Spider-man and Godzilla: Double Feature

Hey! There’s rarely been a better time to be a nerd, has there? Games, books and music are easier to access than ever before, and they’re making movies and television shows about things that are relevant to us! Cool, eh? But, as we all know, that stuff tends to get watered down as it runs through the process of going from culture, to concept, to cinema. But, hey, the more people get involved in something, the more money you need. And you know what they say about money and problems, don’t you?

Anywho, I was going to go fishing this weekend, but I came down with something; instead, I went to the movies. So, I figured I’d tie this paragraph into the first one by giving you my opinion on “The Amazing Spider-man 2” and “Godzilla”  in the clusters of words that follow.

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I literally just got back from Godzilla an hour ago. And I have to say, I lovv… haaa….watched that movie. It was a bit weird walking into a movie-franchise that’s classically Japanese and having it redone by Americans. I got eerie Silent Hill flash-backs. It’s like leaving your house for an hour, then coming back and the walls are all a different colour. Troubling, off-putting, but not a deal-breaker. As long as you check the closets. And Godzilla has a pretty big closet, so let’s peek there first.

The weird cultural movie-thing you’ll probably hear about first happens within the opening twenty minutes or so of exposition. I mean… Wow. I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just say that the people who put this film together weren’t really being sensitive when they wrote the script. And I don’t mean to the material. I mean at all. Let’s leave it at: a nuclear reactor goes critical, because of an earthquake, within a Japanese city. Ooooh. Did… didja guys really need to do that? That’s like having a scene where Godzilla throws Mothra into the Twin Towers, one at a time. I felt a little sick to my stomach, but moving on…

It’s not really out of place, because the central conceit of Godzilla has always been that it represents a humbling force of nature for all humanity to respect. An unbridled power. As you’ve probably heard a thousand times by now, the original Godzilla was a metaphor for the atomic bomb. A power wielded by humans. It was our ultimate power for a long, long while. And I really like how the newest iteration kind of flips that notion on its head. Not in a de-constructionist sense, but it violates the concept by reminding us that the power of the atomic weapon is a force in itself. We merely poke at it.  Between this and Attack on Titan, it’s nice to see a reminder of our place within a wider Universe.

Remember, the forces of nature we’re talking about aren’t Just trees and bears. The forces of nature are reality; reality is an insane, emergent elemental “forces of the universe” team-up. It’s gravity. It’s suns that are so large that we can’t even grasp their immensity. It’s Godzilla. Who, oddly enough, kind of looks a little like a bear in this reincarnation. It harkens back to the original creature design very well. In fact, the monster designs, in general, are pretty damn good. Their movements and animations are top-notch, and I love the inspirations that the creature behaviours take from nature – really reinforces the monster-as-creature angle they’re going with. I mean, they didn’t flash “The Origin of the Species” in the opening credits for no reason at all.

I think Godzilla aficionados will enjoy the lore retooling, given the narrative re-write. The whole monster section is actually done really well. If you came to “Godzilla” to see a kick-ass Godzilla, then you came to the right place!

…for 30% of the movie. They did the Brad-Pitt in WWZ thing where they pick a generic white guy to follow around for most of the plot. And I think, much like WWZ, the movie suffered/was changed for it. Hideous contrivances are thought up to give this singular white-dude character a reason to be in the line-of-fire all the time. It’s not terrible, per se. It’s for personalization purposes, obviously. (But given that Godzilla is a global phenomenon, it kinda undermines the central narrative) At least, the plot mostly makes sense. But, there are plenty of moments in the movie where a monster punch-up is interrupted to give us more back-story about the humans, a’ la Transformers. It’s really irksome, because I came to “Godzilla” to see Godzilla, not some really generic family with a really generic set of movie-problems.

The human scenes are theoretically moving, but the people react to all this monster business with about as much fear and emotion as someone discovering that their milk has gone off. Mothers putting their children on buses with barely a tear in their eyes. My Mom was more broken up dropping me off on my first day of High School. It gets really surreal as the movie progresses. Did we really need these people? Think about it this way, though: can you really have a movie that’s just about two monsters punching each other? Demonstrably! You definitely can. Will that movie make the returns that Godzilla needs? I’m not so sure about that.

Adapting niche films is always tricky, because there might be a reason that a film has niche-appeal. A thing or emotion that it explores that isn’t always appealing to the size and type of crowd that can support big-budget movies. So, how true can you be to the original piece, while also putting enough into the film that it’s appealing to a large enough audience? I’m not sure. I don’t think there’s a direct answer, but this was a really good try. I think they might have done it, if you can ignore all the slow people-scenes.

Don’t get me wrong: We need people-scenes. We need pacing. We Don’t need to obsess over generic story-lines. You use generic, stereotypical story-lines because they don’t need to be fully developed. We know, with a look, what it can mean to lose your child. Or, at least, we understand what they must be feeling. Sadness, generally. Anger, maybe. Fury, definitely. But, unless you have a damn good reason, do you really need to have the entire thing unfold before our eyes, instead of a monster-battle? (If we’re there explicitly to see monster battles, I mean)

It’s difficult making monster-movies, because two giant monsters punching each other isn’t a plot, however cool it might look. But, weaving a plot into it is the initiation requirement for making a good creature-flick. The human plot of Godzilla is contrived and, at times, lacks the emotional tone the dialogue suggests. However, it does manage to echo and tie into the monster-plot in a meaningful way. The main characters are the luckiest unlucky family ever. The best actor is killed off early. Military hardware is shielded against EMPs. And if they aren’t, then why are you using them to transport your timed MacGuffin? And, no, that wasn’t going to be a safe distance, however much Dark Knight Rises logic you use.

I’m not giving anything away, really. It’s all pretty clearly foreshadowed. I’m just saying, now, the things that you’ll be thinking as you watch it. And you should watch it. Because, the 30% with the monsters is fantastic. The cinematography is divine. Even the scenes are well conceived. The transitions between punch-up and human-jabber is pretty seamless, and they get some really good shots of the fights. You can see what’s going on, and there isn’t a smoke-barrier occluding absolutely everything. Oh, it’s still there. It’s just not blocking all the things. Also, there’s no shaky-cam to ruin… stuff.

There are some really nice call-backs to the original films; some of the people involved with this film’s production clearly knew the material. There’s wit and charm in there, and a visual direction that begs to be experienced. It’s a shame that it all hangs off of a human-plot that doesn’t always do it justice. But, the broad strokes are there. The creatures, the lore, the world, and the look. Even the dialogue, writing, and acting are done competently. If there’s a Godzilla 2, and they look over the script a couple more times for localization faux pas, plot-holes and hacky plot-points, then it’s going to be an absolute monster. Until then, check out what we’ve got so far! Just, expect that there’s probably a little more human in your gumbo than is recommendable.

The-Amazing-Spider-Man-2-Full-HD-Poster

The Amazing Spider-man 2… is pretty amazing, honestly. I wasn’t expecting to like it nearly as much as I did. I’m not doing a long review here, because it’s been covered pretty thoroughly by the rest of the inter-webs: Standard intro-Spidey plot-points, with a slight movie-make-over and a bit of a back-story reboot. The changes aren’t really a deal-breaker, because they hit the same notes in this iteration. Guilt, super-powers, responsibility, etc. But, the coolest thing they do with this iteration is actually make it a Spider-man movie.

Do you remember Spider-man? Cheesy one-liners and silly characters. Stereotypes, accents and science so soft that it could function as a non-Newtonian fluid, if you consider inquisition a percussive force. These are generally seen as bad things, but we’re in a super-hero universe, so relax. Spider-man is a teenager’s character. He has their problems and their outlook. He’s fiercely intelligent, but he lacks the experience necessary to be awash in wisdom. His story is the path to gaining that wisdom, and he exemplifies the will to carry on in the face of hatred, oppression, mis-understanding and the unknown. When you can’t even trust your own body, and the world is a confusing mess of rhino-people and living electricity, you need something to stand on. Like a roof-top, for web-slinging.

And the web-slinging here is great. Andrew Garfield started out as a gymnast, and the experience/flexibility shows. This guy does a lot of his own stunts, which really helps with visual continuity. Or, if you don’t notice that, then it’s a nifty tid-bit. Again, the visual design is more than impressive, and I really enjoyed the design of the Rhino-suit.

But, that’s not really what I wanted to cover. I could have summed all that up in: “The Amazing Spider-man 2 is a fairly faithful comic-book adaptation that takes itself seriously enough to actually be a Spider-man movie.” The important thing I wanted to talk about was the villain threshold.

Going into this movie, I was dumb-founded by the thought that they might try to squeeze three villains into one movie. It seemed pretty impossible. But, they did it really well. And, without giving anything away, I’d like to pontificate on why it worked.

Villains aren’t just bad-guys. They bring out something in the main-character. That’s what makes them compelling as Villains. Otherwise, they’d just be thugs. Batman has the Joker; The Joker forces a mirror up to Batman’s face. He shows Batman his own hypocrisy and his madness. The blue-print for the Joker swims in the veins of the back-story of the Batman. That’s why they’re such a great couple. Spider-man has similar nemeses. Doc Oc is his fascination with science, but, also, the danger of scientific obsession and personal vendetta. Peter, as a man of science and progress, understands Doc Oc better than almost anyone else. They’ve both been given power by their obsessions; how they differ in the usage of that power defines their characters.

So, how do you make a multi-villain movie? Take some themes that resonate deeply with your main character: say, celebrity and responsibility. Then, ensure that the villains each explore an aspect of that. But not in the same way. Those of you familiar with video games know that there’s more to an encounter than simply combat. And you know that, because most boss encounters are simply combat. But, people challenge us on multiple levels. Intellectually. Spiritually. Sexually. Emotionally. Philosophically. Down any given -ally is an opportunity for character exploration. Use those opportunities carefully.

Tie the story-lines together in a meaningful way, which should be easy, because they’re thematically linked through a single individual. But, make sure each individual has their own story-line and likeability factor. Now, recombine until smooth.

It’s not a simple task; if it was, then it wouldn’t remarkable or “Amazing”. But, this movie makes it work. It doesn’t force meaning into places where it doesn’t exist by stretching out encounters. It’s simple, because the creators trusted the source-material. They didn’t dress it up more than they needed to. They weren’t afraid to be silly, and they did some pretty damn cool stuff. It’s not perfect; what is? Give it a shot, but don’t expect an epic, timeless tale. Expect Spider-man, because that’s what you’re getting. And if that’s an epic, timeless tale to you, then tell canon to shove it, because I love him, too.

Addendum: However, some people hated it. So, here’s a link to a critic I trust: MovieBob. I can see his points, even if I still remember enjoying the film while I was there.

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