Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection
With only a week and change having passed since the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we no doubt feel the question living fresh in our minds: can we ever judge a remake without considering its predecessors? The conversation about the stark contrast in critical favor between Marc Webb's release and Sam Raimi's trilogy (the second installment of his franchise in particular) buzzed loudly, and we imagine the volume will keep in regards to Gareth Edwards' Godzilla. But it'll be a different sound altogether.
The original Godzilla, a Japanese film released in 1954, reinvented the identity of the monster movie, launched a 30-film legacy, and spoke legions about the political climate of its era. The most recent of these films — Roland Emmerich's 1998 American production — is universally bemoaned as a bigger disaster than anything to befall Tokyo at the hands of the giant reptile. With these two entries likely standing out as the most prominent in the minds of contemporary audiences, Edwards' Godzilla has some long shadows cast before it. And in approaching the new movie, one might not be able to avoid comparisons to either. It's fair — by taking on an existing property, a filmmaker knowingly takes on the connotations of that property. But the 2014 installment's great success is that it isn't much like any Godzilla movie we've seen before. In a great, great way.
This isn't 1954's Godzilla, a dire and occasionally dreary allegory that uses the supernatural to tell an important story about nuclear holocaust. A complete reversal, in fact, first and foremost Edwards' Godzilla is about its monsters. Any grand themes strewn throughout — the perseverence of nature, the follies of mankind, fatherhood, madness, faith — are all in service to the very simple mission to give us some cool, weighty, articulate sci-fi disaster. Elements of gravity are plotted all over the film's surface, with scientists, military men (kudos to Edwards for not going the typical "scientists = good/smart, military = bad/dumb" route in this film — everybody here is at least open to suggestion), doctors, police officers, and a compassionate bus driver all wrestling with options in the face of behemoth danger. The humanity is everpresent, but never especially intrusive. To reiterate, this isn't a film about any of these people, or what they do.
Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection
The closest thing to a helping of thematic (or human) significance comes with Ken Watanabe's Dr. Serizawa, who spouts awe-stricken maxims about cryptozoology, the Earth, and the inevitable powerlessness of man. He might not be supplying anything more substantial than our central heroes (soft-hearted soldier Aaron Taylor-Johnson, dutiful medic and mom Elizabeth Olsen, right-all-along conspiracy theorist Bryan Cranston), but Watanabe's bonkers performance as the harried scientist is so bizarrely good that you might actually believe, for a scene or two, that it all does mean something.
Ultimately, the beauty of our latest taste of Godzilla lies not in the commitment to a message that made the original so important nor in the commitment to levity that made Emmerich's so pointless, but in its commitment to imagination. Edwards' creature design is dazzling, his deus ex machina are riveting, and the ultimate payoff to which he treats his audience is the sort of gangbusters crowd-pleaser that your average contemporary monster movie is too afraid to consider.
In fairness, this year's Godzilla might not be considered an adequate remake, not quite reciprocating the ideals, tone, or importance of the original. Sure, anyone looking for a 2014 answer to 1954's game-changing paragon will find sincere philosophy traded for pulsing adventure... but they'd have a hard time ignoring the emphatic charm of this new lens for the 60-year-old lizard, both a highly original composition and a tribute in its way to the very history of monster movies (a history that owes so much to the creature in question). So does Godzilla '14 successfully fill the shoes of Godzilla '54? No — it rips them apart and dons a totally new pair... though it still has a lot of nice things to say about the first kicks.
Oh, and the '98 Godzilla? Yeah, it's better than that.
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Coach Roy (Martin Lawrence) was once a college basketball coach who cared about the players and the game guiding his team to many championships. But fame and fortune took over. Now he's paying more attention to his endorsements and less on his team and to top it off also has an uncontrollable temper on the court. All these kindly attributes finally gets Roy fired and nearly banned from the game forever. But he's given one more chance to "demonstrate compliance " providing he can find a team to coach. Enter the Mount Vernon Junior High School Smelters basketball squad. Roy has to reluctantly accept their offer being that it's the only one he got and hopes that a few weeks at the school will prove his good intentions and restore him to his high-living ways as a celebrated college coach. But we all know how this is going to go right? Teaching a few basic skills to his young desperately lame charges the teams starts to win and Roy is suddenly filled with love for the game again. Pass the barf bag please.
Not quite sure where Martin Lawrence's head is right now. He's a funny guy there's no denying it. But for every hit film he's done (Bad Boys Big Momma's House) he's done sooo many bad ones (Black Knight National Security). And it just continues with Rebound. It could be time to look for a new agent Martin. That isn't to say the actor isn't totally unlikable as Roy a Bobby Knight wannabe. Lawrence does an admirable job infusing the character with piss and vinegar at first but then letting the holier-than-thou bubble burst after his hearts warms up to the kids--and he realizes what an ass he is being. But we've seen it all before. The kid actors also do what they are hired to do playing their clichéd roles--the hotshot ball hog (Oren Williams); the tall clumsy kid (Steven Christopher Parker); the tough-as-nails delinquent (Tara Correa); the kid who throws up (Steven Anthony Lawrence)--as best they can. Megan Mullally as the school's snarky principal and Patrick Warburton as a pumped-up rival junior high coach are the film's only breath of fresh air.
Maybe the studio execs at 20th Century Fox thought opening Rebound on the same Fourth of July weekend as War of the Worlds would attract the younger set who might be traumatized by scary aliens. But it's much more likely they didn't have any faith in this inane kids' comedy so why not open it against the biggest summer movie EVER. It doesn't really matter. Director Steve Carr (Daddy Day Care) does what he was hired to do. It's a no-brainer. You show the kids as losers falling over each other on the court. Then set up the coach who ignores them at first and then slowly warms up to them turning the team into a lean mean fighting machine. Then have the kid who can't make a basket score THE winning basket. And then send everyone out for pizza. And make sure the soundtrack has the same old tired songs like House of Pain's "Jump Around." Actually I'm a little nervous about the upcoming remake of Bad News Bears that it might fall into the same pitfalls. But then again it's got Billy Bob Thornton in it and watching him pelt kids with baseballs is pretty darn funny.