Advertisements

Michael Dougherty

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

If the release of Godzilla: King of the Monsters has taught us anything, it’s that the expectations of audiences and critics are a fair distance apart.

This is no great revelation. For every serious reviewer of cinema, you will find two casual cinema-goers pop up to remind them “it’s only a movie”. This is completely fine. Some people just enjoy cinema for the experience and don’t study it too closely, bathing in the drama or spectacle. Others like to dissect, unpick, or place into context. Some, admittedly. simply enjoy trashing a project for their own personal, particular reasons, and often reside in the sketchier corners of online fandom. Ultimately, we enjoy what we enjoy for the reasons we enjoy it, but Godzilla: King of the Monsters struck me as the purest exercise in giving the people what they want, Roman-forum style. It is, in the most primal sense, a monster movie. A movie starring monsters. There is so subtlety, no cloak and dagger subterfuge. You see Godzilla in the first frame. All of him. In his prime.

Compare this to Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla, off the back of which King of the Monsters follows, and we could be in different stylistic galaxies. A key complaint from paying punters in 2014 was that we simply didn’t see all that much of, as the Japanese call him, ‘Gojira’. For a film named after the big guy, he was conspicuous by his absence as Edwards attempted to root his film in human drama around which Godzilla appeared as a force of nature, a towering titanic beast it took a significant amount of the film to reveal. Edwards wanted awe in a different manner to King of the Monsters director Michael Dougherty. He wanted to keep us waiting for Godzilla, and make his entrance a *moment* to take our breath away. For some, this was the wrong approach, and King of the Monsters goes in a very different direction.

King of the Monsters wants you to know, very clearly, that Godzilla and a host of other monsters are what this film is about. The humans are plot devices. It is the *monsters* who are the real characters.

Advertisements

From the Ashes: X-Men – The Last Stand (2006)

With X-Men: Dark Phoenix on the horizon, a film predicted to signal the end of the original iteration of the X-Men franchise, I’ve decided to go back and revisit this highly influential collection of comic-book movies.

We continue with Brett Ratner’s third film, 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand

If you ever needed proof of the law of diminishing returns, you could look no further than X-Men: The Last Stand.

Over the years, X3 (as it was never officially known but we will call it for expediency) has developed what could be charitably described as a bad reputation amongst fans of comic-book cinema and indeed fans of Marvel’s X-Men comics themselves. There is no question – The Last Stand is a profound step down from the preceding two films, particularly the strong and layered X2. Brett Ratner’s film is emptier while being crammed with more plot, and more mutants, that you can shake a stick at it. The script is unfocused and at times obnoxious, while Ratner’s direction has none of the poise and subtlety Bryan Singer brought to the previous movies. Several of the key, well-developed characters from X1 and X2 are unceremoniously dumped and numerous key journeys and arcs across those two films are ditched or given short shrift. If X2 was X-Men’s The Empire Strikes Back, this is a poor man’s Return of the Jedi, with 2009’s execrable X-Men Origins: Wolverine probably the Star Wars Holiday Special.

Yet… yet… there is something about The Last Stand which prevents it from being a complete and utter failure. It is perhaps the purest invocation of the kitsch pulp Stan Lee & Jack Kirby gave us in the earliest 1960’s X-Men comics, far more so than the updated, modernised take across Singer’s movies. While churning through at times underwhelming material, key actors such as Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are comfortable in the skin of their characters and are visibly enjoying playing them. The Last Stand, in how it pits the X-Men against the Brotherhood of Mutants by the climax, is one of the first major comic-book blockbusters to pit a whole team of super-powered heroes and villains against each other, something we would by now come to expect in many Marvel Cinematic Universe films; indeed, The Last Stand introduces the post-credits teaser sequence before Iron Man in 2008 goes on to steal it and make it a staple of the MCU.

Don’t get me wrong: The Last Stand is not a good X-Men film, or indeed a good comic-book movie. We have, however, seen much worse.

Shock and Awe: X2 – X-Men United (2003)

With X-Men: Dark Phoenix on the horizon, a film predicted to signal the end of the original iteration of the X-Men franchise, I’ve decided to go back and revisit this highly influential collection of comic-book movies.

We continue with Bryan Singer’s sequel, 2003’s X2…

Though far more of a muscular and accomplished film than its predecessor, X2: X-Men United would never have worked without it.

X2 is in danger of being overlooked in our era of dominant comic-book movie franchises and behemoth superhero pictures as one of the key, formative pieces of cinema in the genre, something we must work hard to avoid. Bryan Singer’s sequel is a skilled piece of work which does precisely what a follow up is designed to do – build on the foundations of the previous film, add complications and greater depth, and provide a heightened, meaningful experience. X2 does that very successfully. It is The Empire Strikes Back to X-Men’s A New Hope. It even has strong shades come the denouement of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in how it punches you with an earned sacrifice on one hand, while promising a rebirth on the other. X2 feels like a picture that everyone involved had been constructing in their minds long before it was ever committed to celluloid.

On that basis, X2 feels on some level like the first truly meaningful X-Men movie but one that needed the prologue of the original 2000 film in order to function in the manner it does. When Singer came back to helm the sequel, he combined screenplays by David Hayter—who penned the previous movie—and Zak Penn, brewed up with rewrites from Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, in order to fuse together a film which develops many of the established character arcs from X-Men, placed the film distinctly in a post-9/11 context, and digs deep into the ideological and existential conflict between Professor X and Magneto – namely whether mutants should believe in humanity or reject and destroy them. It does this while never forgetting the human cost of being different, exploring the difficulty of living with what genetics, evolution, gives you in a less than tolerant society.

X2 does this with a poise and panache that few comic-book movies have equalled since.