Tag Archives: kaiju

Kong: Skull Island – Review

13 Mar

I love monster movies. Like I really, really love monster movies, so the fact that Legendary is giving us a whole universe dedicated to giant monster brawls is almost too exciting. The first film in the MonsterVerse, Godzilla, came out in 2014, and despite some mixed reviews, I thought it was pretty badass. It did have some flaws, but when it got down to the monster mayhem, it really knew what it was doing. Now we have the second film, Kong: Skull Island, which introduces King Kong and the island to the universe. This beloved ape has been around since 1933, and it’s awesome to see that he has no intentions of giving up his big screen glory. This film is excessive, yes, but it’s also an extremely entertaining and action packed thrill ride.

William Randa (John Goodman) is a government official who has all the proof he needs to lead an expedition to an undiscovered island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean called Skill Island. After fighting for approval, he finally gets the go ahead and begins assembling his team. His first order of business is to find a tracker, which he finds with James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a former SAS captain that served in the Vietnam War. He also recruits the help of Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his regiment, the Sky Devils, as a military escort. Photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) also joins the expedition with hopes of uncovering some unknown government conspiracy. When the group finally gets to the island, it doesn’t take long for the protector of the realm, a 100 foot tall ape named Kong, to show up and defend his land. This attack splits the group in two, which forces them to work together and keep their eyes peeled for Kong and the other horrors that wait for them on the island.

I had such a blast with Kong: Skull Island, that I’m still getting excited thinking back on it. It’s exactly what I wanted from this movie, and based on what some other critics were saying, I was kind of worried I was going to be let down. One thing that’s worth noting that can be seen as a negative are some of the characters. Samuel L. Jackson’s Packard and John C. Reily’s Hank Marlow are two examples of well thought out and fully realized characters. I understand their motivations and they stand out amongst the rest. There are other side characters that also have large personalities that make them memorable, but there’s no real development with any of them. Tome Hiddleston and Brie Larson, however, seem to hardly be in character at all. They’re just the stereotypical heroes you would expect to see in this movie. They try to add a little back story to them, but that exposition doesn’t really help at all. They’re just there to save the day, and that’s about it.

The original King Kong has one of the most classic stories in the history of film, and no sequel or remake since then has been able to capture that same essence and feeling. Kong: Skull Island doesn’t even try, and it’s all the better for it. Sure, it has the same kind of set up with the characters being introduced and sailing to the island, and there are natives which are to be expected on Skull Island, but that’s where the similarities end. The story of this movie pretty much revolves around Hiddleston and company trying to stay alive and get to the rendezvous point on the other side of the island. This is really all I needed, but there’s a cool subplot added in with Jackson’s character that raises the stakes even more. I was so thrilled to see this movie not get bogged down in trying to be something more than it is. The plot was there to drive the movie forward, but it wasn’t so stale and uninteresting that I lost track of what I was really watching. This keeps the pace fast with the action always moving forward. It’s cool to say that I was never once bored watching this movie.

Let’s talk about the man of the hour though. Toby Kebbel is tasked with being a side character soldier, but also was the motion capture actor for Kong. This seems appropriate since he did the motion capture for Koba in the new Planet of the Apes movies. He really brings Kong to life in this movie, which is awesome, and the physicality of the role is not to be forgotten. Kong has major throw downs in this movie that will force any viewer to go into popcorn munching overdrive. This is where the movie really shines, and I appreciate the visuals that add to the excessiveness that I mentioned I loved so much. Sure, the close ups and the crazy compositions of Kong back lit by the sun may seem cheesy, but they’re really just too cool to look at, and provided some of my favorite parts of the movie.

Is Kong: Skull Island going to match the classic status that Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack did with the original back in 1933? Of course not, but it does add a fulfilling new chapter to the MonsterVerse, and also was just a highly entertaining film. Once the characters get to the island, the action very rarely slows down and I found myself getting lost in the visuals of the island and the monster brawls that seemed larger than life happening before my very eyes. This isn’t a movie about characters nor does it have any important lessons to teach the viewer. This is about giant monsters throwing down for a couple of hours. In that way, it did not disappoint.

Final Grade: B+

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Shin Godzilla – Review

17 Oct

It’s a very exciting day, and the reason is because I finally get to talk about a new Godzilla movie. Shin Godzilla is Toho’s first movie featuring the King of the Monsters in 12 years, which makes this all the more exciting. I’m a huge fan of this franchise, from the goofiness of Godzilla jumping around on the moon in Destroy all Monsters to the much darker entries like Godzilla vs. Destoroyah and even the 2014 America remake. Shin Godzilla does something very interesting and moves the tone into a much more realistic direction. This makes for a very interesting and surprisingly intelligent entry into the series that also happens to have some of the best scenes of destruction and mayhem in the entire franchise.

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After a boat is attacked in Tokyo Bay and the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line is collapsed, both by some mysterious aquatic creature, the Japanese government assures everyone that this monster will not come on land. Of course, they couldn’t have been more wrong as a bipedal, gilled fish creature begins making its way through the city and destroying everything in its path. Things are made worse after the JSDF attacks the creature, which causes it to stop its war path and begin growing and evolving into a giant reptilian monster that is named Godzilla. With Godzilla moving further into Tokyo and causing rampant destruction with countless casualties, the government scrambles to rebuild itself from the initial attack and work together with foreign powers from around the world in helping them take down this behemoth before it’s too late.

Where do I even begin? There’s so much that I want to say. I guess let’s start with the monster of the hour. Godzilla looks outstanding in this movie. The first time you see him he looks like this weird salamander with legs, which is a great introduction believe it or not. You then get the pleasure of watching him evolve into the creature that we all know and love. It’s also a treat to see that this Godzilla is the biggest ever to be put on screen, even beating out the Godzilla in the 2014 American film. This is a ferocious Godzilla and certainly not the one you may remember from the earlier films where he often time played the hero. Shin Godzilla is, in many ways, a reboot of the original film from 1954, which works really well. While it’s similar to that movie, Godzilla has a lot more to do and, without spoiling anything, has received a lot of badass enhancements that you’ve never seen in a Godzilla movie before.

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One thing that the newest American remake has over any of the other Toho versions is the special effects. Save for the shock of seeing a monster destroying a city in the original movie, the effects in this franchise haven’t really been too spectacular. This made me have no real expectations for how Shin Godzilla would look. I’m shocked at how great the effects were. There’s a few kinda strange looking scenes, but as a whole it looks great. Godzilla looks massive against the backdrop of the cities and his atomic breath has never been better. The effect work for the military is also really good. The tanks and helicopters hot on Godzilla’s trail move and sound great. I also have to give a lot of credit to directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi for their creative abilities in shooting this movie. The camera always seems to be in motion and there are some really interesting shots that heighten the action more than I’ve ever seen in a Godzilla movie. You can tell these film makers had a vision and they executed that vision very well.

A big part of any Godzilla movie, or even any kaiju movie in general, are the people who are either trying to stop or help the monsters. Normally, those are the most boring parts of the movie, and it’s rare that there are ever any really interesting characters. Shin Godzilla follows a group of government officials and scientists who are constantly brainstorming ways to stop Godzilla from completely destroying everything. While there still really aren’t many characters in this movie that I cared for too much, I cared about their mission and it was interesting watching the process they went through. It’s a very modern take on this story that has a lot of allusions to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that still has an affect on Japan to this day. This brought the politics and the economic fallout of a disaster as fantastical as Godzilla seem real and grounded. The most exciting parts of this movie of course revolved around Godzilla and the military strikes, but the scenes that take place in offices and labs still hold up well and brought a lot to the story when all of that information could have simply been lost in the action.

I had some doubts going into Shin Godzilla despite all of my excitement. Luckily, I’m in no way disappointed. This is a great entry into the franchise and possibly one of the best one since the 1954 original. There’s great special effects, outstanding action, and a story that feels very current and smart. This is a Godzilla movie that is made for the people who know and love the franchise, but is also a great place to start for people with no experience with these movies at all. This is how a monster movie is done and I couldn’t be happier with it.

Final Grade: A

Daimajin Trilogy – Review

26 Jun

In 1954, Toho released a movie called Gojira that would completely reinvent an entire genre. Since then, Godzilla has become King of the Monsters and also a household name. In 1965, to keep up with what Toho was putting out, Daiei Films put another monster on the market, Gamera, which has become a respected kaiju, but is nothing compared to Godzilla. So while Daiei was known for its monster Gamera, it was also known as the production company that put Akira Kurosawa on the map with his 1950 samurai film Rashomon. Now, what if you take Daiei’s monster movies and COMBINE them with samurai movies. What would be the result. Well, that almost unthinkable result would be the Daimajin trilogy.

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The first film, Daimajin, tells the story of a Japanese village that is taken over by an evil chamberlain, Samanosuke (Yutaro Gomi), who forces the villagers into slave labor. After years of turmoil, the mountain god Daimjin is called upon to bring Samanosuke to justice and restore order in the land. In Return of Daimajin (or Daimjin Ikaru), Daimajin must once again be restored to life to stop a war between a violent warlord and the surrounding villages, before any more loss of life is had. In Daimajin Strikes Again (or Daimajin Gyakushu) Daimajin is brought to life by three young boys who witness their family being forced into labor camps to construct rifles for a warring faction, a problem that Daimajin can surely fix in one afternoon.

For any fan of Japanese film, there’s quite literally nothing to dislike here. It seems like a weird combination of genres, but it works out for the best. There’s so much cool stuff in all three of these movies, it’s hard to just pinpoint a few instances. The scene where a group of soldiers try to dismantle the statue before it comes to life ends with such a bang when the statue begins to bleed and a wild storm comes blowing through. That’s just the first time I laughed with excitement at the events that were to unfold. There’s also a lot of excellent religious symbolism that can be recognized no matter what faith you are, kind of like the bleeding statue. It adds a cool layer of the supernatural amongst everything else.

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All three movies have pretty much the same basic structure. There are a group of good and religious villagers just trying to live their lives and respect their mountain god (Daimajin). Of course, that would make for a boring movie, so there is always an evil samurai or lord that shows up that either wants to kill or capture the villagers. While it can get a little repetitive, there is no outstanding reason to have to watch all of these movies in a row in order. There’s no continuing plot and everything is always set up like it is in the first film. This allows you to watch whatever film you want in whatever order you want, and appreciate them as stand alone movies.

So after all of the drama of the story plays out and we really grow to hate the villain, the films switch gears and it all suddenly turns into a giant monster movie. That’s like…the best thing that could happen to any movie. Daimajin is a great giant monster, even though he’s technically a mountain god in the form of a statue. He’s a kaiju that thinks and recognizes good and evil. The actor’s eyes are seen, which never really happens in a monster movie. This gives Daimajin a healthy dose of personality and makes him stand out amongst all of the other hard hitters like Godzilla, Gamera, and Mothra.

Daimajin and its two sequels are all very solid and impressive examples of Japanese film in the mid 1960s. Between Toho and Daiei, there was just a huge flow of monster after monster, and I don’t think Daimajin gets the credit that he deserves. He’s a damn cool monster, and these movies also work great as period dramas. Anyone who is a fan of these kinds of kaiju movies, or even movies like Seven SamuraiRashomon, and the Lone Wolf and Cub film series should definitely check this trilogy out. It’s almost too much fun.

Godzilla – Review

18 May

Godzilla is a name that any person knows, even if they’ve never seen a movie starring the King of Monsters in their entire life. This larger than life lizard has had plenty of chances in his 60 years in the film business to show just how tough he is wether he’s engaged in a monster rumble with King Ghidorah in Destroy all Monsters or running around New York City, destroying whatever is in sight in his 1998 American remake. Now we have the 2014 Godzilla, and I’d say there is a lot riding on this to be good, especially after so many people despise his 1998 run. This version hearkens back to the original 1954 Gojira in more ways than one, and even though there’s some terrible flaws in this movie, it made for some excellent monster movie madness.

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In the Philippines, scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) are investigating a collapse in a mine when they find two giant pod-like eggs that have recently hatched. In Tokyo, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) are working in the Janjira Nuclear Plant when unexplained seismic activity causes disaster not only for the plant, but also for Joe. Cut to 15 years later. Joe has become obsessed with exposing the cover up that was put in place after the accident at the plant, causing his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to become more and more estranged from him. Ford now works for the army as a bomb specialist and has a wife (Elizabeth Olson) and a son, but all of that is put in jeopardy when he goes with his father to investigate further, only to find giant winged monsters called MUTOs begins a path of destruction for breeding purposes. Now, mankind’s only hope is lies in the actions of another awakened behemoth. One that is called “Gojira.”

To start off with, this is not a movie that is like other entries in the franchise like Mothra vs Godzilla or Godzilla vs Gigan. Sure, we get to see Godzilla fight, but that doesn’t happen right away. Think of Godzilla in the same way that you think of the 1954 original. That film is mostly about the human characters with Godzilla showing up a little bit, until the climax in Tokyo where we really get to see the destruction he is capable of. That’s how this movie is. Godzilla isn’t in this a whole hell of a lot, but when he is it is nothing short of epic. Director Gareth Edwards stated that he got inspiration from films like Jaws, where the monster isn’t always seen, but it’s unseen presence is enough to create an even greater amount of suspense.

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So keeping Godzilla pretty much hidden until the end isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What is a bad thing is that every time I thought I was going to see at least a little bit of action, the scene cut away. That would be fine if it happened once, but it happened at least three times. That’s just overkill. One time is enough to make me crave to see some monster action, but the amount of times the film did that just started to annoy me. Another problem I had with the movie was with Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Now, he’s a fine actor in the Kick-Ass movies, but I couldn’t really get into him too much here. He is the main character, but he was pretty one-dimensional. Cranston and Watanabe’s characters were far more interesting and into their roles, but sadly they weren’t in it nearly as much as they should have been, especially with Watanabe playing Serizawa who was a very important character in the original film.

Still, there was plenty in Godzilla that kept me more than entertained. The MUTO monsters are cool, especially their reveals and how they are differentiated between male and female. They had some really awesome scenes and powers that made them more the welcome in the Godzilla canon. Godzilla also looks and sounds great. My absolute favorite part of the movie is when he finally gets around to using his atomic breath. I was waiting patiently for it to happen, and when I finally saw that blue glow break through the fog all the way up Godzilla’s back, I knew what I was in for and I wasn’t disappointed.

Being a huge fan of Godzilla movies, I can honestly say that this one didn’t disappoint even though it was nowhere like what I thought it was going to be. It is the Christopher Nolan Batman compared to Tim Burton’s Batman. They may be very different, but that isn’t a bad thing. This is a much more realistic way to show the monster and his possible effects on the world, but I still really enjoyed it. I do wish there was a little bit more monster action and interesting characters, but that’s not enough to totally ruin the movie for me. This is still an excellent popcorn flick that should please Godzilla fans enough to make them ask for more.

Pacific Rim – Review

2 Aug

Giant monsters. Equally giant robots. Guillermo del Toro. Ok, now we’re talkin’. From the trailer, you really know exactly what to expect with Pacific Rim, a movie that brings to mind Toho’s Godzilla movies of the past. Giant robots are really nothing new to movies. Just look at Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise (ok, on second thought maybe you shouldn’t). But, and this is important, del Toro takes this concept and makes it totally new. Instead of robots, they’re giant mech suits with people inside controlling it. I’m getting ahead of myself here. I’m just really excited about how excellent this movie was.

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In the not too distant future, an inter dimensional portal opens up at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean in which giant monsters, called Kaiju, are climbing out of and wreaking havoc on cities across the globe. In response to this, the superpowers of the world come together and create a program where giant mech suits, called Jaegers, complete with two pilots who have merged their minds can walk into the path of the Kaiju and stop them. For years, this seems to work just fine, but it appears that the Kaiju are evolving and adapting to earth and its defenses, making the jobs of the Jaeger pilots more demanding and much more dangerous. As the pilots begin failing at an alarming rate, Commander Pentecost (Idris Elba) hatches an idea that may very well be the key to closing the portal and saving the earth.

Now, this movie is absolutely outstanding. It’s certainly not much of a captivating drama, but it sure is a lot of fun. The main protagonist isn’t anything interesting and his partner, played by Rinko Kikuchi, is pretty good, but still nothing too great. Idris Elba on the other hand has a really cool character who is very interesting. He has to be since his main job is “canceling the apocalypse.” Finally, Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are exactly the kind of comic relief that this movie needs, as the two scientists who are obsessed with unlocking the secrets of the Kaiju.

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I guess that wasn’t the first talking point you would expect me to start with. The question of the hour is: How were the Jaeger vs Kaiju fights? Excellent question, and the answer is that they were mind blowing. Like the whole movie itself, these fights had the potential to be garbage, but the way they are executed makes all the difference. First of all, the sound design and visual effects make it very easy to believe that these behemoths are actually throwing down right in front of you. That, and camera angles that are interesting and make the action easy to follow. Everything feels really big about this movie, and that’s important given the subject matter. Some camera angles are shown from the ground level while others are from the view of distant buildings. Let’s just say that these fights look about as epic as anything I’ve ever seen.

I will say that there are slow parts to the movie where the lack of strong characters and dialogue really shows. The way these scenes play out are entirely too predictable and the characters are pretty stock for the most part. Like I said, most of the main characters are nothing special, even as sort of “everyman” characters. A lot of the disagreements and drama seems a little underplayed, and don’t amount to anything too special. Kikuchi’s character at least has a nice back story that helps her dramatic scenes feel a bit more interesting.

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While the human drama doesn’t really feel all that spectacular, it is adequate. On the flip side, the colossal battles between machine and beast in the oceans and cities of the world are some of the most fun you’ll have at the movies this year. Like I said, Pacific Rim had the potential to be generic drivel and nothing too special save for some pretty scenes. Instead, Guillermo del Toro has created an awesome thrill ride that, in my opinion, gives Star Trek Into Darkness some competition for my favorite film of the year.