Jun 102016
2.5 reels

In a rebooted universe where Godzilla has never existed before, an unknown disaster occurs in the bay and the Japanese government springs into action to talk, and meet, and make sure that protocol is followed. When the disaster turns out to be a giant mutating monster, the government immediately talks some more, and meets some more, and follows more protocol. When the monster mutates into Godzilla, it is time for more talking. Meanwhile, the new generation of Japanese are tossing off the old ways, and working together to defeat Godzilla.

Reviewing a Godzilla film is a lot like reviewing porn; for most people it doesn’t matter if it is good, only if it is the type of thing they like. How you feel about Godzilla Resurgence says more about you than it does about the film. So it has been since the second Godzilla film in 1955.

I separate the first film (Gojira) as it is a masterpiece and unlike most of what followed. It is rich with theme, filled with complex characters, shot beautifully with top notch acting, and it shares the pain of the only people in the world who have experienced a nuclear bomb. After that, there was less (sometimes no) concern for characterization and little for sense. The twenty-nine Japanese films are mainly monster-mashups. If you like monster-mashups, then you are sometimes happy with these, sometimes not.

However, that doesn’t mean the themes went away. No Godzilla film expressed its meaning with the skill and nuance of that first film, but half of the films have something to say and say it loudly. Environmentalism pops up often (including in Mothea vs. Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Hedorah, Godzilla vs. Biollante), as does the problems with corporate power (including King Kong vs. Godzilla, M v G again). There are Godzilla films on guilt and honoring the dead (Giant Monsters All-Out Attack) and bullying (Son of Godzilla, Godzilla’s Revenge), but politics is the most prevalent topic. Normally it is international and military politics, and those enter in this time too, but Godzilla Resurgence is about internal Japanese politics and bureaucracy. It is also about nationalism, which it supports, so if you looking for a satire of government with an uncomfortable nationalistic streak, then you’ve found your film.

If you want giant monster action, you are out of luck. Godzilla is only in the film for a few minutes. He does a couple stomp throughs, one big flame and laser attack (yes, now he shoots lasers, not only from his mouth, but from his tail and spines) and that’s it. I didn’t time it but I’d guess ten minutes of screen time is about right. The special effects, what there are of them, are better than they’ve ever been in a Toho Godzilla film by a good margin, but they are still a decade behind what we have become used to. Don’t expected to be awed by the big beasty although if you like the suit-mation/puppetry atheistic, you should be pleased.

We spend our time watching an inefficient government do nothing. We see a meeting which is followed by everyone walking to another meeting which is followed by everyone walking back for another meeting. As action, this is a failure. As sharp commentary, it is pretty good. For the first twenty minutes, it is hard to pick out anyone. We just watch rooms full of old men doing their best not to make decisions and not to lose face. The politicians are more concerned with what department is in charge than they are in solving the problem of a huge monster killing everyone. The funniest bits are with the military attacks, when every command gets filtered through five to ten people, taking precious time. The U.S. takes a few barbs as well, being depicted as overbearing and self-serving, but at least it gets things done.

This is a Godzilla film where Godzilla doesn’t matter. The script could be easily rewritten to remove him, slipping in any large disaster. The focus is on how old Japan and young Japan respond to a problem. And that’s where the nationalistic point comes in. Japan is great, great in its purity and determination, and that greatness is on display in its millennials as they toss out the old and make the country the “scrappy” fighter it once was. The point is made with no subtlety as the government meetings are filled with bowing and proper speech whereas when the youths get together it is pointed out that anyone can speak at any time and they all need to share their information.

A film of this nature needs some clearly drawn characters and unfortunately Godzilla Resurgence has none. The only character to receive any development is the American diplomat of Japanese decent (comically played by an actress who has only the barest skills with English). The rest of the characters are blank slates. They are their jobs. There is no emotion because these people have no personalities, no outside concerns, no families, and no traits. That makes it impossible to care about any of them. With no emotional investment and little monster mayhem, it is all down to the satire. Unfortunately, once we get the point (and you’ll get the point—there’s no ignoring it) there isn’t anything else to entertain or enlighten us viewers, yet and the film keeps going.

So on that porn scale, if you like clear political commentary and a bit of nationalism presented in a leisurely fashion you are in for a good ride. For me, it was worth my time though I am not drawn to see it again.


Jun 062016
one reel

Alton (Jaden Lieberher), a super-powered kid who can’t control his powers, has been kidnapped from a cult by his father Roy Tomlin (Michael Shannon) and his friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton). They take a very, very slow drive through very dark, nowhere roads while pursued by the cult that thinks the child is their salvation and by the government that knows he’s gotten secret information. Along the way they pick up Alton’s mother (Kirsten Dunst) so they can talk really slowly to someone else.

What if you wanted to remake Starman, but without the romance and far slower? Or if you wanted to redo Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but do it without the sense of wonder and at half speed? Then you’d make Midnight Special, a science fiction film that doesn’t know anything about science fiction, but is hung up on tense, unhappy people expressing their tenseness and unhappiness as haltingly as possible. Why take thirty seconds to speak a line when you could do it in a minute? Why move when you can stand? Why speak at all when you can stare? And why light a scene when you can shoot in natural darkness. I cannot recall a film where I could see less.

Michael Shannon tones down his scenery-chewing from Man of Steel, but keeps the glum disposition. He’s always in slow burn mode. I’m beginning to think he lacks the muscles that allow smiling. Has he ever laughed? For two hours he embodies a man with a bad case of constipation.

A pre-Star Wars Adam Driver puts in the least intense performance, which makes him a breath of fresh air. I didn’t hate him, I just wasn’t interested. Everyone else, I hated.

When we come to the moment of revelation and wonder, it is given to us slowly with no excitement. It’s as if I went to a rival meeting and it took them fifteen minutes to say “Jesus is good” and no one was all that happy about it. And why not? This is like a confused revival meeting, worshiping 70s & 80s science fiction films without understanding them.

It picks up at the end, but it is far too late. And in finally explaining things, it is clear that the entire film has been a cheat. If you are going to cheat, at least make it fun.

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