GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS

Directing: C-
Acting: C+
Writing: D+
Cinematography: C-
Editing: C
Special Effects: C

When I saw Godzilla back in 2014, I had high hopes for director Gareth Edwards, who had in 2010 made a name for himself with the indie alien mystery Monsters. That film revealed a director with real potential, which made Godzilla all the more disappointing. That movie spent its first half being static and lifeless before turning into an even worse disaster movie than 2012.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters, now, overcompensates for that previous lifelessness by jumping right into the action — although I use “action” loosely here, as it would be more accurate to call this film a “mess of chaos.”

Why did I even bother seeing this movie, you might wonder? I’m wondering the same thing. I literally went to it thinking to myself, These movies are never very good, I don’t know why I keep coming back. My only defense is that I held on to the idea that I knew full well it would be dumb, but the spectacle might me fun on its own terms. Some blockbuster special effects extravaganzas do work that way.

Well, not this one. This movie has not one redeeming quality. The closest it gets is that some parts of it are merely average — the acting, for instance — rather than terrible.

Otherwise, I hardly know where to begin. I found myself thinking, Why the hell would that happen? so many times, I can’t think of any specific examples. Maybe when Godzilla bites off one of the heads of the three-headed rival “alpha predator” that was reawakened in Antarctica, then that head literally grows right back in a matter of seconds, and this is explained away by somehow figuring out that it’s the one monster that is an alien, whereas all the others are actually native to Earth? That ridiculousness is just the tip of the iceberg here.

If I were Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang, Bradley Whitford, Charles Dance, Bradley Whitford, Thomas Middleditch, Sally Hawkins, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., or David Strathairn, I would be embarrassed to be in this movie, but apparently none of them are. I guess they’re all happy to act proud of this mess since they got a nice paycheck? Presumably they got paid up front: King of the Monsters made half in its opening weekend what the previous Godzilla did. And trust me, no word of mouth is going to save this one: you might think that earning $80 million so far is nothing to shake a stick at, except it cost $170 million to make!

What a colossal waste of money. The special effects are subpar, the lighting is almost always too dark to get a visual handle on what the hell is going on, the editing makes it impossible to get any real sense of continuity, and this is in action set piece after action set piece that make up about 80% of the movie. Director and co-writer Michael Dougherty (Krampus) never takes things down a notch long enough to allow any time for the story to breathe. On the few occasions things do slow down, it’s apparently just to insult our intelligence.

At the beginning of our “story,” such as it is, it’s been five years ago since “the attacks” on San Francisco, and for reasons no one can explain, Godzilla has been in hiding all this time. We find Kyle Chandler’s Mark Russell off somewhere studying wolves — which evidently involves taking pictures of a pack feeding on a carcass, using a long lens from behind a nearby log otherwise exposed in a massive field. This is the “foundation” for which we learn about “apex predator” behaviors later applied to Godzilla, and the three-headed monster, and how all the other long-dormant monsters frozen in time suddenly wake up and answer their calls in one way or another.

Vera Formiga’s Dr. Emma Russell has devised an audio contraption that apes these so-called apex predator commands and somehow can render them docile — if used correctly and in the right hands. All sorts of wrong hands come into play, the one exception being Mark and Emma’s daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), who of course has more brains and logic than any of the adults around her, which in this movie isn’t saying much.

We do get brief shots of other “massive unidentified terrestrial organisms” (MUTOs, they actually call them that), by the way, with three or four very quick shots and/or references to “Kong.” This is a transparent attempt at laying the foundation for the next film in this “cinematic universe,” Godzilla vs. Kong, also co-written by Dougherty and already in post-production. I’m exhausted already. At this rate, no one is going to care what Kong or Godzilla are doing by next year. I already don’t.

I’d be tempted to say that at least this time around you get to see Boston get destroyed, but . . . honestly, it hardly matters. You can barely see the city at any given time. And it’s just the same shit in a different movie, with no characters you feel any need to get emotionally invested in. This movie is supposed to be a thrill ride but I lost my patience with it within fifteen minutes and soon after became so numb to the onslaught of nonsensical carnage that it literally made me drowsy. Maybe that’s this movie’s best defense: Godzilla: King of the Monsters works if you have insomnia!

Hey, let’s have a sleepver! And watch this movie to go to sleep!

Hey, let’s have a sleepver! And watch this movie to go to sleep!

Overall: C-

THE WANDERING EARTH

Directing: C-
Acting: C
Writing: C-
Cinematography: B-
Editing: D+
Special Effects: C+

I don’t usually have much interest in Chinese films, and The Wandering Earth did nothing to remedy that. This is basically China’s answer to Geostorm, a special effects extravaganza offering occasionally compelling imagery, featuring an incomprehensible story. (More like The Wandering Script, amirite??)

Had bad the editing is in this film can’t really be overstated. Not one thing that happens — and far too many things are happening — is given any time whatsoever to breathe. This is basically a 125-minute music video, except instead of pop music, we’re subjected to an action-movie score pretty typical of western blockbuster disaster movies.

I guess I’ll give The Wandering Earth this much: it is better than Geostorm — barely. Its broad plot, involving an expanding sun necessitating the construction of worldwide propulsive engines to relocate the planet to a new solar system, might have been sort of compelling if it made any sense. Instead, the script is packed with incomprehensible techno-babble that’s rendered even more meaningless as it gets lost in the nonstop action.

The central conflict doesn’t even involve getting the Earth removed from orbit. Most of this story takes place well after that, after half the world has been annihilated by tsunamis caused by stopping the Earth’s rotation (how does one do that, exactly? — this movie fails to offer any real explanation) and the other half is forced to live in underground cities through the generations it will take before reaching this new location in another solar system more than four light years away. People go to the surface in “thermal suits” to work on maintaining this hundreds of giant engines that effectively turned the world into a planet-sized space ship.

The real problem is the gravitational pull of Jupiter as Earth passes by. Can humanity’s “United Earth Government” find a way to pull away and keep the planet on course? The suspense is killing me! I’m kidding about that suspense part; The Wandering Earth couldn’t manage suspense if its life depended on it. Which, really, it kind of does. Anyway I was thinking about how dreadfully bored I was before this movie was half over.

It’s all just so jaw-droppingly preposterous, there’s no reason to be emotionally invested in anything going on — not even the inter-generational conflicts of a middle-aged widower (Jing Wu) stationed on the Space Station serving as Earth’s navigation system and his family still on earth: his father (Man-tat Ng) and his young adult son (Chuxiao Qu) and teenage daughter (Jin Mai Jaho). And although these actors all appear competent generally speaking, this movie demands nothing more of them than to phone in their uniformly ridiculous lines. Many of the lines are distractingly obvious in their post-production over-dubbing. The line readings not syncing up with lip movements is obvious even to those of us who don’t speak Mandarin.

The special effects are all over the place. Many of the exterior shots in outer space, showing the Space Station or the planets, are actually pretty impressively rendered. But, those don’t require as much detail as exterior shots of the frozen surface of the planet, the sweeping camera movements making the images strangely jerky, as though someone did a half-assed job in their computer program. Very few of these surface shots are visually convincing in any way.

Not that it would matter much even if they were, the very concepts of this movie being as dumb as they are. And to make matters worse, our heroes make narrow escapes over and over again, constantly getting missed by, say, gigantic debris falling from cliffs in a huge earthquake as techtonic plates shift. It’s like watching the old G.I. Joe cartoons, except instead of villains with terminally terrible aim, it’s giant hunks of earth with terrible aim.

I do like the idea of giant cities like Beijing or Shanghai buried in ice, the tips of their skyscrapers poking out of the surface. That made for some kind of cool images. Such things get overshadowed by a complete disregard for basic physics, like when brother and sister are falling through the air and brother somehow catches up with her by falling faster. That is not how gravity works!

I mean, really, that’s not how anything works in this movie, which has the distinction of being easily the stupidest thing I have watched in at least two years.

Not even this picture makes any sense.

Not even this picture makes any sense.

Overall: C-

MOTHER!

Directing: C
Acting: B+
Writing: D+
Cinematography: C-
Editing: C-

The pretension seeping through every surface of Mother! begins with its very title. What's with that exclamation point? To me, it punctuates the contempt I feel for this movie.

From the very first frame, the reaction is What the fuck? It ends with a bit of a What now? Everything in between makes absolutely zero things about it clear. Darren Aronofsky is a truly accomplished director, but I guess in his middle age he's more interested in offering a cinematic version of a stroke. He clearly wants his audience to understand Mother! is about something. What is it about, then? Someone explain it to me. No, I take that back. I wasted two hours of my life on this movie already.

I don't even know how I could offer any spoilers. Mother! is rotten as soon as it starts. But it's a sneaky kind of rotten, like when you chew a bite of food a few times, pleasantly oblivious until you realize there are maggots in your mouth. Too disgusting for you? Well . . . spoiler alert! There's a point in Mother! where a rabid crowd of zealots eat the main character's baby. Why that happens, I couldn't tell you. Darren Aronofsky should have a chat with Cormack McCarthy. Now there's a guy who knows how to make effective use of baby eating.

I couldn't provide a logical reason behind a single one of the choices Aronofsky makes in Mother! Well, except maybe for his decision to cast Michelle Pfeiffer, in one of the countless mystifying and/or pointless supporting roles. Pfeiffer is legitimately hilarious in this movie, which is weird because of how dark and disturbing it is. For a while, anyway. Then it's just oppressively chaotic. By then, Pfeiffer has disappeared. But when she's on screen, she plays the wife of a surprise house guest (a cigarette-hacking Ed Harris) as a deliciously cold bitch. We need to see more of Michelle Pfeiffer.

The point of view is from Jennifer Lawrence's nameless protagonist. Or is it? It would sure seem so, with Matthew Libatique's cinematography incessantly following her around this gigantic house she never leaves, right behind her head. She's consistently bewildered. It's her one emotion during this story that I could relate to.

It doesn't take long to realize time isn't quite linear. Things switch around too quickly. We learn that she helped restore this entire house, a massive house with countless rooms that evidently stands in the middle of a field with no roads to it, after it burned to the ground. "I lost everything," says her husband, played by Javier Bardem. These are two excellent actors who, in this instance, occasionally don't seem so excellent thanks to some clunky or subtly bizarre dialogue. By the end, there's an endless sequence in which reality gets so distorted that I couldn't tell if this was all an echo of a literal apocalypse (a word Jennifer Lawrence actually utters at one point), or maybe her character was nuts and having hallucinations so elaboriate that at one point the house literally turns into a war zone. I'm talking graphically shot soldiers, bullets through the face.

Weirdly -- I mean, this whole movie is weird -- Mother! startled me several times, like it was trying to be a horror movie, but each of them occurs within the first half. I even jumped when the heart that appears in the toilet squirts blood. Oh, and the toad in the basement.

I'm sure film snobs will insist this movie's "deeper meaning" is clear and anyone who can't figure out what the fuck it was about or what literally any of it means is a moron. There's a strong sense of allegory, just nothing even approaching clarity.

I found the massive marketing push over the past couple of weeks to be suspect, and I was right. Someone saw this movie and said, "Let's bombard the public with so much advertising that they give in before they knew what hit them!" I, on the other hand, put my trust in a proven director. But, even the greats typically make one or two steaming piles of shit movies.

Could this have been better if it were edited differently, maybe? Surely? Did all these great actors really read this script and say, "I have to be a part of this!" Did Darren Aronofsky roofie them all? Seriously, I don't understand. I can't remember the last movie I willingly sat through that had so few genuinely redeeming qualities. We're meant to ask, Is any of this real? By the last quarter of this movie I was just thinking, Get on with it! At least give us the detail that ties this mess together. And then the so-called twist comes in the closing scene and it's simultaneously dumb, disappointing, and more confusing the more you consider everything that preceded it. All that's left is the compulsion to warn the world not to waste their time and money on this movie.

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem are like  whaaat  and so is everyone in the audience all day forever.

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem are like whaaat and so is everyone in the audience all day forever.

Overall: C-