GODZILLA (2014, Gareth Edwards)
Aaron Taylor-Johnson is such a charmless, uncomfortable non-entity that he makes Jeremy Renner look like Tom Hanks. There’s a scene in GODZILLA where Taylor-Johnson is asked to do nothing more than stand in a room opposite Bryan Cranston and he can’t even manage to hold his arms in a natural position. (He’s such a meathead that even the first three letters of his character’s last name are “bro”). Look, I know 21st century blockbusters aren’t star-driven in a way that films of the stone age were. The highest grossing film of all time was anchored by Sam Worthington, a man whom most of the people who saw it wouldn’t even recognize if he rolled up to them in a wheelchair. But big CG-driven sci-fi Hollywood product, even one whose theme is the inefficacy and irrelevance of mankind, could still stand to use a movie star — and if not, at least someone who can act.
The people who can act in GODZILLA, such as Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Elizabeth Olsen, and Sally Hawkins, are to one degree or another ignored by Max Borenstein’s (I’m failing to resist the urge to make a cheap “boringstein” joke) screenplay, which calls for them to mostly stare skyward in awe or rattle off silly exposition. Ken Watanabe gets the unenviable task of refusing to make eye contact with anyone asking him a question, so he can answer while looking off-camera and spouting nonsense about nature vs. man. This is a script where a monster leaves Honolulu and war room expositioners say “it’s heading DUE EAST!” while the signs point to San Francisco. What maps are they using? This is a script where a wife who is desperately praying for her unknown-whereabouts husband to return from a disaster-torn nation doesn’t even turn on the ringer on her phone (so Edwards can use the cliched shot of a vibrating phone in the foreground gone unheard by the owner in the background) — not to mention the fact that the husband calling said phone doesn’t even try the landline previously established in the film.
But hey, it’s got giant blue-fire-breathing dinosaur sea monsters fighting radioactive sky mantises. And yeah, those scenes are extremely well put together. And the film is fast-paced and consistently watchable. And a lot of money is on the screen in impressive fashion. But none of it lands home, and I’m pretty sure it’s because of the script. Edwards puts together an astonishing demo reel mid-film where the Las Vegas strip is torn asunder, yet it feels wholly clinical and cute, even though thousands of people have just been killed. This movie has the highest body count of any film I’ve ever seen barring the ones where the world actually ends, but you never feel the death matter. It’s one thing to tell a story where humans are insignificant in the grand scheme of things (paging 2001 to a white courtesy phone); it’s another to tell that story from a human’s point of view and still have no idea what they think.