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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And that's why you should never get married in Westeros.
King Joffrey, the first of his name and one of the most hated television characters of all time, has died, poisoned at his own wedding in front of thousands of guests. The people of King's Landing are probably celebrating just as much as everyone on Twitter. While that last shot of Jack Gleeson's purple face, shaking as blood pours from his nose and Lena Headey screams above him is no doubt the high point of the episode, it's the events that lead up to the poisoning that were truly entertaining, as all of the wedding guests took each other on with barely contained contempt.
First, though, we have the celebratory breakfast for the Lannister and Tyrell families, an event that is only really important because it seals Joffrey and Shae's fates. While the tiny tyrant brags about his military prowess and chops Tyrion's gift to pieces, Cersei and Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), set their sights on Shae, intending to take Tyrion down via his love. But Shae might be the only person this side of Dorne who isn't afraid of the Lannisters, which means Tyrion must force her to leave by insulting her and claiming that she never meant anything to him. It's a surprisingly heartbreaking scene, with Sibel Kekilli's proud determination breaking down into heaving sobs while Peter Dinklage struggles to maintain his disinterested facade. The relationship between Tyrion and Shae has been one of the show's stablest and most affectionate, so it's hard not to feel as if the Lannisters have won even if Shae managed to escape with her life. Although, like Tyrion, we have a feeling that Shae might not be gone for good.
But with a wedding to celebrate, there's no time to dwell on lost loves. The Purple Wedding receives most of the episode's attention, and with good reason. All of the characters present at the royal wedding hate each other, and the stakes are high. As Cersei wanders through the wedding, insulting Brienne and reversing all of Margaery's decrees, it's clear that she still percieves everyone who isn't her immediate family to be a threat, and she plans on picking them off one by one. Headey plays the interactions with the perfect note of pettiness — Cersei is upset about the wedding, about losing her son and her crown to a family who might be even more skilled at playing the game than she is — and yet she maintains an air of power and sophistication about her, never losing face even as prince Oberyn delivers his cutting remarks.
Whatever Game of Thrones is losing in Joffrey and the Starks, they are more than getting back with the addition of Oberyn. His interactions with the Lannisters are still incredibly entertaining to watch, and Pedro Pascal delivers every veiled insult and threat with a charming smile and a barely suppressed sense of glee. Cersei and Tywin don't seem to view him as a genuine threat yet, although his ending remarks condemning rape and murder make it very clear that he holds them personally responsible for what happened to his sister. Oberyn might also have an ally in Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones), who is possibly even more unhappy with his arranged marriage than Cersei is. Between Joffrey's "joust" insulting the memory of Renly and Jaime attempting to threaten him about the upcoming nuptials — a threat which Loras manages to cut down with a beautifully timed burn — it seems like Loras might be reaching his breaking point with his new in-laws.
But none of these interactions can hold a candle to the wedding feast itself, with Joffrey's despicable behavior making his sudden death seem well-deserved. Gleeson turned everything up to eleven for his final moments, swanning about and revelling in his percieved glory. Joffrey's always been a spoiled brat, but he's never seemed more childish than he did making the crowd throw oranges at Ser Dontos or pouring his wine over Tyrion's head.
It's this final showdown with Tyrion that really ratchets up the episode's tension, with Dinklage working hard to keep his face and reactions neutral even as Gleeson slips into open revulsion. One of the best things that "The Lion and the Rose" does with these scenes is to keep cutting back to how uncomfortable everyone sitting at the high table is during these exchanges, because it gives you hope that someone will intervene and brake through the tense, awkward atmosphere before something terrible happens. Once Joffrey instructs his uncle to kneel at his feet, a humiliation beyond measure for Tyrion, and one that the camera accentuates by filming Dinklage from above, we, like the wedding guests, can hardly watch.
The scene drags out every glare, every stony silence and every insult so that each time that Margaery interjects and distracts her new husband, the relief is palpable. Natalie Dormer plays up the character's innocent facade in these moments, finding just the right moment to put on her charm and pull Joffrey away from the situation before he does something irreversible. George R.R. Martin, who wrote the episode, times every beat of these scenes perfectly, so that the audience exhales along with the guests and feels the same kind of excruciating awkwardness that the characters feel in that moment.
And yet, when Joffrey finally does die in his parents' arms, the satisfaction and shock we feel is undercut with a tiny bit of sadness. Yes, this child is a monster, but he's also still a child in many ways, and the fact that we can feel sad as he convulses on the ground is a testament to Gleeson's talent. We might not miss Joffrey — and nor, it seems, will anyone else, as not a single wedding guest moved to help him — but we will certainly miss the actor who brought him to life.
Elsewhere in the Seven Kingdoms, we catch up with the characters who couldn't fit into the jam-packed premiere. Even though their expository scenes are undercut with a bit more action and violence than some of their counterparts, they all pale in comparison to what's going on at King's Landing. Ramsay Snow continues to be a complete pyschopath, although his pride at transforming Theon Greyjoy is cut short upon his father's return. Iwan Rheon is delightfully creepy in his scenes, and he hints at a desperate desire to please Roose Bolton underneath all of his bravado, but the real star of the scene is Alfie Allen, who literally shakes with timidity as the broken Theon/Reek. Meanwhile, Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) is heading further North himself, and his warging abilities are growing stronger, and over in Dragonstone, everyone has completely dedicated themselves to the Lord of Light, believing it to be all Stannis will need to win the war.
While we're not so sure if we agree with them, this would be the ideal time to strike, as it's only a matter of time before the King's death sends Westeros into complete chaos once more. Turns out that Joffrey's death has a bigger impact on the world of Game of Thrones than his life ever did. Farewell, Joffrey: You will be remembered, although not very fondly.
Episode grade: A, or three wise-cracking Tyrions.
If there's a cinematic alchemy award to be given this year director Bill Condon deserves to take it home after magically turning the tedious Twilight franchise into entertainment gold. 2011's Part 1 was a horror camp romp that turned the supernatural love triangle — the naval gazing trio of Bella Edward and Jacob — on its head. Breaking Dawn - Part 2 continues the madcap exploration of a world populated by vampires and werewolves mining even more comedy thrills and genuine character moments out of conceit than ever before. The film occasionally sidesteps back into Edward and Bella's meandering romance (an evident hurdle of author Stephenie Meyer's source material) but the duller moments are overshadowed by the movie's nimble pace and playful attitude. Breaking Dawn - Part 2 will elicit laughs aplenty — but thankfully they're all on purpose.
Part 2 picks up immediately following the events of the first film Bella (Kristen Stewart) having been turned into a vampire by Edward (Robert Pattinson) to save her life after the torturous delivery of her half-human half-vampire child Renesmee. She awakes to discover super senses heightened agility increased strength… and a thirst for blood. One dead cougar later Bella and the gang are able to focus on the real troubles ahead: Renesmee is rapidly growing (think Jack) and vampiric overlords The Volturi perceive her a threat to vampiric secrecy. Knowing the Volturi will travel to Forks WA to kill the young girl (a 10-year-old just a month after being born) The Cullens amass an army of bloodsucking friends to end the oppression once and for all.
Packed with an absurd amount of backstory and mythology-twisting plot points (some vampires can shoot lightning now?) Condon and series screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg mine revel in the beefed up ensemble of Breaking Dawn - Part 2 and thanks to a wildly funny cast it never feels like pointless deviation. Along with the usual suspects Lee Pace adds swagger to the series as a grungy alt-rock vampire Noel Fisher appears as a hilarious over-the-top battle-ready Russian coven member and Michael Sheen returns has Volturi head honcho Aro and steels the show. Flamboyant diabolical and a steady stream of maniacal laughter Sheen owns Condon's high camp vision for Twilight and he lights up the screen. There are a few throw away nations of vampires — the oddly stereotypical Egyptian and Amazonians sects are there mostly there to off-set the extreme whiteness — but the actors involved bring liveliness to a franchise known for being soulless. Even Stewart Pattinson and Taylor Lautner give personal bests in this installment — a scene between Bella and her dad Charlie (Billy Burke) is genuinely heartfelt while Jacob's overprotective hero schtick finally lands.
Whereas Breaking Dawn - Part 1 stuck mostly to the personal story relying on the intimate moments as Bella and Edward took the big plunge into marriage and sex Part 2 paints with broader strokes and Condon has a ball. Delving into the history of the vampires and the vampire world outside Forks is Pandora's Box for the director. One scene where we learn why kids scare the heck of the Volturi captures a scope of medieval epics — along with the bloodshed. Twilight might be known for its sexual moments but Breaking Dawn - Part 2 will go down for its abundance of decapitations. The big set piece in the finale is something to behold both in the craftsmanship of the spectacle and in its bizarre nature.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 had the audience hooting hollering and even gasping as it twisted and turned to the final moments. There's little doubt that even the biggest naysayer of the franchise would do the same. No irony here: the conclusion of Twilight is a blast.