Godzilla (1998)

CGI, fucking awful, Godzilla, Matthew Broderick, news, origin story, review, Roland Emmerich, terrible

The same colleague who continues to push his misguided, positive Man of Steel feelings on me is currently trying to pique my interest for Gareth Edward’s upcoming Godzilla film. As much as I want to believe Edwards can pull off a film that adequately honours the 1954 Japanese original, I just can’t trust it. Now I can tell what some of you are thinking and I get it: none of the many films starring this reptilian nightmare can really be classed as “good”. There are issues with continuity, the portrayal of the monster, and the basic filming techniques to be found in pretty much all of them. However, there is something about Ishirō Honda’s original that just works so well. Yeah, it might not even be on a par with the 1933 King Kong in terms of quality but fuck it: he’s a goddamn giant lizard monster. Of course, I’ve been burned by heightened anticipation in the past so I’m trying to calm myself down a little. What better way to do this than by rewatching the Matthew Broderick centred travesty from 1998?

Roland Emmerich’s 1998 film Godzilla is dark. Now, by dark I don’t mean like a Christopher Nolan film: I mean it’s fucking hard to see anything. Before New York is cursed with a rampaging monster, it is haunted by torrential rain and gloomy skies. The awful weather should tell you everything you need to know about Emmerich’s visual offerings. I mean it doesn’t scream of a director being confident in his title character when he purposefully creates a situation in which it is almost impossible to see the fucker. Compare it, for example, with Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park released five years earlier: Spielberg takes his audience and slaps them repeatedly in the face with his well-lit and well designed dinosaurs. Now there’s a director who trusts his end product.
I could almost forgive Emmerich’s shadowy setting if he were doing something groundbreaking with the rest of the film. However, his script, co-written with producer Dean Devlin, is an insipid reworking of a concept that is more familiar to us than the faces of our family. I guess I can understand him not trying to reinvent the wheels in terms of the structure: it’s a tried and tested formula and Godzilla has a lot of loyal fans out there. Imagine how much more pissed off they’d have been if Emmerich had ignored the vital moments of the ritual: mysterious blips on radar; wrecked ships; traumatised survivor: and hapless fisherman celebrating a “monster bite”.  In between the awful scientist and news station exposition, the director creates a fairly decent sense of foreboding and, once the monster arrives in New York, there are some pretty good special effects on display. There is just the right amount of tension and more than enough destruction for anyone’s inner 12 year old to enjoy.
And there it is: the place where I run out of polite things to say about this film. As for the rest, it’s a fucking sham. There are times when the filmmakers seem unsure about whether they are making a film or a video game and it ends up looking trashy and cheap. Take the scene where a military plane is pursuing the creature: Emmerich is clearly attempting to emulate a classic videogame style but, rather than immersing the audience in the chase (which I imagine was his justification) it just looks shit. There is no real sense that this film knows what it’s trying to do. Is it a comedy, an action film, a romance? Who fucking knows.
The plot (don’t worry I understand the ridiculousness of criticising plot in a mutant lizard film) is just a confused, bloated and self-indulgent mess that I can only imagine Emmerich and Devlin knocked up the night before filming was due to start. We have the basic ‘Godzilla comes to New York and destroys some shit’ plot but the producers clearly saw that this wouldn’t create a very substantial film. The action is dragged out thanks to the ever changing size of the title creature who can magically fit into subway tunnels one minute and can’t enter the Park Avenue tunnel the next. This ability to shrink to whatever fucking size he needs means that Godzilla is constantly able to hide from his pursuers. (Handy considering he is the first incarnation of the creature that can be harmed by human weaponry.) Here’s a quick piece of advice to any bloodthirsty Kaiju out there: go to New York because apparently it’s such a huge place that the army will never be able to fucking find you.
Wishing to drag the action out further, our heroes discover that Godzilla is a proud father. This new plot twist has the overall feel of the writers sensing the lack of a follow-up and hastily gluing the script for the potential sequel onto the first one. It’s totally unnecessary and only damages the potential for success. It’s over two hours long for fuck’s sake. I very nearly fell asleep throughout the final parts of the film and I can’t help thinking that, had I only allowed myself to succumb to exhaustion, it probably would have improved my final opinion of the piece. If you’ve got a shitty story adding an even shitter second story on top it is never going to end well.
Guiding us through these bloated plot-twists is a cast of utterly uninspiring, stock characters. I mean, aside from the French guy (Jean Reno) who I was ambivalent towards, there wasn’t a single fucking character in this entire film that I hoped would survive. The oddball cast is headed by 80s darling Matthew Broderick as a scientist who had been working with radioactive, mutant worms in Chernobyl. Unfortunately, Dr Niko Tatopoulos has no real personality and, despite several women salivating at the very sight of him, looks so much like a 12 year old that it’s difficult to take anything he says seriously. There are moments when Tatopoulos attempts to hold down the necessary pro-Godzilla argument but, once he finds himself in danger, is more than happy to ignore his inner thoughts and watch the fucker get blown to pieces. He’s hardly the inspiring and charismatic hero that a good Kaiju film needs.
But wait, who needs the weird worm guy when you have a mysterious Frenchman bemoaning the state of American coffee? To say that Jean Reno is the shining star amongst the rest of the cast really isn’t much of a compliment but he certainly doesn’t seem as constrained by the same bout of self-delusion that infected the rest of the cast. He embraces the farce and makes it work to his advantage. However, intelligence agent Roché is as underdeveloped as the rest of the cast and only serves to offer up the necessary one-liners and gun-fire.  Really there is never a moment when you have a sense that any of the characters are there except to provide witty or shrewd observations about the action that is unfolding before their eyes: adding nothing to the drama or emotion but the obligatory action movie dialogue.
Emmerich and Devlin famously named two of the characters after legendary film writing duo Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel in response to negative reviews of their previous films: the useless but opportunistic mayor Ebert and his advisor Gene. In terms of sticking it to their critics it’s hardly a cutting assault. The characters make it through the film without a scratch for fuck’s sake. If you’re going to make a big deal about getting back at someone then the least you can do is have a giant reptile eat them. I mean if Emmerich can’t get a quest for personal vengeance to work for him how the hell was he ever going to deal with Godzilla himself?
Over the years a few different techniques have been utilised to bring Godzilla to the big screen. He was traditionally portrayed by an actor wearing a latex costume (aka suitmation) but has also been depicted using animatronics, stop-motion animation and CGI. Whilst it may not seem that way looking back now in 2014, the period that Godzilla was released was a pretty exciting time for computer-generated effects. The film was released only 3 years before Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring was released and 4 years before the, it was impressive at the time, Spider-Man was released. It was a good time for special effects is what I’m getting at here.
This nugget of film history serves to remind us all just how spectacular this film could have been. Unfortunately, by the time eventually Emmerich and Devlin became involved with the project they were just too keen to put their own stamp onto everything that had already been planned. They scrapped the original idea to develop a version of Godzilla that remained faithful to the original design and instead okayed a completely new and, if I may be so bold, disgraceful design. The Godzilla on screen wasn’t the upright reptilian sea monster that we were so used to attacking well-known landmarks but the creepy, giant result of a sexy t-rex and iguana union. Let’s be honest, it was fucking awful. So awful that Toho, the Japanese film company that owns him, has officially renamed the monster to Zilla in an attempt to cut any ties with the classic.
I say, if it’s good enough for the Japanese then I’m more than happy to forget that this joke was ever compared to the unstoppable legend.

Man of Steel (2013)

Amy Adams, Christopher Nolan, comic book, DC, meh, origin story, reboot, review, Russell Crowe, Superman, Zack Snyder

I work with a guy who is a fairly huge fan of Superman so I have had to contend with his excitement concerning Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel since its production was announced. With the release of every new trailer I was met with a gushing report of how it was set to be the best film ever made and, in the past few weeks, have been continually asked when the inevitable Blu-Ray release is. This is all very well and good but I found it difficult to match his excitement. As a child I loved the Christopher Reeve films and was a fan of the ‘I’m sure it was cool in the 90s’ Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. However, as a superhero, I never really responded to Kal-El in the same way I did with other forces of good. The reason for this is simple: his parents. Clark, as an alien who receives strength from the Sun, has an immense advantage over other heroes. He isn’t making the same kind of sacrifice as people like Batman, Iron Man or Spider-Man. He also never seemed as easy to engage with as a character. He’s a bit too cheesy (yes I realise talking about cheesiness in terms of any superhero is somewhat ridiculous) in an All-American hero kind of way. It’s grating and, when he’s riding around on his insanely high horse, it’s difficult to see him let alone connect with him as a character. If I had to pick an almost indestructible, God-like alien for a friend it’d be Thor no question. He seems fun in a Nordic way, has a nifty hammer and is all beardy. Plus, his human form is a doctor whilst Clark Kent runs around playing a famous journalist. It’s all a bit too narcissistic for me. So by the time I finally got round to watching this supposed masterpiece I had my expectations set to ‘not stunned’.


There was a definite sense that Superman needed a revival that would breathe new life into the man in red and blue. There was room to bring Kal-El in line with the current trend for comic-book movies and have him grow up that little bit. If that meant roughening up the edges then director Zack Snyder and producer (and script contributor) Christopher Nolan weren’t going to take the softly softly approach. Nolan and Snyder aren’t exactly your typical film partnership and there is a sense that this film is battling with its two different attitudes. On the one hand it is the dark and moody tale of a man who must fight against his Kryptonian nature and his human sensibilities: who must pick between the destiny set-out for him by his dead biological father and the careful path his adoptive human father would have him follow. On the other, it is a fast, loud and brash tale of destruction and violence that would have even Michael Bay wondering “is this a bit much?”: in other words hard-core explosion porn. It is Nolan’s style that ends up suffering and the last hour or so ends up being mainly about Kal and his Kryptonian buddies destroying everything they come across.

To be quite honest, excessive lens flare aside, I have no real problem with the visuals. I love Snyder’s muted tones and can even get behind the weirdly mechanical and very Star Trekian landscape of Krypton. Then we have the spectacular action sequences which, had there not been so many needless examples, would have got my inner twelve year old boy jumping for joy. Cinematographer Amir Mokri does of good job of ensuring that, no matter how crazy things get, it is still fairly easy to keep track of what’s going on. It’s just a shame that throughout the 2.5 hour running time there is an underlying sense that the destruction on screen is just senseless and self-indulgent. Man of Steel was intended to make an impact and, whether or not it aids the plot, it definitely introduces itself in a way you can’t ignore. It also provides a good foundation for the future as the final twenty minutes or so gives us a glimpse at a fully-fledged Superman film and suggests that, provided more depth is given to the main characters, any sequels will only boost this franchise. 
Despite the reboot, the narrative isn’t too ‘out there’ and all of the key points to Superman’s origin are present and correct. The all too familiar tale begins on Krypton where Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is helping his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) give birth to their first child Kal-El. Their planet is unstable and beyond redemption so Jor-El convinces his wife to send their newborn to a distant planet in the hope that he can help build a new and better Krypton. We quickly skip 33 years to find Clark taking on a series of false identities and moving on whenever he feels the need to expose his powers (whether that’s to save innocent people or just teach a bully a lesson). Through a series of flashbacks we see some of his childhood with his loving and protective Earth parents Jonathan (a sensitive and considered performance from Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane bringing as much emotion as possible to a limited role). Jonathan nervously awaits the day that the world finds out about his son and the terrible consequences that would have on his life. This has shaped the way Clark has grown up and has, as a result, shied away from making any kind of connections and resenting being unable to help people or dole out justice.
Thankfully he soon gets the chance to work out this deep-seated resentment when a worthwhile opponent enters his new life. General Zod, who we first meet attempting to stop baby Kal making his escape, has followed him to Earth in the attempt to create a new Krypton on top of the ashes of humanity. Whilst finally making his presence known to the wary Americans, Clark must decide whether his loyalties lie with his old life or his new. Although, even this conflict is fairly short-lived as, thanks to the ghostly appearances by the Hamlet Snr-esque, British Jor-El (seriously why is he British yet General Zod and co. are American?), it is very obvious that Kal isn’t going to let his new home world be destroyed before his very eyes. Even the potential fear he has about humanity’s reaction to him comes to nothing when he intimidates members of the government and the army simply by breaking apart his handcuffs. Unfortunately for Henry Cavill, all that is needed to play our hero is dashing good looks and a dimple in the middle of his square jaw. I can’t even tell is Cavill is a good actor or not because the role required him to do nothing but wear a tight-fitting, leather onsie.
With the removal of the Clark Kent/Superman divide in this reboot, there is even less of a human side to everyone’s favourite Kryptonian. With the Christopher Reeves films the Clark Kent side of his personality gave Kal-El a humble, infallible nature. It was Clark Kent who was the likeable one whilst Superman was just too good to be true. Getting rid of the split means that Kal-El is simply your better and that creates an inevitable gulf between you. Cavill is all business here and remains stiff and pretty unemotional throughout. In fact the only thing in this film that takes itself more seriously than Clark is the film itself. As is happens I counted one joke in the entire thing (where Zod throw Clark into a ‘no accidents in 106 days’ sign only for the 1 and 6 to fall off). Yes this brief visual gag made me chuckle but as statistics go it’s pretty bleak.
This wouldn’t matter so much if there was a distraction from the bleakness and suffering within the romance between Clark and confident journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams). The pair first meet in the arctic and somehow fall in love. I say somehow as I genuinely don’t know how the relationship developed: one minute Lane is tracking down Kent to expose him as the mysterious alien to them being in love. I get it on her part (he is beautiful) but I can only assume that Clark responds because Lois is the only human besides his parents that he spends more than a few minutes talking to. God knows there is no real chemistry between Cavill and Adams. Let’s face it, they’re no Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher. Although, ignoring this massive oversight, I was a fan of the new independent Lois Lane. She’s become more than the easily deceived and swooning Lois to an investigative reporter who easily works out Kal’s identity. Also, this gets rid of the annoying ‘do I love Clark or do I love Superman’ conflict that Lois is always finding herself in. Gone is the sassiness we are used to but instead of smart and cynical modern interpretation. It’s exactly what the original super-wife needed and deserved to be in this modern age.
I have seen a great deal of praise for Michael Shannon’s General Zod and it is simply perplexing.  I found Zod to be a rather flaccid and bland for a super villain. He doesn’t even manage to be more interesting than his second-in-command Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) who, as it turns out, is both terrifying, physically intimidating, and offered much better dialogue than her superior officer. I don’t blame Shannon for this because his part as the character of Zod is pretty much relegated to two-dimensional bad guy status. Aside from a few hints that his heart is in the right place, the General is only ever called upon to yell clichéd extracts from the super-villain handbook or reel off ridiculously archaic speeches about revenge. Although he does get more chance to create a name for himself than the rest of the supporting cast. Take Lois’ boss at the Daily Planet Perry White (played by the reliable and earring-ed Laurence Fishburne). White exists only to occasionally warn Lois about her honesty before he and two of his colleagues become trapped as Zod’s magical destruction machine starts tearing shit up. This is obviously supposed to create an emotionally tense situation but we know so little of these characters (in the context of this film at least) to give a damn whether they live or die. There is a real sense that a lot of Man of Steel relies on the pre-existing knowledge of this universe to avoid any pesky explanations littering up the narrative.  That would mean less time to blow shit up after all.
Had Man of Steelcome out pre-Nolan then I have no doubt that I could perhaps understand those hailing is as the best comic book movie of all time. It’s not the worst film of its kind. Hell as a sci-fi film it has a fair few things for it: it’s huge, melodramatic and visually impressive. However, we have all come to expect a bit more from out superheroes. There isn’t the great characterisation witnessed in Iron Man, the wit and humour of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers or the gritty realism and intelligence of Nolan’s Batman-trilogy. Certainly Snyder’s film has super to spare. However, after the promises laid down by the title, I would have preferred to see a bit more of the man.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Andrew Garfield, comic book, Emma Stone, Marvel, origin story, reboot, review, Spider-Man

2012 was, without a doubt, the year of the comic book movie. Back in April Avengers Assemble brought together some of Marvel’s biggest names in a fantastic (though not without its flaws) group effort that paves the way for a potentially epic franchise. It was the year that Christopher Nolan fanboys had been waiting for with the release of The Dark Knight Rises, the disappointing end to his Dark Knight trilogy. In between these two highly anticipated releases came the reboot of Spider-Man. After three increasingly terrible Toby Maguire fronted films it was down to Marc Webb (who I assume was approached mainly based on the suitability of his name) to try and breathe new life into the well-known origin story of everyone’s favourite web-slinging geek. Considering it had only been five years since Spider-Man 3 brought an end to the Maguire/Sam Raimi relationship, the question on many people’s lips was “is this really necessary?” From the initial announcement of the reboot back in 2010 the internet came together to denounce the film with the expected mix of hyperbole, hysteria and CAPS LOCK. It’s safe to say, there was an awful lot at stake here.

The end result? Marc Webb’s follow-up film to his hugely successful (500) Days of Summer is in no way close to the painful travesty that the internet feared but neither does it seem like a totally fresh reboot to a dwindling franchise. Thankfully, in my opinion at least, it stays away from the exceedingly dark and complex style of Nolan’s Batman Begins. We are instead faced with scenes very familiar to anyone who watched Raimi’s film but with another of Peter Parker’s leading ladies and a different green villain. The film is neither a stand-out nor an utter abomination. The plot doesn’t quite hold up and the action sequences are not the slickest we’ve ever been treated to but, it is important to remember, Webb’s focus for his opening is the characters themselves. The only reason this film doesn’t fall apart under the weight of its own insignificance is the incredibly strong performances on display, especially from the likeable leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.


Since the release of Spider-Man in 2002 the role of geeks in popular culture has changed somewhat. It is computer programmers that run the world and the science nerds of The Big Bang Theory who get all the women. Garfield’s Parker is an updated and slightly cooler young man than Toby Maguire’s version of our hero. He understands science, has epic skateboard skillz and has enough of a badass attitude to skate through the halls of his High School after being told not to. Oooh. The Peter Parker for the 2010s is basically a mix of The Big Bang Theory’s Leonard and Seth Cohen from The OCbut with Andrew Garfield’s charm and great hair. Don’t let the hair fool you though, Peter is still as much of an outsider as he ever was. Although, not enough of an outsider that the stunning Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) never notices him. It doesn’t completely add up to the person we are used to seeing. He isn’t the socially awkward, science-loving loner. He is confident enough to step in to help another kid being bullied at the hands of Flash and openly flirt with Gwen. As much as it may pain me to type it, I have to admit that Toby Maguire was actually a more convincing portrayal of this character. Although it is still not that simple because I find that Garfield is a more likeable character. He is cheeky, sarcastic and just enough of a dick. No matter how awful and bratty our hero got during the course of this film I found that I liked him. The only reason for this I can see is Garfield’s talented performance.

Garfield is helped along the way thanks to a superb supporting cast and his new leading lady. Stone’s Gwen Stacey is a great improvement on Kirsten Dunst’s bland Mary-Jane. She is feisty and intelligent and, like all good crime-fighting widows, doesn’t hesitate to get stuck in when it comes to stopping evil. There is no doubt that the chemistry between Garfield and Stone is outstanding. The two leads tiptoe into their romance brilliantly and, despite a few moments where it looks like Garfield has descended into Hugh Grant-esque bumbling, it is lovely to watch them nervously pursue each other. My only concern stems from the fact that both Stone and Garfield are pushing the limits of the acceptable age limit for actors to be able to play teenagers. Perhaps it would have been better if this film had not been a reboot but simply a new direction? 

After all, there really is no getting away from the fact that this film is an origin story. There is very little room to manoeuvre with the story of how Parker becomes super: geeky guy, spider, bite, bingo. Therefore, this all seems a little bit too familiar and tired. That isn’t to say that Webb doesn’t pull it off well. There are some enjoyable scenes where we see Spidey getting to grips with his powers through several moments of slapstick comedy. We also have a fairly satisfying, if slightly aggressive, Revenge of the Nerdsstyle humiliation of bully Flash. Parker isn’t infallible and makes mistakes. It’s refreshing to have a superhero origin story that takes a more comic and laid-back approach and doesn’t give our new hero some kind of autopilot when it comes to crime fighting. Although this would have meant we could avoid the ridiculous rehash of Uncle Ben’s “with great power” speech. Is it just me that can hear the writers madly searching for a synonym for ‘responsibility’?  

In a decidedly Nolan-esque turn, family skeletons are brought out of the closet thanks to the brief inclusion of Peter’s parents; most importantly his father, acclaimed scientist Richard Parker. Young Petey is packed up in the middle of the night and left with his aunt and uncle (played by the wonderful but criminally underused Sally Fields and Martin Sheen). It is the discovery of his father’s briefcase and hidden research notes years later that leads him to the laboratory of Dr Curt Connors, Richard’s one-armed ex-research partner. Here he is exposed to a whole new world of scientific experimentation and that life-changing bite. After a few teenage strops and door slamming, Peter is faced with the death of his beloved Uncle Ben and the guilt of deciding not to act to prevent it. The loss is the push needed to start his second-life and attempt to track down all criminals with a similar description to his uncle’s killer. I know there are people who criticised this plot strand but I enjoyed it. It would have been nice if it hadn’t been dropped half-way through the film and just forgotten about. In an ideal world Spidey would have continued to track down his nemesis only to discover that his future lay in heroics rather than revenge.

Of course, the more exciting route is, in a weird nod to Frankenstein, to give Peter the information that inadvertently gives life to his first supervillain, the Lizard, and feel compelled to destroy his monstrous creation. Rhys Ifans’ Curt Connors is a man who dreams of gaining the reptilian ability to regrow his lost limb. His obsession drives his research and his untested serum brings forth a horrific mutant who quickly becomes distracted by his sudden, desperate need to bring forth a new superhuman race. Ifans is a wonderful actor but the character of Dr Connors doesn’t give him enough room to bring his own personality to the table. Any depth that there could have been in the character is removed given his straight change from desperate scientist to a giant lizard out to cause some havoc. The whole plot is rushed and the character remains pretty 2-dimensional. He is used, along with Parker’s parents, to allow the writers to start to create an air of mystery and darkness around the Oscorp Corporation and the unseen Norman Osborn. Like so many bland origin stories, The Amazing Spider-Man was created to open the way for the franchise’s future.

This film had a great amount of potential with a top quality cast and an incredibly likeable leading man. However, it was simply going over much travelled ground and lazily preparing for future films. It is by no means the terrible film that most of the internet community would have you believe but nor is it the great film it deserved to be. It is a stepping stone for the future but was rushed and unconsidered.  The plot is sloppy and there are several glaring holes in the plot. The characters are not given the introduction that they deserve or are utterly wasted. I, for one, would have liked to see a more fleshed out Captain Stacy and a much more satisfactory death (if that was even necessary in the opening film). It was an unavoidable fact that the internet was never going to approve of this film no matter what the final piece looked like but don’t believe the naysayers completely. This film is good. It is by no means amazing but still a very enjoyable ride. My overall message to Marc Webb then: (in the words of Gwen Stacy herself) “I thought it was great what you did out there. Stupid, but great.”