GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS – WONDERFULLY POLITICIALLY INCORRECT COMIC BOOK-STYLE CREATURE FEATURE

SHORT TAKE:

If you are a fan of Godzilla then you will love this contribution to the now 65 year old franchise.

WHO SHOULD GO:

At youngest, younger teens, for: frightening and extensively violent images of city-wide destruction, human peril and cataclysmic fight scenes with other monsters. There is also some language including one “f” word and blasphemy. And while there is no sexuality shown, there are a small handful of sexual innuendos spoken, which will probably go over the head of most younger teens. There is also a confusing mish mash of paganism and Christian religious symbols and references which could confuse a spiritually immature child.

LONG TAKE:

In 1954 Godzilla inexplicably and emphatically became a cult hit. A rubber suited man emitting a now iconic shriek (created by Akira Ifukube rubbing a resin coated leather glove across the strings of a double bass) wrecks havoc, clumping awkwardly as he lazer-breathes his way through towns and countrysides behind fleeing crowds of (mostly) Japanese victims.

35 films later (all but 3 made by Toho, a Japanese-based film company), the franchise is still going strong. The latest, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, is a loose sequel to the 2014 Hollywood film which firmly established Godzilla to mainstream American audiences as a “good guy” ally to humanity. In point of fact, some Japanese philosophies even see Godzilla as an indifferent “god” of destruction in a cycle of death and rebirth.

At one point a scientist, upon seeing the monster in full, interjects the name of the Lord, to which Rick Stanton (Bradley Whitford – Get Out, Saving Mr. Banks, Cabin in the Woods) punnily follows up with “zilla”. In fact the name Godzilla was never meant to refer to our Creator. It was actually a Europeanized mispronunciation of the Japanese, Gojira, which, in turn refers to an animal which is akin to both a whale and a gorilla.

SPOILERS – but, I mean, come on, this is Godzilla and there’s not that much plot to spoil.

In this outing, Godzilla is a bit of both ally and destructo-machine, as he tromps over the Earth with 16 other “Titans”. The human subplot, which is supposed to keep us grounded to the big critters, involves scientists Mark and Emma Russell, (Kyle Chandler – Game Night, Argo, King Kong and Vera Farmiga – The Nun, Conjuring 2) who lost their son in the first Godzilla movie, (flashback) then divorced. Emma is now brainwashing, I mean raising, their remaining child Madison (the clearly talented Millie Bobby Brown who is the amazing “11” from Stranger Things) to follow in her tunnel vision footsteps, putting her research of the Titans above everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) else.

Rounding out the cast is Ken Watanabe (Inception, Last Samurai, previous Godzilla, Pokémon Detective Pickachu), Charles Dance (staple in film and TV for 45 years, bringing a wicked class and style to everything from Game of Thrones to Shakespeare and a villain in the James Bond franchise), Sally Hawkins (in both the offensively awful Shape of Water and the extremely delightful Paddington movies), and Joe Morton, (whose career dates all the way back to 1951 including the innovative cult sci fi Brother From Another Planet and the classic Terminator 2: Judgement Day).

The rest of the run time is spent watching CGI monsters destroy each other in admittedly spectacular fashion, although a lot of cheating is done in the details by holding all the fights at night, under water or in a Cat 6 (???) hurricane manufactured by one of the “bad guy” Titans.

It occurred to me as I perused a Youtube which did a quick survey of all the Godzilla movies, that the phenomenon of Godzilla has much in common with the Lego movies. Aside from the 1998 Matthew Broderick contribution, which envisioned Godzilla as a more “realistic” mountain-sized Komodo Dragon, Godzilla reminds me of an action figure. Despite all the CGI available, the director, Michael Doughtery, (Superman Returns and a couple of X-Men movies) chose to stick with the stilted, squat, awkwardly moving Godzilla instead of the 1998 lithe, quick and sinuous monster which chased Matthew Broderick through New York City. Similarly to the Lego Movie, which sees the world from the point of view of the toys, Godzilla strikes me as inspired by the imaginations of every child who had a monster toy with which they liked to terrorize their surroundings. The traditional Godzilla MOVES like an action figure with an inverted triangle body, whippy tail with which to bludgeon objects, and tiny useless arms, clumping from side to side as it stomps forward crushing everything under foot in its path – except the “important” actors. The end credits even camp it up, featuring a cover by Bear McCreary of the 1977 Blue Oyster Cult novelty song “Godzilla”.

This is a pulp funny book brought to full Technicolor life with all of the shallowness of plot, disjointed explanations, magic-style “science”, inconsistent character motivations, and single note personalities of a comic book and its denizens. Even so, this is not meant as a criticism or failure of the movie. I suspect this is what the film makers were after. And it succeeds, as such, admirably, throwing in a little wry humor dialogue now and again just to keep things “real”.

As a matter of fact, there is one special reason why I, personally, like this movie. In a delightfully refreshing turn of events, a truth is demonstrated. The monsters have been deliberately set forth to destroy mankind by a recognizably legitimate force for evil, one which wrecks havoc on us in the real world on a daily basis – the Environmental Wacko. The bad guys here boldly state that humans are a “virus” on the Earth which must be scoured off, in their way of thinking, to allow the world to return to its “natural” state. But, of course, in true and honestly portrayed, narcissistic liberal hypocritical fashion, the villain, after murdering tens of thousand of men, women and children with these behemoths, she willing puts all her plans on hold when it is her child at risk. No one else’s child is important though, only hers and hers alone.

Her insane scheme to find and release the Titans upon the Earth is understood by the rest of the characters in the movie as: ridiculous, evil, short sighted, cruel, and – ultimately, flat out wrong. This, of course, can sum up the entire mentality of the extreme environmentalist movement, which wants to put animals above people, prefers human suffering for OTHERS (who are not members of their extreme club) to widespread use of modern inventions, ignores common sense science (like the fact that carbon dioxide is GOOD for the environment as plants LOVE it), proposes hoaxes which further their agenda with NO verifiable evidence (like human caused climate change) but continue to jet around the world using up fossil fuels at a rate the rest of us can only dream about. It’s nice to see the blame placed at the feet of those to which it really belongs for a change.

Godzilla also leans heavily on paganism, reverencing and even calling to some worship of the monsters. That being said there is also some comparisons of Godzilla to Christian motifs – that he died trying to save us, descended to the depths of the Earth and was reborn to arise and defeat an evil monster (well two if you count the environmental wacko). While this has been done appropriately and respectfully in stories like Narnia (NOT that Godzilla even belongs in the same solar system with Aslan), it is a fair point to say not all of Godzilla is pagan, but that there are at least some superficial nods to a Christ-like theology, though it is obvious that the writers neither understand it nor fully embrace it.

So if you are familiar with and are a fan of the mythos of Godzilla then you will not be disappointed in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. But while you should be advised of the heavily pagan-favored worldview, it will at least provide a breath of politically incorrect but common sense-accurate fresh air.

GAME NIGHT – VERY FUNNY ADULT ROMP

SHORT TAKE: Game Night is a raucous adult comedy which should have been far more family friendly had it not been for a lot of gratuitous profanity and a several adult themed discussions.

WHO SHOULD GO: Because of the considerable amount of bad language and some of the topics discussed by the characters I would recommend Game Night only for older teens and up. There are no overt sexual activities and the violence, while significant in places, is cartoonish and played mostly for laughs.

CHECK OUT DETAILED AND SPECIFIC CONTENT STATISTICS AT SCREENIT.COM.

LONG TAKE: I have gotten quite fond of Rachel McAdams. Her career has been prominently punctuated by playing characters attached to men who either have very unusual powers or end up in weird circumstances…or both. She has been: married to a time traveler (The Time Traveler’s Wife), married to a man who has the ability to go back in time to change events (About Time), the romantic interest, Irene Adler, of none other than Sherlock Holmes (the Robert Downey, Jr franchise version), and engaged to a superhero (Dr Strange). Contributing to this list is her stint as Annie in Game Night. She is married to Max (Jason Bateman) and they are definitely soul mates. Both live for the thrill of game competition – be it as mundane as table top football or open as a bar room Trivial Pursuit or routine as their weekly game night with two other couples, the drive to win defines who they are and their relationship to the world.

So when they can not conceive a child they wonder if it is linked to Max’ feelings of inadequacy towards his older brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler). To rub salt into this wound Brooks arrives suddenly to announce that he is going to take their game night “up a notch”. He has arranged for one of their group to be kidnapped and it will be up to the three remaining groups to find and rescue the victim.

When Brooks himself is unceremoniously taken in a surprisingly violent altercation with two intruders, the group takes it in stride as part of the game. But soon both audience and characters are left wondering whether something has gone horribly wrong.

In another scenario this could have been a horror movie, or an Alfred Hitchcock mystery or a tragedy. But Game Night is a slapstick comedy and all violence is cartoonish, and the considerable and mounting dangers are played for laughs.

There is a lot of heart in the script with some pleasantly unanticipated mature themes including: longstanding sibling rivalry, forgiveness of your spouse’s past mistakes, choosing partners for more than fleeting narcissistic beauty, whether to compassionately welcome their socially awkward neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons), and putting aside one’s selfish impulses to accept the responsibilities of parenthood. In other words, during the course of this special event evening while playing a game, the adult characters have to – grow up.

The script is clever and intricate enough to distract the audience from noticing the thinner spots in the plot. Aside from the unnecessary bad language, if I had one complaint it would be that – while the story has plenty of twists – the writers set up several hairpin turns that they never follow through with. For example, without giving anything essential away, there were times when it appeared that Annie might have had a separate but related agenda to help Max overcome his insecurities, but didn’t. Her part is played straight up as a partner to Max knowing no more or less than he does. I thought it was a shame, as it might have been fun for her to have pursued a parallel set of tricks.

Putting that aside, Game Night is a funny romp. And if the story sounds familiar – brother sets up a scenario wherein the sibling doesn’t know what to believe and what is real and what is part of the game – it is. 1997's The Game with Michael Douglas and Sean Penn fleshed out a similar storyline, only against a far darker gameboard. Game Night is, essentially, a variation of The Game but played out as a slapstick comedy.

Notably the leads, Bateman and McAdams, are usually supporting actors but are leads in Game Night and they do a good job investing energy and believable chemistry into their marital couple. All the friends in the ensemble are likeable and each couple has its own set of issues to work out during the course of the evening. Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury play Kevin and Michelle – a couple working out some past history which has suddenly emerged. Sharon Horgan and Billy Magnussen play Sarah and Ryan – a couple mismatched in both age and intellect who nonetheless manage to surprise each other with their mutual attraction.

The cinematography was especially clever. Using a technique called tilt-shift, the establishing shots (overhead scenes showing you where the characters are) were filmed tilting the plane of camera focus and moving the lens parallel to the image. This creates the peculiar effect of making everything appear to be in miniature – like the landscape to a train set – until the zoom in and closeup resolve themselves back into “reality”.  This gives the effect of making it appear that our intrepid cast is moving entirely on a very large game board.

Aside from the limits I described in language and topic subjects, I enjoyed Game Night but, because of those same limits, I do not recommend it for younger teens.

Overall this is a funny and worthwhile, but adult, outing.