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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Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
Seventeen years ago, Harrison Ford grumbled four simple words that defined a genre, a demographic, and a country: "Get off my plane." In a pre-9/11 world, there was no shortage of jingoistic glee in a movie like Air Force One, in which a man's man American president doled out justice to a militia of Russian loyalist terrorists who made the silly mistake of attempting to hijack his flight home from Moscow. In 2014, we don't have the luxury of facing a plotline like this with reckless merriment. There's a damp gravity to the premise behind movies like Non-Stop, which in another time would have been nothing more than Taken on a Plane. But rigidly conscious of the connotations that attach to a story about a hijacking of a civilian international flight into John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, Non-Stop doesn't play too fast and loose. It still plays, and has some good fun doing so, but carefully.
From the getgo, we're anchored into the grim narrative of Liam Neeson's U.S. Air Marshall Bill Marks, who settles his demons with a healthy spoonful of whiskey. A dutiful officer even when liquored up, Marks eyeballs every nameless face in London's Heathrow Airport, silently introducing the bevvy of characters who'll come into play later on. After takeoff, Marks finds himself on the unwitting prowl for the anonymous party who's attempting to take down the red-eye through a series of manipulative text messages, well-timed threats, and clandestine killings. Chatty passenger Julianne Moore and flight attendant Michelle Dockery join Marks in his efforts to identify the mysterious criminal before the entire aircraft falls to his or her whims. So less Taken, more Murder, She Wrote.
Our roundup of suspects challenges our (and their) preconceived notions, and quite laughably — most vocal among Neeson's fellow passengers are a white beta-male school teacher (Scoot McNairy), a black computer engineer with an attitude of entitlement (Nate Parker), a softspoken Middle Eastern surgeon whose headwear gets more than a few focal shots (Omar Metwally), a middle-aged white businessman whose latest account landed him more than your house is worth (Frank Deal), an irate black youngster draped in irreverence (Corey Hawkins), and a white, bald, machismo-howling New York cop who secretly accepts his gay brother (Corey Stoll). Just a few talking heads short of Do the Right Thing, Non-Stop manages to goof on each man's (notice that they're all men — Moore, Dockery, and a barely-in-the-movie Lupita Nyong’o are kept shy of the action for most of the film) distaste for and distrust of one another as they each try to sidle up to, or undermine the harried Marks.
Non-Stop plays an interesting game with its characters and its audience, simultaneously painting the ignorance of its characters with a thick coat of comedy while pointing its finger straight out at us with accusations that we, too, thought it was whoever we just learned it wasn't, and for all the wrong reasons. "Shame on you!" Non-Stop chides, adding, "But let's keep going, this is fun!"
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It is fun — that's the miraculous thing. Without any "Get off my plane"s or "Yippee ki yay"s, Non-Stop keeps its action genre silliness in check (okay, there is a moment involving an airborne gun that'll institute some serious laugh-cheers), investing all of its good time in the game of claustrophobic Clue that we can't help but enjoy. It sacrifices some of its charm in a heavy-handed third act, tipping to one side of what was a pretty impressive balancing act up until that point. But its falter is not one that drags down the movie entirely. Fun and excitement are restored, sincerity is maintained, and even a few moments of sensitivity creep their way through. We might not live in a world of President Harrison Fords any longer, but Air Marshall Liam Neesons could actually be a step up.
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American Horror Story. Are You Afraid of the Dark?. The Walking Dead. Season 9 of American Idol. This Halloween season, you're likely watching (or at least having nightmares about) television's most frightening series. But rubber men, Nosferatu, and zombies (not to mention Tim Urban) are meant to petrify remote-wielding audiences shielding their eyes with their Snuggies. Instead, there were some famous TV episodes that unsettled us merely for catching us off-guard. Not only did Boy Meets World do so with their famously bizarre Scream parody, 1998's "And Then There was Shawn" — read Matt Patches' oral history of the episode here! — but series like Looney Tunes, Doug, and Family Matters all made us as unsettled as we were confused during their long, goofy runs.
See seven surprisingly unsettling series below — and remember just how scary the cushy 1990s could be. (I do believe in Stevil, I do, I do, I do!) Quantum Leap [Image Credit: NBC] We still might not know who was in the grassy knoll, but in Quantum Leap's history, Sam (Scott Bakula) was sitting right in Lee Harvey Oswald's seat, aiming to shoot and kill President John F. Kennedy in 1992's "Lee Harvey Oswald." Being in a killer's mind is frightening enough, but Sam's struggle to remain himself — and not a cold-blooded murderer — was a surprising, emotionally taxing turn for the fun, time-jumping series. Oh boy, indeed. Punky Brewster [Image Credit: NBC] We know that refrigerators store perishables, but, as children, we weren't sure that included humans until Punky Brewster's 1986 episode, "Cherie Lifesaver." Following a game of hide-and-seek gone awry, Punky (Soleil Moon Frye) is forced to give Cherie (Cherie Johnson) CPR after finding her stuck inside the refrigerator. If we already feared the closet and under the bed, "Cherie Lifesaver" led us to fear the entire house. Tiny Toons [Image Credit: Warner Bros] Looney Tunes has produced many unsettling images throughout its multi-decade run: mice that promote racial stereotyping, skunks sexually assaulting cats, humans and animals being reduced to mere accordions. But perhaps no episode was as jarring as Tiny Toons' 1991 episode, "One Beer," in which Buster, Plucky, and Hamton imbibe in, as the title suggests, one beer, steal a cop car, and put all young starlets to shame with a DUI that leads them over a cliff. Dead Tiny Toons characters were too much for young audiences to bear — the episode was eventually banned. But it got Wile E. Coyote thinking about what he can accomplish if ACME launched a beer line... Doug [Image Credit: Nickelodeon] Doug's brush with popularity during a 1993 episode "Doug Rocks the House" came with quite the emotional price. After knocking down an old abandoned house with a rock — in an attempt to impress bully Roger — Doug discovers that the house belonged to Patti before she moved out following her mother's death. Heavy stuff for a boy who's biggest problem is figuring out which of a dozen identical green vests he should wear each morning. Family Matters [Image Credit: ABC] Urkel's (Jaleel White) poor social skills were frightening enough, but Family Matters brought fear to a whole different level during the Child's Play-inspired 1996 episode, "Stevil." After Urkel buys a ventriloquist dummy in his likeness, a lightening bolt brings the toy to life and "Stevil" begins a tortuous rampage, leading to the dismemberment of Laura (Kellie Shanygne Williams), among other terrible actions. Eventually, the episode reveals Urkel was merely having a nightmare — but sitcoms hadn't seen anything so scary since Brady Bunch's Oliver. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air [Image Credit: NBC] The Fresh Prince (Will Smith) had previously confronted trouble when a couple of guys up to no good starting making trouble in the neighborhood. But that was when his neighborhood was Philadelphia! So it was surprising when, in 1995's "Bullets Over Bel-Air," Will found himself facing fatal danger near his new, posh neighborhood when he was shot during an ATM mugging. The series (and Smith) had gained popularity for showcasing goofy antics, but family matters got downright serious when a crying Will sparred with Carlton over a gun the latter purchased for protection. Carlton hands him the gun and Will removes the bullets and continues to cry... and then the episode ends. Even a whole album of Tom Jones music couldn't cheer us up after the somber episode. iCarly [Image Credit: Nickelodeon] The most unsettling TV moment of all? iCarly references Snoop's death on The Wire. Damn you and your irresistible pop culture-loving charms, Jennette McCurdy. More: Mockingbird Lane Pilot React: A Halloween Special Not So Special Modern Family Does Halloween early: Which Shows Are Playing Dress-Up Next? 15 Pop Culture Felines That Turn Us Into Scaredy Cats From Our Partners:Exclusive New ‘Twilight: Breaking Dawn’ Trailer! (Moviefone) Most Ridiculous Horror Movies Ever(Moviefone)