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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Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees teamed up this weekend to defend their No. 1 title at the box office--and it worked: Freddy vs. Jason managed to murder the competition for the second week in a row with $13.4 million*.
Freddy vs. Jason was followed by the '70s inspired police pic S.W.A.T., which claimed the No. 2 spot with $10.8 million, while the Western Open Range and the family remake Freaky Friday tied for third place with $9.4 million apiece. The Jackie Chan martial arts actioner The Medallion, the only one of this week's new wide releases to crack the Top Five, followed with $8.2 million.
The two new comedies, however, failed to tickle the fancy of moviegoers. The finally released, two-year-old Ashton Kutcher laffer My Boss's Daughter premiered in tenth place with $5 million while the hip-hop comedy Marci X disappeared off the charts with a paltry $865,000.
Although Freddy vs. Jason dropped off significantly from its $36.4 million high last week, it is the first summer film since X2: X-Men United to spend two weekends in a row at the top of the box office. But after a full month of $30 million plus openers, the box office lost its typical end of summer steam.
This week's Top 12 films grossed a total of $86.1 million, down a little more than 35 percent from last week, when they earned $132.6 million. The total, however, was up almost 33 percent form this time last year, when the Top 12 films grossed $64.8 million.
THE TOP TEN
New Line Cinema's R rated horror flick Freddy vs. Jason defended its No. 1 title for the second week in a row with an ESTIMATED $13.4 million (-63%) in 3,014 theaters (unchanged). Its $4,463 per theater average was the highest of any movie playing wide this week. Its cume is approximately $61.4 million.
Directed by Ronny Yu, it stars Robert Englund and Ken Kirzinger.
Sony Pictures' PG-13 rated S.W.A.T. retained in its No. 2 spot in its third week with an ESTIMATED $10.8 million (-40%) in 3,204 theaters (-16 theaters; $3,371 per theater). Its cume is approximately $88 million.
Directed by Clark Johnson, it stars Colin Farrell, Samuel L. Jackson, LL Cool J and Michelle Rodriguez.
Buena Vista's R rated Western Open Range also held on to third place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $9.4 million (-33%) in 2,075 theaters (+88 theaters; $4,346 per theater). Its cume is approximately $29 2 million.
Directed by and starring Kevin Costner, it also stars Robert Duvall, Annette Bening, Diego Luna and Michael Gambon.
Buena Vista's PG rated family remake Freaky Friday tied for third place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $9.4 million (-30%) in 3,058 theaters (+79 theaters; $3,074 per theater). Its cume is $74.5 million.
Directed by Mark Waters, it stars Jamie Lee Curtis, Lindsay Lohan, Chad Michael Murray and Mark Harmon.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Sony Pictures' PG-13 rated martial arts actioner The Medallion premiered in fifth place with an ESTIMATED $8.2 million at 2,648 theaters, with a $3,097 per theater average.
The film, Jackie Chan's first theatrical release in three years without a famous co-star, revolves around a Hong Kong detective who must protect a Buddhist monk child and a mysterious medallion from a ruthless crime lord.
Directed by Gordon Chan, it stars Jackie Chan, Lee Evans and Claire Forlani.
Buena Vista Pictures' PG-13 rated fantasy pic Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl remained strong in sixth place in its seventh week with an ESTIMATED $7.3 million (-20%) at 2,404 theaters (-306 theaters; $2,500 per theater). Its cume is approximately $261 million.
Directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, it stars Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.
Universal Pictures' PG-13 rated equestrian drama Seabiscuit gained a spot to finish in the No. 7 position in its fifth week with ESTIMATED $6.3 million (-22%) in 2,534 theaters (+72 theaters; $2,500 per theater). Its cume is approximately $93.1 million and headed for the $100 million mark.
Directed by Gary Ross, it stars Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper as three down-and-out men who find fame and fortune in an equally down-and-out racehorse.
MGM's PG-13 rated riches-to-rags tale Uptown Girls dropped three rungs to place eight in its second week with an ESTIMATED $5.6 million (-50%) in 2,495 theaters (unchanged; $2,244 per theater). Its cume is approximately $22.3 million.
Directed by Boaz Yakin, it stars Brittany Murphy, Dakota Fanning, Donald Faison, Marley Shelton and Heather Locklear.
Universal Picture's R rated teen comedy American Wedding fell two spots to finish ninth in fourth week with an ESTIMATED $5.7 million (-34%) at 2,467 theaters (-518 theaters; $2,260 per theater). Its cume is $90.6 million.
Directed by Jesse Dylan, it stars Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott, Alyson Hannigan, Eddie Kaye Thomas and Thomas Ian Nicholas.
Rounding out the Top Ten is Dimension Films' PG-13 rated fowl comedy My Boss's Daughter, which debuted in tenth place with an ESTIMATED $5 million in 2,201 theaters with a $2,272 per theater average.
In the film, a young executive housesits for his boss and tends to his prized pet owl in hopes of skipping a few rungs up the corporate ladder.
Directed by David Zucker, it stars Ashton Kutcher, Tara Reid, Molly Shannon and Andy Richter.
Paramount Pictures R rated hip-hop comedy Marci X opened to a disappointing $875,000 in 1,200 theaters with a $721 per theater average.
In the film, a New York Jewish socialite is forced to take over a hard-core hip-hop label and deal with a controversial rapper whose record is gaining some negative publicity.
Directed by Paul Rudnick, it stars Lisa Kudrow, Damon Wayans, Richard Benjamin, Christine Baranski and Jane Krakowski.
Fox Searchlight's R rated teen drama Thirteen, meanwhile, opened in five theaters to an impressive $112,213 with a $22,443 per theater average.
The movie focuses on an innocent, pigtailed 13-year-old who enters junior high with a promising future ahead of her, until she falls in with the ultra-popular, hottest girl in school and is introduced to a world of sex, drugs and misdemeanors.
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, it stars Holly Hunter, Evan Rachel Wood and Nikki Reed.
Miramax Film's PG-13 rated comedy The Battle of Shaker Heights, winner of the 2002 Project Greenlight competition developed by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, also opened in limited release this week. The film took in $52,000 in 5 theaters with a $10,400 per theater average.
Set in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, the film is about a teenage World War II buff and battle re-enactor, Kelly Enswiler, who is encouraged by a new friend to take on the school bully.
Directed by Kyle Rankin and Efram Potelle, it stars Shia LaBeouf, Kathleen Quinlan, Amy Smart and Shiri Appleby.
Last year's top three included: Buena Vista's PG-13 rated sci-fi thriller Signs, which reclaimed the No. 1 spot in its fourth week of release with $14.2 million at 3,453 theaters ($4,137 per theater average); Sony's PG-13 rated actioner xXx, which dropped to second place its third week with $13.2 million in 3,517 theaters ($3,770 per theater average); and Dimension's Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, which came in third in its third week with $7.5 million at 3,307 theaters ($2,295 per theater).