attempt at audio description if you will. Gojira is the most standout film of all the series and if you have to watch only one Godzilla film before Godzilla 2014, I recommend you enjoy this. It’s an important piece of cinematic culture and will even sit unashamedly in your World Cinema collection.