OF GODS AND MONSTERS: Godzilla and X-Men: Days of Future Past


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godzilla-2014-movie-screenshot-old-monsterAll the while, while watching Godzilla, the mega monster movie epic written by Max Borenstein from a story by Dave Callaham and directed by Gareth Edwards, all I could think is “where is Mystery Science Theater 3000 when you need them?”
(I remember this one moment, see, and this female MOTU, okay, she like passes over the central character, Ford Brody, and you can like see its testicular like sac carrying its eggs and everything, and, and I so wanted Crow, Tom Servo or Gypsy to call out, “Please don’t teabag me, please don’t teabag me”).

 

Godzilla is one of those movies in which a flavorless, uninteresting himbo is cast in the lead (here Aaron Taylor-Johnson—and in the filmmaker’s defense, perfectly cast from that perspective, I suppose) and is then surrounded by better known and/or more talented actors in the hope of distracting the audience from the void in the center.

 

Note to Studio: it didn’t work.

 

Godzilla is a movie in which the heroic lead phones his wife, Elle, in San Francisco where he knows the various monsters are converging and instead of telling her to leave town with their little boy ASAP, he tells her to stay there until he can come get them.

 

Godzilla is also a movie in which that same wife and mother actually hesitates in putting her child on a bus that is taking all the other children out of town and to safety (no, really, she hesitates, she actually hesitates).

 

Note to Elle and Ford: You can probably forget those cards on the second Sunday in May and third Sunday in June. Just guessing.

 

Godzilla is a movie in which the climactic fight, a ménage of a kerfuffle, takes place off screen, in the dark, or by only showing small sections of the monsters.

 

Note to director: Really?

 

And perhaps most depressing of all, Godzilla is a movie directed by someone with talent, Mssr. Edwards; someone who gave us a first rate small independent sci-fi movie, Monsters; and someone who, because of that, you pray will have made a Godzilla that is such a financial disaster, he’ll have to go back to making smaller films like the one he did before.

 

Note to audience: when hell freezes over.

 

I’m sorry. Godzilla did not remotely work for me. It has a screenplay that is bland and flat, like the characters and dialog; a plot that wasn’t always easy to follow (now just how do those two MOTUs fit into everything); and has more monsters than is probably good for it (like the villains in a Spiderman or Batman sequel).

 

The movie is filled, as was mentioned before, with all sorts of big and/or respected actors, though be forewarned: Borenstein seems to have taken his structure from Game of Thrones when it comes to the dispensing of some of these said names.

 

Juliette Binoche, who plays Ford’s mother, is probably the luckiest. She’s out of it in the first half hour and for a few weeks work gets a nifty little paycheck and a plane ticket back to France where she can return to working with filmmakers like Michael Haneke, Olivier Assayas and Abbas Kiarostami (though I still kept thinking, gee, I know that taxes are extremely high in France, but really, Binoche? I mean, really?).

 

But also around for the mass destruction are Bryan Cranston (mugging his ex-Breaking Bad heart out, and I don’t mean stealing billfolds from unsuspecting Japanese tourists); Ken Watanabe, who puts the inscrutable back in the Asian stereotype, as the scientist who, in the end, really does little but stand around, look serious and say nothing, all the time with a scowl on his face; Sally Hawkins, who actually acquits herself rather well giving the most satisfying performance here by toning down her perkiness and becoming quite serious; though Elizabeth Olson isn’t so bad herself as the “those also serve who sit and wait” wife of Ford.

 

David Strathairn’s also in it, but I have nothing to really say about him or his performance, except that none of them are particularly well used and as a result, none of them really do very much, which is easy not to do when you aren’t given anything much to do.

 

Even Alexander Desplat, quite possibly the finest maker of music in movies today, feels like he’s slumming it this time ‘round.

 

The whole story revolves around a revisionist history of Godzilla. In the original, he’s a creation of the atomic blasts during World War II and after. This time ‘round the use of atomic weaponry was a method to try to kill it. Or something like that. I’m not really sure. And now they’ve uncovered various monsters who feed off of atomic energy, especially gigantic male and female insect like creatures who, when they meet, suck face (gross, yuck and ew, and I mean, eeeeeeeew).

 

The showdown takes place in San Francisco. I’m not sure why. Usually when large cities are destroyed there’s a subtext to it all (Tokyo as a metaphor for Hiroshima; New York City for 9/11; Los Angeles, just because everybody enjoys seeing la-la land taken down a notch or twenty).   I’m not sure what San Francisco did to deserve this except maybe have a couple of earthquakes and legalize gay marriage (ah, I see, maybe Pat Robertson was right).

 

In the end, the humans are overwhelmed by the monsters and try as they might, there is nothing they can do to stop them and they have to let nature takes its course. And it’s actually up to Godzilla to save the city. It’s never really explained, as far as I could tell, why lizardo giganto would want to take out the MOTUs. I mean, the three really seem to have some deep seated score to settle.

 

Watanabe’s scientist ascribes the conflict to yin and yang and to that I say…yeah, sure, whatever. Personally, I think that the female MOTU and Godzilla were supposed to get married and the female MOTU left him at the altar for her male counterpart. Hey, it’s as good as that yin yang malarkey.

 

But in the end, there’s simply no emotional connection to anything that is going on, to the people who die, to the mass destruction, to Godzilla turning out to be a not so bad guy after all. I may have issues with James Cameron, but in such movies as Terminator and Aliens, he never overlooked the human connection. And in Titanic, when that massive ship goes down and people are dying, it’s a terrifyingly devastating set of scenes.

 

But here, people are slaughtered, cities are destroyed, a couple of little boys are put in danger—and there’s just no there there. Even when Sally Hawkins is crying at the end as Godzilla returns from whence he came, weeping as if she is saying goodbye to an old and dear friend, it all feels like crocodile tears.

 

Which, I suppose, is kind of appropriate in a way.

 

xmenIf nothing else, X-Men: Days of Future Past has one of the most original takes on the assassination of John F. Kennedy for you conspiracy theory buffs out there (and probably answers the question as to how he was able to bed all those women as well).

 

However, X-Men: Days of Future Past, the latest entry in the Marvel movie multiplex universe, has plenty of something elses.

 

In fact, all the while, while I was watching this movie, all I could think was, isn’t it amazing what you can do with pop culture if you have an intelligent screenplay with a clever plot; dialog with plenty of wit; strong and above average characters played by strong and above average actors (very strong and very above average); and directed by someone who can bring far more to an equation than simply being a good traffic cop.

 

Yes, I could be mean and cavalier and petty and say, look, if they really wanted to stop this future from happening, wouldn’t it have been easier to go back far farther in time than they do here and stop the evil mutantphobic Trask when he was a young and callow barefoot boy with cheek rather than return when it’s all last minute and everything has to be done in a do or die right away manner or the world as we know it will end?

 

I mean, I could be mean and cavalier and petty and say that, but if the writers Simon Kinberg, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn and the director Bryan Singer actually did that, then we wouldn’t have all those wonderful 1970’s costumes and sets and one of the cleverest selection of top twenty hits since American Hustle.

 

And, perhaps, more importantly, we wouldn’t have such a rollicking good time in the theater.

 

Marvel has always had a different approach to their comic book canon. Instead of heroic and psychologically sound superheroes, their universe is filled with both good guys and bad guys that are as neurotically damaged as anyone in a Woody Allen film. While many other caped crusaders like Superman mainly face outward conflicts, Marvel characters like Spiderman, Iron Man and the X-Men also face equally formidable inner conflicts of self doubt and existential angst.

 

In Marvel, it ain’t pretty being a superhero.

 

X-Men: Days of Future Past is a time travel story with all the convolution and contradictions that implies. In other words, don’t try to fight it or even understand it (though in many ways, it holds together much better than many time travel movies), just go with the flow, man, mellow out and enjoy it and don’t harsh the vibe, as they would say in the primary time period in which this roller coaster ride takes place.

 

It all has to do with Mystique/Raven assassinating a scientist, Trask, who wants to rid the world of mutants. But by taking out Trask, Mystique/Raven just makes everyone madder, so they capture her and use her DNA to create Sentinels, mechanical soldiers that can mutate at will and come up with the mutant power perfect to defeat any X-Man they run into.

 

This eventually leads to an Orwellian, Brazilian, Blade Runnerian dystopian future where the Sentinels have taken over and turned any who rebel into mindless serfs. Only a handful of mutants are left to save the day, so Kitty Pryde uses her ability to send people into the past to dispatch Wolverine, the only mutant who can regenerate fast enough to withstand the damage such a trip would cause, to 1973 to stop Trask.

 

To succeed, though, he has to convince a young Professor Xavier (now a drug addicted shell of a man) and a young Magneto (still the same loveable old egomaniac he always was, is and will be) to buy his story and join forces.

 

You got that? Now let the games begin.

 

The plot has more than a few unexpected twists and turns and I didn’t see that comings filled with some delightful cameos and set pieces (one especially revolving around Evan Peters as Quicksilver, a faster than speeding bullet teen who can play ping pong against himself and has a basement filled with TV’s and stereos that, well, you know, fell off a truck?, and his rescuing of Magneto from an underground concrete bunker in the Pentagon—I mean, that is one rad set of cleverly written pieces, my brother).

 

It takes place all over the world with some remarkable production design thrown in for good measure, from a wondrous temple/castle in the remote mountains of China to a Washington, DC bedroom complete with water bed and lava lamp.

 

And the whole thing actually leaves you with a lumpish thingy in the throat at the end as God damn it, yes, you find yourself getting emotionally involved in the whole rigamarole complete with a personal connection to everything going on on screen.

 

When it comes to the main characters, all the usual suspects are here, especially Hugh Jackman as Wolverine; James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart as Prof. Xavier young and old; Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen as Magneto ditto; Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique/Raven; and Nicholas Hoult as beast. All giving incredibly strong and empathetic performances.

 

I could go on and on here because this has to be one of the best cast movies in recent memory. There doesn’t seem to be a weak link in the chain.

 

With Peter (god, is he having a good couple of years with this and Game of Thrones) Dinklage as Trask.

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