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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Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.
An avalanche of ticket sales for The Rock gave Scorpion King a record setting number one opening of $36.2 million.
Changing Lanes slowed down to place second with $11.1 million. Murder by Numbers opened third with only a small box office killing of $9.5 million.
The Rookie showed strong legs and placed fourth with $6.3 million. Panic Room locked up the fifth spot with $6.2 million.
Driven by Scorpion, key films--those grossing $500,000 or more--totaled $99.1 million, up over 27 percent from last year's $77.8 million. Business was up over 9 percent from the previous weekend's $90.7 million.
THE TOP TEN
Universal's PG-13 rated adventure spinoff The Scorpion King in association with World Wrestling Federation Entertainment and Alphaville kicked off with blockbuster strength to a chart topping ESTIMATED $36.2 million at 3,444 theatres ($10,515 per theater).
Scorpion's average per theater was the highest for any film playing this weekend.
Insiders said Scorpion is well on its way to $100 million in domestic theaters. How far it goes beyond that will depend on how well it holds after Columbia launches its highly anticipated event film Spider-Man May 3.
Scorpion goes into the record books as the biggest opening ever in the month of April. Actually, Universal broke its own record, having set it with $20.4 million for Life the weekend of Apr. 16-18, 1999.
"Everyone at Universal is very excited over the fact that we took one immensely popular franchise and spun off a completely new and obviously equally popular franchise," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning.
"We're happy we were able to launch a summer type movie in mid-April. That's setting precedent again. And certainly, having the April opening record is something to toot your horn about."
Rocco emphasized that, "None of this would have been possible without the tireless efforts of the amazing star of this movie, The Rock, who we're very proud to be in business with. He literally did everything we asked him to do (to launch the movie) and kept coming back for more. He's incredible. He's got talent. He's got charisma.
"And I have to credit our filmmaking partners at Alphaville, (producers) Sean Daniel and Jim Jacks with producers Kevin Misher and Stephen Sommers, for getting this film ready, bringing it to us in time to release it in April and doing it at a relatively inexpensive cost. Because it's not a special effects film like The Mummy, it didn't cost as much. It was $60 million--not (cheap) by today's standards, but still and all it's something to be very proud of."
Asked who was on hand opening weekend, Rocco replied, "It was just what we thought it would be. It was young males, who loved it. They came for The Rock. The audience was (about) 56 percent under 25, which was what was expected for this. And having launched it at this tremendous number, it bodes very well for next weekend where there's really nothing (in terms of huge competition to cut into Scorpion). We have two weeks to ourselves--this week and next week. That's a good thing."
Paramount's R rated road rage drama Changing Lanes drove one notch down the chart to second place in its second week, still on the track with an ESTIMATED $11.1 million (-35%) at 2,642 theaters (+29 theaters; $4,201 per theater). Its cume is approximately $32.8 million.
Directed by Roger Michell, it stars Ben Affleck and Samuel L Jackson.
Castle Rock Entertainment's Murder by Numbers opened calmly in third place via Warner Bros. to an ESTIMATED $9.51 million at 2,663 theaters ($3,569 per theater).
Directed by Barbet Schroeder, it stars Sandra Bullock.
"About 71 percent of the audience was over the age of 25, of which 60 percent were female," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning.
"So it was predominantly female. It's a different kind of film for Sandra Bullock and a film she wanted to make. It wasn't that far from the studio projections. We'll hang in there and see how we hold up. Next week's not very strong (in terms of new competition)."
Buena Vista/Disney's G rated family appeal baseball drama The Rookie rose one rung to fourth place in its fourth week, still rounding the bases with great energy with an ESTIMATED $6.3 million (-21%) at 2,507 theaters (-13 theaters; $2,528 per theater). Its cume is approximately $53.7 million.
Directed by John Lee Hancock, it stars Dennis Quaid.
Columbia's R rated thriller Panic Room escaped three blocks south to fifth place in its fourth week with a still scary ESTIMATED $6.2 million (-42%) at 2,825 theaters (-294 theaters; $2,195 per theater). Its cume is approximately $82.2 million, heading for the area of $100 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by David Fincher, it stars Jodie Foster.
"We have opened every (new international) market in the number one position. This weekend we had a very big opening in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy--all in the number one position," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
Panic's international numbers, Blake said, are "very comparable to a picture we handled last spring, Erin Brockovich, which was our international title. It's doing that level of business (and is) certainly pointed towards $100 million-plus and we're going to be real close domestic. But, certainly, international is off to that level of start. Obviously, with more major territories to come, we'll know more within a month. Every one has been a terrific launch and a number one opening."
Looking ahead, Blake noted, "Next week is France. The U.K. opens on May 3. And Japan opens May 18."
20th Century Fox's PG rated animated feature Ice Age eroded two pegs to sixth place in its sixth week, still holding nicely with an ESTIMATED $5.74 million (-33%) at 2,817 theaters (-194 theaters; $2,038 per theater). Its cume is approximately $159.5 million, heading for $175 million or more in domestic theaters.
Directed by Chris Wedge, it features the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary.
Columbia's R rated romantic comedy The Sweetest Thing dropped four notches in its second week to seventh place with a bittersweet ESTIMATED $5.2 million (-45%) at 2,670 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,948 per theater). Its cume is approximately $17.0 million.
Directed by Roger Kumble, it stars Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate and Selma Blair.
20th Century Fox and Regency Enterprises' PG-13 rated thriller High Crimes fell two rungs to eighth place in its third week with a dull ESTIMATED $3.77 million (-50%) at 2,408 theaters (-339 theaters; $1,564 per theater). Its cume is approximately $30.8 million, heading for $35-40 million.
Directed by Carl Franklin, it stars Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman.
Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies' PG rated time travel adventure Clockstoppers slid two slots to ninth place in its fourth week, with a slower ESTIMATED $2.86 million (-39%) at 2,188 theaters (-324 theaters; $1,307 per theater). Its cume is approximately $31.9 million, heading for the area of $40 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Jonathan Frakes, it stars Jesse Bradford, Paula Garces, French Stewart, Michael Biehn and Robin Thomas.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Artisan Entertainment's R rated youth comedy National Lampoon's Van Wilder, which was tenth last week, in its third week with a less wild ESTIMATED $2.25 million (-45%) at 1,806 theaters (-298 theaters; $1,246 per theater). Its cume is approximately $17.3 million, heading for $20 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Walt Becker, it stars Ryan Reynolds and Tara Reid.
"We're thinking it will probably top off at $20 million because I don't think there's going to be more than a couple weeks of business left," Artisan domestic theatrical distribution president Steve Rothenberg said Sunday morning.
"For us, it's a good win. We made the film for between $5-6 million, so to gross $20 million and with all the ancillary (business because) these titles are usually very good in video, we should be fine."
This weekend also saw the arrival of IFC Films' PG rated romantic comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding with a slim ESTIMATED $0.53 million at 108 theaters ($4,895 per theater).
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
Manhattan Pictures' R rated thriller Enigma opened to an unexciting ESTIMATED $0.15 million at 25 theaters ($5,985 per theater).
Directed by Michael Apted, it stars Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam and Saffron Burrows.
Paramount Classics' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Triumph of Love arrived to an non-triumphant ESTIMATED $61,000 at 18 theaters ($3,378 per theater).
Directed by Clare Peploe, it stars Mira Sorvino, Fiona Shaw, Jay Rodan, Rachael Stirling and Ben Kingsley.
Sony Pictures Classics' R rated drama Nine Queens kicked off to a hopeful ESTIMATED $39,000 at 5 theaters ($7,713 per theater).
Directed by Fabian Bielinsky, it stars Ricardo Darin and Gaston Pauls.
Lions Gate Films' R rated drama Chelsea Walls opened to a soft ESTIMATED $10,000 at 3 theaters ($3,219 per theater).
Directed by Ethan Hawke, it stars Rosario Dawson, Vincent D'Onofrio, Kris Kristofferson, Robert Sean Leonard, Natasha Richardson, Uma Thurman, Mark Webber and Steve Zahn.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend IFC Films' unrated erotic drama Y Tu Mama Tambien went wider in its sixth week with an okay ESTIMATED $1.03 million (+1%) at 243 theaters (+50 theaters; $4,245 per theater). Its cume is approximately $5.9 million.
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, it stars Maribel Verdu, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna.
USA Films' R rated romantic comedy Monsoon Wedding added theaters in its ninth week with a still enticing ESTIMATED $0.71 million (+14%) at 189 theaters (+27 theaters; $3,740 per theater). Its cume is approximately $7.1 million.
Directed by Mira Nair, it was produced by Nair and Caroline Baron.
Universal's international division reported Sunday morning that The Scorpion King kicked off its international run with an outstanding number one opening in Australia. The film's $0.28 million opening day gross is the second biggest opening day of the year Down Under. In its first three days, Scorpion grossed $1.0 million on 191 playdates.
In the U.K. Scorpion arrived to an excellent $1.7 million on 402 playdates in its first 2 days, including Thursday night previews, and is running neck and neck with Bend it Like Beckham for first place.
In Malaysia, Scorpion grossed $0.33 million on 41 playdates, ranking as Universal's second biggest opening ever, UIP's all-time third biggest opening and the industry's fourth biggest opening in history.
In Singapore, Scorpion grossed $0.36 million on 26 playdates, making it Universal's fourth biggest opening, UIP's sixth biggest opening and the industry's tenth biggest.
In the Philippines, Scorpion also did excellent opening weekend business, grossing $0.23 million on 76 playdates, matching the ticket sales for past blockbusters like Jurassic Park III and Tomb Raider.
In Hong Kong, Scorpion grossed an excellent $0.36 million on 38 playdates, equaling the openings for The Mummy and Tomb Raider.
A Beautiful Mind continued to hold very well in the Top 5 in several countries. In Argentina, Mind tied for first place in its ninth week with $35,000 (-17%) on 51 playdates.
In Brazil, it ranked fifth in its tenth week with $0.11 million (-27%) on 155 playdates.
Mind was fifth in its eighth week in Germany with $0.46 million (-21%) on 389 playdates.
In Mexico, it placed fifth in its eighth week with $0.14 million (-24%) on 153 playdates.
Ali G Is in Da House, Universal's latest film from Working Title, was ninth in its fifth week, grossing $0.32 million (-38%) on 282 playdates. In 29 days, Ali G has grossed $13.6 million.
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in approximately $99.1 million, up about 27.42 percent from last year when they totaled $77.78 million.
Key films this weekend were up about 9.27 percent from the previous weekend of this year's total of $90.7 million.
Last year, Miramax and Universal's second week of Bridget Jones's Diary was first with $10.2 million at 2,221 theaters ($4,585 per theater); and Dimension Films' fourth week of Spy Kids was second with $10.1 million at 3,191 theaters ($3,156 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $20.3 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $47.3 million.