Friday, July 9, 2010

Godzilla: Final Wars & The Last Airbender reviews

Godzilla: Final Wars

One of my earliest memories: Drawing a picture of Godzilla as he fought one of a half dozen huge monsters as the theme song played out the Saturday afternoon matinee of monster movies on either channel 11 or 9 in our local market. I wasn’t as picky back then as I am right now, but I still have a great fondness for the giant monster movies from Japan. This was probably where my love for the “retribution” storyline comes from, because my favorite Godzilla films were always the ones in which he became the reluctant “hero” of the day. When aliens would invade earth or robots from the future would try to dominate our society, the last and best hope for humanity seemed to lay with their greatest doom. I especially loved the Baby Godzilla films; they always showed a softer side of the great beast. There are generations of Godzilla films, each focusing on different aspects of the big green King of the Monsters.

“Godzilla: Final Wars” is the epitome of everything I loved about Godzilla films when I was growing up. Director Ryuhei Kitamura goes back to that six year old boy inside of me and presents the Godzilla I fell in love with. The only unfortunate part being that it takes nearly half the film to revive the King of all monsters! Some twenty or thirty years after the big guy was buried in the south pole, humanity stops warring with one another and focuses their defensive technology on combating other monsters who occasionally arise due to mans’ pollution, technology, or some other nonsense. Enough back story… FIGHT!!!! Human Mutants make up the majority of Earths’ defense and they spend their time sparring with each other, piloting monster fighting rocket ships, or complaining about guard duty…. FIGHT!!!! But just when you think things are getting too peaceful, the monsters suddenly embark on a mass coordinated attack on all of Earth’s major cities… FIGHT!!!! But we’re saved just before we defeat the monsters by a benevolent race of aliens who have replaced Earths’ leadership with robotic clones… FIGHT!!! The EVIL aliens really just wanted to use humanity for cattle and it’s up to the last remaining pocket of human resistance to revive Godzilla from his torpor… FIGHT!!! FIGHT!!! FIGHT!!!! Godzilla fights the other monsters… ALL THE OTHER VILLAINOUS MONSTERS!!!! No, not one or two… I mean ALL OF THEM!!!! Mothra beats her wings in to help the big guy for a brief bit, but this is all about Zilla and his ability to smash and blast his way through every single stock suit the Toho company had in storage. Even Baby Zilla (Minilla) gets in on the action, and we are in for one Monster Jamboree Battle Royale of immensive proportions. I don’t even care that immensive isn’t a word, that’s the only thing I can say to describe this movie!

Final Wars isn’t exactly Academy Award material, nor is it precisely going to change the world or bring attention to the social ills and environmental horrors that could have created a beast like Godzilla… it’s a monster smash up of a movie that simply doesn’t have time to waste on lecturizing the fanbase. Look, all you need to know about the movie can be summed up in the character of Earths’ leading human commander of resistance forces: He’s big, he has a bushy mustache, he talks with all the grit and glamour of Nick Fury on steroids, and he carries a katana for the heck of it. With a character full of this much testosterone, you have to wonder if King Leonidas might see this film and decide to put on frilly dresses. The Mustache itself, bushy and supernaturally attached to the face in a manner that seems to defy all logic, seems almost like a repository for the excess manliness this character exudes and may, in fact, act as a protective buffer from the grit and growl emitted in what passes for dialogue so that those who are near the character will not simply vanish in a blast of awesomeness. This guy isn’t even the lead character, but he’s so awesome that he SHOULD have his own movie spinoff where he takes an earth defense force rocket and pays a visit to the alien home world.

4.5 out of 5, losing only half a star for taking the better part of an hour to even free Godzilla but including enough awesomeness to keep me distracted in the meantime.

The Last Airbender

Playing like a Readers Digest abridged interpretation of its original source material; The Last Airbender is a fun summer blockbuster that rises above its controversial casting choices to present a decent adventure film. Aang is the title character, the long missing Avatar of legend whose purpose it is to bring balance to the world and prevent war from tearing it apart. Two youths from the Southern Water Tribe accidentally free Aang from his century-long torpor beneath the ice and set off on a journey to the Northern Water Kingdom so Aang can learn water bending and fulfill the next part of his training to gain all the powers of the Avatar. He is pursued by the Fire Nation who have already exterminated the remnants of Aangs tribe in their bid to rule the world.

Based on the Nickelodeon Cartoon series, the Last Airbender manages to condense a full season of stories into a two-hour feature but seems to lose much of the most beloved aspects in its attempt. Aang is no longer the care-free boy from the cartoon, laughing and playfully pranking his friends. He’s far grimmer in this adaptation, feelings of remorse and anger often overwhelming the audience with a portrayal that flatly ignores the lead characters charismatic appeal in the original series. Perhaps the role was simply beyond the abilities of a boy chosen, primarily, for his martial arts talent rather than his acting but the whole of the film suffers as a result. Instead, the film is largely stolen by the character of the Fire Nation Prince who seems at once far more intense and interesting of a hero than Aang ever manages to do. Other characters suffer from a lack of screen time while far more time is devoted to Aangs’ training with the Water Nation than seemed natural for the general flow of the story.

4 out of 5.

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