I spent time over the Memorial Day weekend catching up on the current genre films. I saw Spider-Man 2 and the latest remake of Godzilla. Here in New York, to see these in a first-run house, it cost $17.50 per seat. Yes, the seats were reserved in advance online. And yes, the showing was in 3-D. But, really.
One of these movies was worth the price of admission. The other was not.
I think Spider-Man 2 was the best live-action, full-length comic book I’ve ever seen. The script is canny. It blends together at least three plot threads from the original Spider-Man comic book continuity, exceedingly, and fan-pleasingly, well. The fx work is superb. I remember way back when the big marketing line for the Christopher Reeve/Marlon Brando version of Superman was: “You will believe a man can fly.” Well, they kind of pulled that off . . . more or less. But the true strengths of that movie are the performances of a phenomenally talented cast, and John Williams’ score. You didn’t really need to believe a man could fly; you only needed to feel it was possible.
Spider-Man movies have a different, or perhaps an additional, standard to meet. Not only do you have to believe that (the Steve Ditko version of Spider-Man) can web-sling his way around the city essentially faster than a yellow cab, you have to believe that Spidey’s interactions with the citizens of New York are real. That’s a CGI Spider-Man interacting with actors; in some scenes the real people are probably talking aloud on an empty sound stage in front of a green screen. The effects and editing are superb. I never had my focus interrupted with an observation that this-or-that effect was being used in a scene or shot. (Something I routinely DO look for/at, as a result of having edited a sci-fi movie magazine—Starlog—for almost nine years.)
There are no surprises in the plot, but then again, that is what the fans want. To see the comic books they loved come alive on screen, exactly as they should.
Godzilla, on the other hand, is a quarter-of-a-billion dollar mess. No, not the beast itself. This visual rendition of Godzilla is magnificent. It is BIG; it is fierce; it is unconquerable. That is the main pleasure to derive from this version. The story is garbled. There is no attempt to have it make sense. The science, what there is of it, is garbage. It’s message—so clear in the original: atomics are bad—is lost.
Go and find a digital version of the original Japanese film (Gojira), where the monster is a metaphor for the horrible evil of unleashing atomic weapons on innocent civilians—which had happened to the Japanese only a few years before. The film was recently remastered, restored, and released into the American market. It’s like seeing the original Hong Kong versions of Bruce Lee’s early films. It’s the real deal.
(Hint: If Raymond Burr is in it, you’re not looking at the original.)