Thursday, July 10, 2014

Culture Shock 07.10.14: Ed Wood's 'Plan 9' rewards revisiting

Edward D. Wood Jr.'s reputation again needs rehabilitation. Once enshrined as the worst filmmaker of all time, Wood's place atop the auteurs of awful is in jeopardy.

It's an unexpected turn for the man who wrote and directed standouts of shlock such as "Bride of the Monster" (1955) and the semi-autobiographical "Glen or Glenda" (1953).

"Mystery Science Theater 3000," home video and the Syfy channel have exposed audiences to horrors poor Ed could scarcely have imagined. Compared to the films of Coleman Francis ("Skydivers" and "Red Zone Cuba"), rediscovered obscurities such as "Manos: The Hands of Fate" and "Death Bed: The Bed That Eats," and Syfy originals such as "Mansquito," Wood's films barely stand out anymore. They seem almost ordinary, common, unremarkable.

Wood's tin star has dimmed since Michael and Harry Medved first spit on it in their 1980 book "The Golden Turkey Awards," giving Wood a notoriety in death he never had in life. Even Tim Burton's Oscar-winning 1994 biopic "Ed Wood" seems just a distant and sad memory of when Burton and Johnny Depp still made great movies. It's more about them now than it is Wood.

Perhaps we've been looking at Wood's films the wrong way. Maybe they're more than just bad movies. Can your heart stand the shocking facts, my friends?

The obvious place to start digging is Wood's 1959 magnum opus, "Plan 9 from Outer Space."

For decades "Plan 9" has fooled everyone, critics and fans alike. At first glance, it seems like a movie about extraterrestrials coming to Earth and raising the dead. The aliens' plan (their ninth) is to stop humanity from developing a weapon that could destroy the entire universe. (Wood never does anything halfway.) In other words, "Plan 9" looks like a technically inept, dollar store remake of 1951's "The Day the Earth Stood Still." But despite itself, "Plan 9" is much more than that.

The addition of zombies to the plot is a commercial consideration. It plays to the Cold War fears of the drive-in frequenting youth audience, inculcated since grade school with a dread for the mindless, conformist Red Menace. Yet Wood mines this for an ironic comment on America's Red Scare paranoia. One of his alien visitors, named Eros after the Greek god of love, says, "It's an interesting thing when you consider, the Earth people, who can think, are so frightened by those who cannot: the dead."

Whether intentional or not, Wood both deflates the dead ideology of communism and lampoons a nervous America's dangerous overreaction to it. Only with hindsight and the collapse of the Soviet Union does it become clear.

Tor Johnson, left, and Vampira in "Plan 9 from Outer Space."
Wood's eye toward his teen audience also provides the film with its star power. TV horror movie host Vampira, pro wrestler Tor Johnson and the late Bela Lugosi (plus his stand-in) are the closest "Plan 9" comes to stars, yet all portray the resurrected undead. By accident, Wood gives us a sly take on how the old Hollywood studio system treated its contract players. It brings to mind the quote attributed to Alfred Hitchcock: "Actors are cattle." Here they are less than cattle; they're dead, especially Lugosi, who really is dead and appears only in stock footage Wood clumsily works into the final film.

In the end "Plan 9" is ahead of its time. It plays as a movie about the artifice of Hollywood. From the rickety sets and unspeakable dialogue to the non-acting actors and disregard for basic continuity from one shot to the next, "Plan 9" practically screams, "I am not real! I am only a movie!"

Perhaps "Plan 9" belongs in a different pantheon, among the great movies about movie-making: "Singin' in the Rain," Robert Altman's "The Player," and Federico Fellini's "8½." (OK. Maybe not.)

Wood didn't just make bad, incompetent, baffling films. He made bad, incompetent, baffling films that strove for deeper meaning. When he failed as a filmmaker, which was almost always, he failed magnificently. By a strange combination of delusional ambition and fortunate accident, he made terrible movies that not only are fun to watch but that surprise us with something new every time we revisit them. That is why Wood remains the Orson Welles of ineptitude.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Culture Shock 07.03.14: America still ambivalent about soccer

I harbor no illusions. Every four years, the World Cup rolls around. Americans suddenly show a modicum of interest in the world's most popular sport. And people wonder if this, at long last, is the breakthrough year for soccer in the U.S. of A.

Then Team USA gets knocked out of the tournament, and everything goes back to the way it was.

Well, almost. Soccer emerges ever so slightly more popular than it was, getting a tiny boost in its slow, yet inexorable climb. It's not a lot, but it's something. And a few more kids who would have gone out for football or basketball try soccer instead. Critical mass is just around the corner.

Still, if ever there were a World Cup to ignite Americans' passion for the sport, it's this one. The U.S. team survived the "group of death" only to lose a heartbreaker to Belgium despite goalkeeper Tim Howard's heroics. But scoring is up and even the draws have been exciting. Normally there is nothing worse than a game decided by a tie-breaking penalty shootout. But in the first match of the knockout round, Brazil and Chile managed to make even that outcome compelling.

This World Cup also gives us heroes and villains. Everyone loves Argentina's reserved Lionel Messi. Everyone hates Portugal's prima donna Cristiano Ronaldo. Everyone just shakes their heads at Uruguay’s serial biter Luis Suarez. It's almost like professional wrestling, except not scripted, although there's just enough dodgy officiating to make one wonder. (Thanks, FIFA!)

Team USA is led by Clint Dempsey, who goes by the nickname Captain America. Meanwhile, host team Brazil has a Hulk, aka Givanildo Vieira de Souza. Somehow Disney, which owns both ESPN and Marvel Comics, dropped the ball on this marketing tie-in opportunity. But it's just one more bit of flourish for the fans. (Hulk's goal disallowed on a bogus hand ball? Hulk smash!)

It's all much too much for America's steadfast anti-soccer faction, which views soccer as foreign, slightly sinister and undoubtedly a threat to American Exceptionalism.

American Exceptionalism has always been something of a myth. Most of the things that supposedly make America unique were invented elsewhere. Capitalism? Representative government? Individualism? Sorry, but the English, Scots and Dutch all got there first. We invented jazz, but only the Europeans and the Japanese ever appreciated it. But soccer apathy? That does set us apart.

For the soccer fan in America, that apathy is a mixed bag. If you want to follow top-notch soccer, Major League Soccer isn't there yet. Following the best of the best means following the English Premier League.

England's national team may be a source of constant disappointment, but the Premier League is anything but, largely because its teams are loaded with foreigners. If you're watching the World Cup, you've seen them. Suarez may play for Uruguay's national team, but he plays his club ball for Liverpool, or he will as soon as he completes his four-month suspension.

I upgraded my cable mainly so I can watch Premier League matches — specifically Manchester City — on NBCSN. This is not an inexpensive habit. You can't count on the local sports bar's telly being tuned to soccer, except during the World Cup. The rest of the time, you have better luck finding soccer on TV at a Mexican restaurant, and then it's likely a Spanish-language broadcast. (Unfortunately, I studied German rather than Spanish in school. Not one of my wiser decisions, all said. Dummkopf!)

There is, however, a sunny side to this. American soccer apathy means you can escape soccer when you want. One might complain of "too much" World Cup hype, but that's one month every four years. Try escaping college football in America, to say nothing of in Alabama. It's impossible. It's all some people talk about. And while I'm not a mental health professional, I am worried about some of you. If your vehicle has more than two bumper stickers proclaiming your preferred college football team, you probably have too much of your self esteem wrapped up in the team's success.

But that's just one layman's assessment. Regardless, I've no delusions about soccer's place in America's sportsball pecking order. But where it sits isn't all bad.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Culture Shock 06.19.14: 'Deadlier Than the Male' is an underrated classic of the spy craze

Elke Sommer, left, and Sylva Koscina are "Deadlier Than the Male."
When you've seen as many films as I have, the overlooked jewels become increasingly rare. Seams run dry. But still, on occasion, you stumble across a movie that leaves you wondering how you haven't seen it before.

"Deadlier Than the Male" is just such a movie, and I'm kicking myself for only now getting to it.

One of a flood of movies released during the James Bond-inspired spy craze, "Deadlier Than the Male" (1967) gets lost among its better-known contemporaries. Dean Martin's Matt Helm films and James Coburn's "Our Man Flint" receive far more repeat airplay. Sometimes, sadly, even Turner Classic Movies falls down on the job.

Yet unlike those straight-up parodies of Sean Connery's 007 outings, "Deadlier Than the Male" could almost be a Bond film. It opens with an airborne assassination that would easily be ranked among the best pre-credit set pieces of the Bond series.

Hen's Tooth Video released "Deadlier Than the Male" on DVD, but an upgrade on that decade-old pressing is in order. Hen's Tooth's disc is widescreen but non-anamorphic. That said, it's still colorfully vivid on my HDTV, even in zoom mode.

Richard Johnson (1963's "The Haunting") stars as Hugh Drummond — like Bond, a character with literary origins, in this case H.C. McNeile's 1920s gentleman hero "Bulldog" Drummond. Updated for the swinging '60s, Johnson's Drummond is an insurance investigator assigned to look into some very expensive and deadly "accidents."

The trail leads to a scheme to eliminate stubborn businessmen who stand in the way of — well, that would be telling. Let's just say someone has a rather aggressive idea of a "hostile" takeover.

Johnson turned down the role of James Bond, not wanting to commit to a long-term contract. His loss was Connery's gain — and ours. But "Deadlier Than the Male" gives us an idea what kind of 007 Johnson would have made. With his slighter build, less-rugged appearance and greater refinement, Johnson comes across as a Pierce Brosnan-type Bond in a Connery-type Bond movie. The approach works surprisingly well, hinting that the problem with the Brosnan-era 007 movies was never Brosnan.

Yet's Johnson's charming, unflappable Drummond is destined to be overshadowed.

The "deadlier than the male" assassins referenced in the title (and the catchy title tune by the Walker Brothers) take the shapely forms of Irma Eckman, played by Elke Sommer ("A Shot in the Dark") and Sylva Koscina ("Hercules," "Hercules Unchained"). When the two emerge bikini-clad from the Mediterranean to carry out a spear-gun assassination, it's Ursula Andress times two. Calling Dr. Yes.

Sommer's trademark "Teutonic temptress" — really, even her Internet Movie Database bio calls her that — is more than a match for any man, except maybe Bulldog Drummond. But as captivating a screen presence as she is, even she is outdone by Koscina, who would also be her co-star in Mario Bava's ghostly 1972 masterpiece "Lisa and the Devil." Koscina's playfully sadistic Penelope steals the show, especially when she's called upon to torture Drummond's clueless nephew (Steve Carlson) for information, or when she's "borrowing" from Irma's wardrobe. With their banter and bickering, Penelope and Irma are like a couple of mismatched college roommates, which adds humor without quite falling into camp — as befell the Bond series starting with "Diamonds are Forever."

Rounding out the cast is underrated British character actor Nigel Green, perhaps best remembered as Hercules in 1963's "Jason and the Argonauts." Indeed, there's a lot of under-appreciated talent here, in front of and behind the camera. "Deadlier Than the Male" boasts a story by Hammer veteran Jimmy Sangster ("Horror of Dracula"), gorgeous cinematography by Ernest Steward (the "Carry On" films) and a swinging spy-fi score by Malcolm Lockyer (1965's "Dr. Who and the Daleks").

If some company wants to revisit "Deadlier Than the Male" for a much-needed Blu-ray upgrade, throwing in a bonus CD of the score wouldn't make any enemies.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Culture Shock 06.12.14: 'I, Frankenstein' never comes to life

Like its main character, "I, Frankenstein" is a patchwork. The difference is while Frankenstein's monster is stitched together with corpses retrieved from the morgue, "I, Frankenstein" is cobbled together from dead movies.

"I, Frankenstein" is "Frankenstein" meets "Highlander II: The Quickening" meets "The Matrix" meets "The Prophecy." As its poster helpfully warns, it's from the producers of "Underworld," so there's quite a bit of that, too. The result — directed by Stuart Beattie from a screenplay he co-wrote — is a shambling wreck, with its constituent parts pulling in different directions.

Frankenstein's monster — a one-note Aaron Eckhart, who seems as bored as I was — doesn't know who he is, philosophically speaking. And "I, Frankenstein" (now on Blu-ray and DVD) doesn't know what kind of movie it wants to be. The former is expected when it comes to Frankenstein tales, but the latter is disastrous. Yet one thing is sure: "I, Frankenstein" doesn't think much of its audience.

It opens with the monster relating his life story in a tedious monotone. It's a story most of us learned in childhood, but this is a movie that assumes no prior knowledge. Prior knowledge probably just gets in the way.

"I, Frankenstein" picks up where Mary Shelley's novel ends. Victor Frankenstein and his monster have chased one another to the arctic wastes. Now Victor is dead from exposure, and the monster is left to wander until he, too, dies. Only he doesn't. Instead, the monster takes Victor's body back to the Frankensteins' ancestral home and is busy burying it when he is unexpectedly attacked.

The monster's attackers, as it happens, are demons. So now he is caught in the middle of a centuries-old war between demons and gargoyles. That's right: gargoyles, not angels, because angels would be too cliché. But these gargoyles are a lot like angels, especially when in their human form, which they are most of the time to save on the effects budget.

The gargoyles' queen, Leonore (Miranda Otto of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy), names the monster Adam, because apparently that's not too cliché.

Now you might think Adam, consumed with questions about his creation and all that, would take advantage of being in the presence of an angel — sorry — gargoyle queen with a direct line to God. But then you'd be confusing "I, Frankenstein" with a good movie, or at least one that follows its own logic. Instead, Adam leaves, goes as far away from civilization as possible and presumably hones his fighting skills so, 200 years later in the present day, he can walk the streets of an unnamed metropolis and kill demons, which amounts to "descending" them back to hell.

In the end, there can be only one — sorry, wrong movie.

Meanwhile, the demons, led by Prince Naberius (Bill Nighy, playing roughly the same role he did in "Underworld") have determined the soulless, man-created Adam is the key to finally winning their war against the angels — I mean gargoyles.

There's also a scientist (Yvonne Strahovski) who is trying to recreate Dr. Frankenstein's experiments. But none of that really matters. Mainly, "I, Frankenstein" is a movie in which Frankenstein's monster beats up a lot of CGI demons who beat up a lot of CGI gargoyles. Occasionally, for a change of pace, the monster beats up some gargoyles, too. He's not a people person.

Like "Underworld," "I, Frankenstein" tries to turn a Gothic horror character into an action hero. Also like "Underworld," it fails utterly. Just as the vampires in "Underworld" are too busy with their gun fights and wire-fu to behave like vampires, Adam doesn't do much you'd expect of a reanimated corpse. He's far too preoccupied with hitting things with his Franken-fu.

"I, Frankenstein" is Hollywood's latest attempt to remove anything monstrous from our monsters,  turning them into superheroes who brood even more than Batman.

First it was vampires, then werewolves and now Dr. Frankenstein's creation. All of our monsters have been domesticated.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Culture Shock 06.05.14: Influential Japanese anime 'Space Adventure Cobra' comes to US

With an overly literal title like "Space Adventure Cobra," you know it has to be translated from Japanese.

Like "Super Dimension Fortress Macross" (aka "Robotech"), "Beast King GoLion" ("Voltron"), "Space Battleship Yamato" ("Starblazers") and "Science Ninja Team Gatchaman" ("Battle of the Planets"), "Space Adventure Cobra" hails from the golden age of Japanese animation. But unlike them, it didn't make the trip to America in the late 1970s and early '80s. It was something we first-generation anime fans could only read about, unless we were lucky enough to score bootleg VHS tapes that some other fan had subtitled. So it never got an Americanized title like "Sailor Moon" (known in Japan as "Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon").

One fan was alt rocker Matthew Sweet, whose music video for his breakout 1991 hit "Girlfriend" is mostly footage from the 1982 "Space Adventure Cobra" movie.

Back then we knew only that "Space Adventure Cobra" was about a pirate named Cobra who had adventures in space, and that it looked pretty cool. Turns out both are true.

The "Cobra" movie finally hit VHS in 1998 and was released on DVD just two years ago.

Now American anime fans can finally see the 31-episode TV series, too. Right Stuf, one of America's most venerable anime distributors, has released "Space Adventure Cobra" in two DVD box sets, which retail for roughly $40 each. Complete episodes are also online at Right Stuf's YouTube channel,

Set in the far future, the series starts by borrowing from Philip K. Dick's "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," which later became the 1990 movie "Total Recall."

A bored office worker can't afford a vacation, so he instead opts to have one implanted in his brain, so he can remember it as if it really happened. Instead, the implantation process awakens repressed memories: The office worker is really Cobra, a legendary space pirate who five years earlier changed his face, wiped his memory and went into hiding from the sinister Pirate Guild.

Now that Cobra remembers who he is, he decides to hit the spaceways again, even if that means avoiding both the Guild, which still wants him either to join or die, and the Galactic Patrol.

So, along with Lady, his android partner, Cobra sets out in his starship to have adventures, which, oddly enough, don't involve any real piracy, although he isn't averse to a heist or two for a good cause.

Cobra is the prototype for the heroes and anti-heroes who would come along later in "Cowboy Bebop," "Trigun" and "Outlaw Star."

His first adventure, which in heavily altered form is also the basis for the 1982 movie, involves a beautiful bounty hunter named Jane, her two twin sisters and a map to their father's hidden treasure.

Naturally, Cobra isn't the only pirate on the trail. The Pirate Guild's most dangerous member, the cold, calculating Crystal Bowie, is after it, too.

How to describe Crystal Bowie? Imagine a homicidal robot encased in a clear, laser-proof shell. Now imagine that robot is named after David Bowie.

Cobra's life of adventure is pure wish fulfillment. He has the best ship. He's surrounded by beautiful women. And concealed in his left arm is the "psycho-gun," a deadly weapon that never misses its target. How did he get such a magical device? It's not important. But it is enough to make you wonder if maybe this whole Cobra thing is really just the bored office worker's virtual vacation after all.

Even though it's 30 years old, "Space Adventure Cobra" holds up well compared to a lot of other animation from the same period. That's mostly because of the series' lush, airbrushed style. Almost any random frame of "Space Adventure Cobra" would look great painted on the side of a van — the sort of van on which you don't come a knockin' when it's a rockin'.

That's apt, because that's exactly the sort of van Cobra would drive if he didn't have a spaceship.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Culture Shock 05.29.14: 'Days of Future Past' gives X-Men a second chance

Given the obstacles it must overcome, that "X-Men: Days of Future Past" works at all is a pleasant surprise. That it's one of the best superhero movies to date qualifies as a minor miracle.

The X-Men franchise is one of the few Marvel Comics properties still outside Marvel and Disney's carefully constructed Marvel Cinematic Universe. That has its pluses and minuses.

The X-Men work better when kept at a distance from Marvel's other superheroes, who get in the way of the mutant vs. human dynamic that's central to the premise. That said, Fox's track record with Marvel's mutants is mixed. Only "X2: X-Men United" and "X-Men: First Class" are in the same league as Marvel's in-house productions.

But with Bryan Singer, who directed the first two X-Men outings, returning to the helm, "Days of Future Past" not only hangs with the best of them — "The Avengers," "Iron Man" and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" — in many ways it raises the bar.

Singer and Fox have a message for Joss Whedon and Marvel/Disney: "Game on, bub."

Adapted from a 1981 story by Chris Claremont and John Byrne ("Uncanny X-Men" Vol. 1, Nos. 141-142), "Days of Future Past" opens in the near future, where a war between humans and mutants has laid waste to everything and left most of the mutant population dead or imprisoned in concentration camps. The only mutants still roaming free are a handful of X-Men and their former enemy Magneto (Ian McKellen). They're just steps ahead of the Sentinels, an army of robots that can adapt to combat any mutant, no matter his or her abilities.

With no other options left to them, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto hatch a plan to save the future by changing the past. That means sending someone back in time to prevent the act that ultimately leads to mutantkind's annihilation.

There's some explanatory handwaving, but eventually they send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to 1973, where he wakes up in his younger body with a mission to find the younger Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), whom we met in "First Class."

Only together can they stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), a weapons designer who believes mutants herald humanity's extinction.

Trask's answer to the "mutant problem" is the Sentinels. But ironically, it's his assassination that leads the government to fund the Sentinel program, which it had previously passed on.

Mystique's solution is actually the problem it's meant to solve.

Wolverine's mission has just two complications. First, the young Xavier, deep in a depression following the events of "First Class," has given up on his dream of mutants and humans living together in peace. Second, Magneto is imprisoned beneath the world's most secure building. And even if Wolverine can bring them together, they hate and distrust one another.

Even with all that story to deal with, Singer delivers plenty of well-staged action.

Singer wisely dispenses with the "First Class" supporting cast, keeping only Nicholas Hoult's Beast, to focus on the main characters and what they do with their second chance. Even franchise mainstay Storm (Halle Berry) gets only a few lines, although she does finally get to show off her powers.

Storm kicking butt minus Berry's wooden line readings equals a win-win for the audience.

That leaves room for a few new additions, of whom Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is the undisputed scene stealer. No spoilers, but Quicksilver's big scene, improbably set to Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle," will have you smiling.

As much as "Days of Future Past" is about second chances for the characters, it's a second chance for Singer, too. He walked away from the third X-Men film to direct 2006's "Superman Returns," a misguided effort that led to Warner Bros. starting over last year with "Man of Steel." In his absence, Brett Ratner directed 2006's wretched "X-Men: The Last Stand."

With "Days of Future Past," Singer sets the X-Men right in more ways than one.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Culture Shock 05.22.14: 'Godzilla' takes its time but is worth the wait

In the first half of Gareth Edwards' re-imagined "Godzilla," we only glimpse the title character.

Dorsal spikes cut through the water like a shark's fin as Godzilla crosses the Pacific trailed by a U.S. Navy carrier battle group. In one memorable shot, the partially submerged Godzilla dwarfs an aircraft carrier sailing beside him. You half expect someone to say, "You're gonna need a bigger boat."

Just in case that doesn't remind you of "Jaws," most of the main characters are named Brody.

The 2014 model "Godzilla" is the second attempt by an American studio to adapt Japan's most recognizable cinema icon. The widely reviled 1998 "Godzilla" pitted a giant iguana against "Ferris Buller's Day Off" star Matthew Broderick, with a script that was "Jurassic Park" meets Dino De Laurentiis' campy 1976 "King Kong." Whatever it was, it wasn't a Godzilla movie.

This one takes some inspiration from Steven Spielberg's "Jaws," but at its heart, this "Godzilla" is surprisingly faithful to the Japanese version, especially as depicted in the "Heisei series" films Toho produced from 1984 to 1995.

As a bonus, instead of Ferris Buller, we get Heisenberg.

Fifteen years ago, an accident destroyed a Japanese nuclear power plant where Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston of "Breaking Bad") was an engineer. The accident also killed Joe's wife (Juliette Binoche in a glorified cameo) and rendered the surrounding city a no man's land.

In the present day, Joe is still in Japan, searching for answers to a disaster he doesn't believe was caused by an earthquake or other natural occurrence. Just so you know he's obsessed, he wallpapers his apartment with newspaper clippings, because that's what borderline psychos in movies do.

Half a world away in San Francisco, Joe's son Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson of "Kick-Ass") is a bomb disposal expert returning home to his wife and son (Elizabeth Olsen and Carson Bolde) from a 14-month tour of duty. He's barely unpacked when a call comes from Japan: His dad tried to break into the quarantine zone and needs Ford to come bail him out. This is a movie with giant monsters but no Western Union, but it gets the Brody boys together for when the action starts.

Of course, Joe is right. The nuclear plant was destroyed by a prehistoric monster that's still cocooned at ground zero, feeding on the radiation. And a secret organization led by Ken Watanabe's Dr. Ichiro Serizawa has been studying such creatures since the first one reawakened in 1954. (One guess which monster that is.) But before Joe and Serizawa can compare notes, the cocooned monster — designated MUTO for "massive unidentified terrestrial organism" — wakes up, lays waste to everything and flies east toward California, where Ford's wife and son live. Bummer, right?

By this point, you may be wondering where Godzilla comes in. Serizawa has been talking about him from the start, and his presence looms over everything, but it takes Godzilla an hour to show up.

Fortunately, when he does, he doesn't disappoint. This is no oversized iguana.

Be very, very quiet. Godzilla is hunting MUTOs.

Cranston can chew scenery with the best of them, and Watanabe's Serizawa ably fills the traditional role of the one person who is sympathetic to Godzilla. But otherwise it's hard to care about any of the human characters, and the Navy's plan to nuke the monsters is so stupid you wonder if humanity even deserves to survive. Fortunately, the slow buildup pays off when the monsters fight, and at least the monsters' motivations, driven by the most Darwinian of instincts, make sense.

Also, you can't deny that Edwards and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey ("The Avengers") have shot one of the best-looking Godzilla movies ever.

If there is a message here — and Godzilla movies usually have a message — it's that nature is chaotic but self-correcting. The MUTO awakes, but so does Godzilla, "the alpha predator." If humans don't upset the balance, order will return — after two or three cities have been flattened, give or take.

It's the Tao of Godzilla. When Serizawa says, "Let them fight," he's speaking for the movie as well as for the audience.