Rating: The Good – 76.9 Genre: Drama, Science Fiction Duration: 94 mins Director: Gareth Edwards Stars: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able, Mario Zuniga
Writer director Gareth Edwards announced himself as a filmmaker of note with this subjective approach to the monster movie, which became the basis for his less successful attempt at Godzilla (2014). Whereas most movies of this type sacrifice the personal drama at the expense of big budget monster carnage, his laudable independent feature takes entirely the opposite approach by making a highly personal drama about two lost souls who are thrown together in a near future Mexico which has been overrun with giant creatures from outer space (don’t worry, it works!). Scoot McNairy is a photographer who shoots the disaster left in the path of the creatures and Whitney Able is the daughter of his rich boss who, for her own reasons, has been hiding away in Mexico. However, at her father’s request, she must now return to the US under the care of his initially begrudging employee. But as the airports and ports close due to the encroaching monsters, the pair end up having to make their way through the infected zone and over the border.
The monsters are kept very much on the periphery of the drama and there are no action set pieces in the traditional sense as Edwards chooses instead to use the unusual context to contrast and therefore accentuate the authenticity of the relationship that develops between the two characters. And in truth, he brings us remarkably close to them and keeps us intimately engaged with their struggle. Real life couple, McNairy and Able share a palpable chemistry but are excellent in all other respects too and, of course, this was crucial because we are only too happy to leave the monsters in the background and focus on the couple as they work out their own problems amidst their burgeoning friendship. The movie glides forward thanks to smoothness of their acting, Edwards equally intimate photography (he was DP too), and Jon Hopkins serenely cool score. The threat of the monsters helps ratchet the tension when needed but if the movie has a failing, its that the danger never really materialises in the manner most will be waiting for. This would be fine if Monsters was a straight up romantic drama but the presence of monsters in the first place makes certain promises that will let many a moviegoer down. For the rest of us, there’s more than enough to justify Edwards’ fascinating project and ensure it becomes a cult favourite in the future.
Rating: The Ugly 66.8 Genre: Action, Science Fiction Duration: 123 mins Director: Gareth Edwards Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston
A big budget attempt to rectify Hollywood’s attitude towards Toho’s most famous monster shows the right intentions and some of the right ideas but is ultimately crushed under their weight. Bringing Gareth Edwards in to steer this reboot towards Toho redemption was in and of itself a brave move. The director of the critically acclaimed Monsters had recently demonstrated that the monster movie wasn’t the purview of the big studios by making a compelling emotional drama that kept the monsters on the periphery of the action. That he was going to be permitted to similarly sideline the Big Fella was the second surprise! Edwards and writers Max Borenstein and David Callaham thus built this tale around Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s attempt to reunite with his family amid catastrophic destruction as Godzilla resurfaces from his primordial rest to tackle a couple of MUTO’s (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) who are laying waste to the central pacific. It’s a good idea as the battles get to play out in the background through oblique glances and character PoV. And when combined with the stunning visual effects, it paves the way for some electrifying images and action scenarios.
Unfortunately, two major shortcomings prevent those images from manifesting into the emphatic release they should’ve become. Firstly, Taylor-Johnson’s story is only really nominally central. It seems the executives got their grubby mitts on the script after all because just when the movie should be aligning itself with his travails, it keeps darting off to a bunch of faceless military types who are orchestrating the defence against the monsters (and it takes some doing to nullify David Strathairn and Ken Watanabe’s faces!). This repeated marginalisation of the human lead ultimately negates all the decent attempts at character construction to the point that we become completely apathetic to his plight. With the elimination of the human interest, the monsters which continue to be revealed in side-glance, half light, and shadow aren’t enough to salvage the movie as they become a sideshow with no main event. Therefore, as is typical with so many big budget movies these days, it seems the multiple interests were pulling in different directions and the movie fell between two (or three) stools. If the human drama was nourished in the manner it was in Edwards’ previous outing, his Godzilla battles would’ve been an ever building release of large scale monster carnage, a gleaming red cherry on top of the cake. If the human drama was abandoned from the start and we got more than just the five minutes of Godzilla vs MUTO’s, then at the very least, we would’ve had an albeit unoriginal but reasonably distracting “brain-at-reception” popcorn movie. As it is, all we have is a laudable uneven monster drama that fails to build up enough steam on either stage to engineer anything but the most impotent of drama.