Friday, 23 May 2014

Godzilla (2014) Movie Review

This week, I put on my best rubber dinosaur suit and trashed a model of Tokyo on my way to the local cinema to check out Godzilla (2014) starring Aaron-Taylor Johnson. It's directed by Gareth Edwards.

The story of Godzilla is one most of us are familiar with, which is one of the many reasons why this movie might throw you for a loop. There's definitely a giant lizard-like creature in the film. There's also a couple more large creatures in the film that don't really resemble any other species, but they're definitely large. There's even a chunk of the movie that takes place in Japan. See? Some familiar stuff in there for sure. It's all in how it's presented. 

At the beginning of the movie, there's a unique and fairly effective opening credits sequence. Opening credits have become something of a dying breed in modern cinema, so it was a nice change. I was taken aback, however, when Bryan Cranston was given last billing among the principal cast. "Last billing?", I asked, incredulous. "Did these guys even see Breaking Bad??". As it turns out, they probably didn't. There's a very good reason Cranston is billed after everyone else and that's because he has less screen time than everyone else. 

Which really pisses me off.

Not because they didn't use Cranston effectively. They did. His scenes are among the most powerful in the movie. No, it pisses me off because he was so heavily featured in the trailers. Going into the movie, I had the sense that he was the lead based on what I had seen in the trailers. He's not. His part is a glorified cameo at best. His exit from the film doesn't even make a lot of sense. It's almost like it was done for shock value and not much else.

What we're left with is Aaron Taylor-Johnson [(Kick-ass (2010), Kick-ass 2(2013)] in a role that he couldn't possibly have made more boring. He has zero facial expression and, in the end, serves almost no purpose in how the film ends. Yet Edwards spends a lot of time on Taylor-Johnson's character. So much so, in fact, that it comes at the expense of the giant, city-destroying monster of fame and legend who's kinda featured in the film's title.

Just so you know, if you're going to this movie to see Godzilla himself, you're probably going to end up leaving the theatre disappointed. It's about an hour before the big guy shows up. It's only a single scene and then he disappears. He isn't seen again for another 30 minutes or so, and that scene is also brief. He's gone again after this and only shows up for the big fight scene at the end and even that keeps happening off-screen. It gets incredibly frustrating. It seems like every time the giant lizard we all paid to see starts to go toe-to-toe with one of the other giant monsters in this movie, we immediately cut away to find out what Taylor-Johnson and the US military are doing, which is mainly screwing things up for everybody.

There's a lot of long-winded exposition, especially from Ken Watanabe's character. He mostly stands around looking pensive and dropping fortune-cookie-style wisdoms. This may mean that, in the already green-lit sequel, we'll be able to dive right in to some Godzilla smashing action. At least, I'm hoping so. 

My biggest gripe with the movie is the lack of Godzilla in a movie called, oddly enough, "Godzilla". My second biggest gripe, however, is the overuse of cliches. There's quite a few. Here's a brief list

  • Guy who's believed to be crazy by everyone turns out to be right all along cliche
  • Main character has daddy issues cliche
  • Main character has an extremely specific set of skills that just happen to be the exact thing needed. Right guy, right place, right time cliche
  • Guns have been shown to be completely ineffective, so let's keep using guns cliche
  • Dog survives massive disaster while countless humans die around it cliche
  • Scientist guy keeps arguing with military guy and scientist guy turns out to be right cliche
  • Happy reunion cliche

These were quick notes I made during the movie. A second viewing would probably catch a few more.

Now let's talk about the visuals. I've already said there's not much Godzilla in this movie until the very end. Unfortunately, the end of the movie takes place at the fog...behind some really dirty glass. We end up with what should have been a kick ass ending if only we could make out what was actually going on through the dank, foggy, dirty lens.

Pacific Rim (2013), for all of it's faults, at least delivered exactly what the trailers promised; giant robots fighting giant monsters. The Godzilla trailers promised Godzilla and Bryan Cranston. We got about the same amount of both, which wasn't anywhere near enough of either.

2 out of 5 stars
Godzilla (2014) Movie Review
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on May 23 2014
Rating: 2

Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Amazing Spider-man 2 (2014) Movie Review

This week, I put on my favourite unitard (we miss you, Denis Leary) and web-slung my way down to the local theatre to check out The Amazing Spider-man 2 (2014), starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Jamie Foxx. It's directed by Marc Webb.

The Amazing Spider-man 2 kicks off shortly after the events of the first film. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is struggling with his relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) after promising her father he would stay away from her. This, coupled with the continued mystery of his parent's disappearance gets further complicated by the introduction of several new villains, all of which end up working together in an effort to kill our intrepid hero.

At it's core, this is the biggest issue with the film. But I'll get back to that. First, let me heap some praise on it.

As with the first film, the chemistry between Garfield and Stone is undeniable. They just work together on screen, no doubt aided by their real life romance off screen. Sally Field also turns in an excellent performance befitting an actress of her renown and caliber. Some of her interactions with Garfield are downright heartbreaking. 

Visually, this is the most VFX fueled Spider-man movie to date. The action sequences are nothing short of amazing (ha!). I was very skeptical at the prospect of bringing Electro to the big screen. Said skepticism was unfounded. Other than some clunky dialogue and way, way too much back story, the action beats involving Electro are easily the best parts of this movie. It's a shame everything else got so messy.

And by messy, I mean really messy. This movie never really decides what it wants to be. Is it a romance? A comedy? An action movie? A sci-fi film? A drama? A teen angst movie? A conspiracy movie? It's definitely hard to classify. I can only tell you what I experienced, and that was a series of jarring plot threads that didn't work together.

Here, I'll point form as many plot elements from the film that I can remember and you tell me if it's too many or not:
  • The Rhino is introduced
  • Peter and Gwen's on again/off again romance
  • Harry Osborn is introduced, then plays a major role in the movie as Peter's childhood chum and dying billionaire
  • Norman Osborn is introduced with his back story explained
  • Peter's parents and their fate is revealed
  • Peter's parents appear again later in the film and give us the reason why Peter became Spider-man when bitten
  • Max Dillon is introduced. The "nerdy character who barely exists" cliche is explored ad nauseum before he's turned into Electro, who then plays a major role as the key villain of the film
  • Gwen is accepted to Oxford University in England, further complicating things with Peter
  • Aunt May gets a job to pay the bills and keeps it a secret from Peter
  • Peter stops being Spider-man for 5 months
  • Peter keeps seeing Gwen's dad all over the place, complicating his relationship with Gwen
  • Harry needs Spider-man's blood
  • Hints of additional villains abound. In particular, the Vulture's wings and Doc Ock's arms are clearly shown
  • There's a hostile takeover at Oscorp

Sadly, I could probably come up with at least a half dozen more. A vain attempt is made to connect some of these threads, but it doesn't work. It was just too damned busy and likely explains the film's lengthy run-time.

I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention the film's soundtrack. It's terrible. Like the movie, it can't seem to decide what kind of tone it wants to convey. At one point, it's all high trumpets and very heroic music. Thirty seconds later and it's all deep base and crazy electronics. Then we're back to the heroic music again. None of it seemed synced with the action. It was so jarring that it took me out of the movie throughout.

In the end, this movie is overburdened with the all the groundwork the studio wanted in there for potential spinoff films. It's a shame too. This franchise is going in the wrong direction and fast. I know Sony has greenlit two additional sequels after this one with at least two spinoff movies as well. They'll have to work really hard with Spidey 3 to earn the audience's trust to keep the series alive and kicking.

2.5 stars out of 5

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) Movie Review

This week, I put on my tactical turtleneck (tactilneck?) and sprinted to the local Red Box to rent Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) starring Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner and Kenneth Branaugh. It's directed by Phil Alden Robinson.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) is the second attempt at a reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise. The character and the previous movies were based on books by late author Tom Clancy. The original film saw Alec Baldwin playing Jack Ryan opposite Sean Connery in the total 80's guy movie The Hunt for Red October (1990). Harrison Ford then took up the role for two films [Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994)], then Ben Affleck had a crack at the first reboot opposite Morgan Freeman in The Sum of All Fears (2002). The one thing all these previous films in this loose franchise have had in common is that they were all based on actual works by Tom Clancy. This film, however, is an "original" story inspired by the characters created by Clancy. This may explain why this movie is such a mess story-wise.

First, though, let me touch on the title. It's terrible. I'm not sure what they were going for here, but it just doesn't fly. Had it just been the protagonists' name, like the Tom Cruise led Jack Reacher (2012), I think that would've worked. Or, barring that, they could've come up with a title that had something to do with the plot of the movie. Shadow Recruit is, in fact, a plot point of the film, but it's not a great title for a movie. It's like the studio didn't think the audience would get that this is both a Jack Ryan movie AND a reboot showing his initial recruitment into the CIA.

The film itself is just a hot mess of action beats and prolonged exposition. It's a shame too as all the pieces are there for a great film. Chris Pine does a good job with the Jack Ryan role and is at his actiony best. Kevin Costner turns in a nuanced performance as Ryan's recruiter and mentor. Keira Knightley is very believable as Ryan's very confused and understandably upset girlfriend. She even manages to get thrown into the high speed hijinks late in the movie. Branaugh is fantastic as the Russian baddie. He's not all popcorny and over the top. More of a suppressed rage just on the edge of bubbling to the surface but never quite getting there.

No, the people and places are fantastic. It's the story that's bad. Bear with me while I try to sum this up for you.

You get to see Ryan in the initial helicopter accident that ousted him from the marines and landed him at a desk at the CIA as detailed in The Hunt for Red October (1990). He ends up doing covert work within banking institutions attempting to track down illicit funds to ensure they're not being used to fund terrorist activity in a post 9/11 world. When he stumbles across said funds, he heads to Russia to investigate. While there, he seems to uncover a plot by Branaugh's character that will somehow totally collapse the US economy, all while making sure Mother Russia has plausible deniability. This leads Ryan to some cloak and dagger antics involving security codes and stolen files. I'm still not clear on how one man was going to be able to wreck the US economy all from a desk in Russia, but I'll let that slide. Where it gets needlessly complex and borderline silly is the two subplots within. The first involves Branaugh's son, who was thought to  have been killed many years ago but is really a sleeper agent within the US. You get introduced to this son fairly early in the movie and you get to see him do some pretty bad things, but it's only in the last 30 minutes of the film that you get to find out who he actually is. Until then, he's just some random guy that seems to have a knife fetish. On top of that, apparently ruining the economy with buy and sell options on US currency wasn't enough, the sleeper son is also going to detonate a bomb from the back of a van underneath a specific road on Wall Street that will collapse 7 skyscrapers. Thwarted (spoiler, sorry), this explosion that never happens also somehow prevents Branaugh from carrying out his nefarious currency scheme, even though Ryan, during one of the long-winded exposition pieces, didn't indicate a bomb would have to go off for this plan to work at destroying the US greenback.

If you had a hard time following that last paragraph, imagine how I felt trying to follow it all in the movie.

This film starts out with hope and promise. It ends up being a mess of terrible story telling and gaping plot holes. It seems the Jack Ryan franchise will be needing another reboot some time in the years to come.

2 out of 5 stars