Movie reviews: Godzilla and The Amazing Spider-man 2
In Ishiro Honda’s 1954 original, Gojira – from the Japanese words for gorilla and whale – is a sea monster awaken by nuclear radiation and a not-so-subtle metaphor for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Gojira became an instant pop culture icon in Japan, not least because much of the country was still reeling from the first and only deployment of nuclear weapons in human history.
60 years later, Hollywood decided to reboot the import franchise while trying to forget the dreadful attempt in 1998 starring Matthew Broderick. The world is a very different place in 2014: we have witnessed the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the Indian Ocean tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Bits and pieces of these traumatic events have been incorporated into the current remake. The resulting amalgamation is a mix between Jaws, Jurassic Park, Alien and Pacific Rim, all wrapped in 21st Century realism.
British director Gareth Edwards, whose only credit is a little known alien sci-fi called Monsters in 2010, has a difficult character to work with. He makes the right decision to rely on the power of suggestion and to let the interplay between light and shadow and a bombastic soundtrack (composed by the talented Alexandre Desplat) do the storytelling. But Edwards may have gone a tad too far with his slow tease, chiaroscuro approach. Diehard fan boys will complain that Godzilla does not get sufficient screen time.
Instead, much of the two hours is spent on character development, which is normally a good thing – except that the characters here aren't very interesting. Bryan Cranston (TV’s Malcolm in the Middle) is Joe Brody, a Japan-based American engineer who lost his wife, played by Juliette Binoche (The English Patient), to what appeared to be a nuclear power plant accident. 15 years later, Brody and his estranged son, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kickass), reunite to uncover the government secrets that have been kept from them. But who cares? So what? Show me Godzilla!
When the radioactive monster finally appears, it is accompanied by two MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms). A three-way fight – Godzilla versus MUTOs versus humans – ensues and everything gets smashed. That’s when the movie picks up pace and the audience starts to cheer. Old-fashioned monster stomping through cities can be so much fun to watch, partly because it makes us feel like children again. But there simply isn’t enough of it. I suppose we'll just have to wait for the sequel: the ending has left plenty of room for one.
It seems like only yesterday that I was raising my fist at Sony Pictures for cancelling Sam Raimi's Spider-man 4 and for hiring rookie director Marc Webb to retell the entire “origins of Spider-man” story from the sewing of his first spandex costume to the shooting death of Uncle Ben. Well, two years flew by and Sony has just released a sequel. And why not? Despite all the booing from critics, the first instalment managed to snatch US$750 million from the box office. So what do I know?
ASM2 is a mess of a movie. There is too much plot and not enough story. Let’s start with Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a lowly Oscorp employee who becomes super villain Electro as a result of a bad workplace accident: he falls into a water tank and is bitten by a fry of electric eels. Electro is a cross between a member of the Blue Man Group and Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi. The character is weak not for a lack of superpower – he zaps his enemy with Force Lightning – but for a lack of motive. He wants Spidey dead simply because Spidey doesn’t remember his name. Huh?
Then we have Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), heir to the Oscorp empire with an Adolf Hitler haircut – always a tell-tale sign of villainy. Whatever bromance between Harry and Peter Parker – the two exchange plenty of hugs and loving gazes – isn’t enough to keep them from ripping out each other’s throat in the next scene. Like Electro, Harry is motive deficient. He wants Spidey dead simply because Spidey won’t give him a blood transfusion. Really?
Andrew Garfield, who was excellent in The Social Network and earned critical acclaim on Broadway in Death of a Salesman, is likeable as Peter Parker but borderline cocky as Spider-man. Emma Stone, who plays Peter’s on-and-off girlfriend Gwen Stacy, talks and dresses like she is still on the Mean Girls set. Gwen cares only about her perfect relationship and forgets that her boyfriend has a full time job saving the world. In the end, Aunt May (Sally Field) is the only character the audience really cares about, for she alone possesses the superpower to make us laugh and cry at her will. The movie should be renamed The Amazing Aunt May.
ASM2 is two and a half hours of dizzying action, punctuated by trite rom-com dialogue between Peter and Gwen. As a standalone movie, it is tolerable entertainment. As part of a reboot, it cements the series' status as an unnecessary, second-tier franchise. It is inferior to Raimi's trilogy in every way.