It’s that time again. It’s happening. Every year at this time, spring gives way to summer. The flowers have bloomed and are trying to get in as much color and joy as possible before being burnt to a crisp by the harsh Texas summer sun. Graduates don silly polyester ponchos and sit through speeches biding their time until they can walk across the stage and hear their families cheer. Yes, it is that magic time when Hollywood gives us its explosion-filled, 3-D, THX certified best. Ah, friends, it is a truly glorious time when plot, character development and catharsis are thrown out the window and in their place, we get the best, most destructive action Hollywood can imagine. And is it ever glorious!
So, in honor of the season, I’ve got two big budget action films from this year to get you ready.
Godzilla (2014) [Rated PG-13]
Believe it or not, there’s a plot here to get through before talking about the good stuff. The movie begins with the Brody family. It’s dad’s birthday, but he’s too busy with strange goings-on at the power plant where he and his wife work. Young Ford Brody (I know, but that’s the name they went with) hurries off to school and sits in a classroom, which just happens to have an unobstructed, large-picture window view of the power plant. Which is nice, really, as this means he can watch the meltdown at the plant from a safe distance that claims his mother’s life and sets off his father’s lifelong obsession to uncover what really happened.
And flash forward to the “present.” Little Ford has grown up, joined the military, married one of the Olsen sisters and is portrayed by one of the most wooden actors I’ve seen in recent film, Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Now, I know what you are saying. “Wait, he was kinda good in Albert Nobbs, Savages and Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging.” Yeah, that’s why I was so annoyed with him in this role. Regardless, at this point, we still haven’t seen Godzilla yet.
Instead, what we see is Ford’s father Joe, played by Bryan Cranston of all people, obsessing over the death of his wife and the perceived government cover-up of her death and the trouble at the power plant. Turns out, he is seeing the same signs again. Ford and his father go back to their old house and are captured by men who take them to the old power plant. Here, they are experimenting on something and Joe warns them they are messing with forces they don’t understand.
I won’t ruin anymore for you but I will tell you that, in the end, Godzilla is a movie about the fight between man and nature. Take it from someone who is a small piece of what you humans call “nature,” you won’t win that fight. There’s an underlying theme here, and a message, but let’s face it, nobody cares. We just want to see some computer-generated destruction, right? It takes a little time to get there but the last 30 minutes reward your patience with some great action sequences.
But for reals, my biggest complaint with Godzilla is . . . . there’s not enough Godzilla. I mean, his name’s in the title. You paid who knows how many millions for an FX house to create him, use him. Perhaps this makes me a little insensitive but I don’t care about the people, I want to see Godzilla smash more stuff! Let’s see him fight!
Also, did anyone else notice the sticker on the side of the terrarium in Ford’s bedroom that said “Mothra”? How about that when he was in class and the power plant is collapsing and the teacher is explaining the life cycle of moths? Fingers crossed, folks!
7.5 paws out of 10
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) [Rated PG-13]
If you have been reading Feline Films, you know that I have a thing for spy movies. Call it the foolishness of a young cub, but I’ve always enjoyed movies about espionage and treachery. When I heard the Jack Ryan series was set to be rebooted and that Kenneth Branagh was slated to direct, I was pretty excited. I was also pleasantly surprised by Chris Pine in the recent Star Trek movies so despite the fact that Paramount decided to release this during the dead period for movies in January, I was pretty jazzed to see Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. In case you forgot, Jack Ryan is a CIA operative created by the late Tom Clancy and appeared in a series of movies staring Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin and Ben Afflec as the eponymous Jack.
JR:SR begins by giving us a little history on the Jack Ryan character. We learn how he decided to serve his country, first in the military and then in the CIA. This also gives Branagh a chance to get us acquainted with Jack’s wife, Cathy, played by Keira Knightly. That comes in handy as the relationship between the two plays a big part in the action that comes next. And what action it is! Sort of. Unfortunately, Branagh falls victim to the shaky camera trend that has over taken action movies in the past few years. Filmmakers, we get that rapidly shaking the camera around makes action sequences feel more real and exciting. They also induce feelings of seasickness and vertigo in people. Plus, we can’t see what’s going on! *sigh*
That complaint aside, when the action kicks in, the movie is tense and moves at a measured pace. There are plenty of things to nitpick about (Hello, Branagh, you were an amazing actor once. Why can’t you do a proper Russian accent consistently?) but if you sit back and let yourself be entertained, it’s actually a pretty good ride. Maybe I missed the part where they explained exactly what a “shadow recruit” is, and they certainly beat you over the head with the idea that you shouldn’t trust anybody, but during the car chases and fighting, I didn’t care.
Ok, so Chris Pine is no Harrison Ford. Who is? I think he makes a fine Jack Ryan, maybe not quite Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October level, but certainly better than Affleck in The Sum of All Fears. This installment in the series does justice to its lineage. I still think Branagh is a weird choice to play a Russian thug but, hey, when you’re the director, I guess you get to make those choices. And Kevin Costner . . . look, I didn’t hold out any hope for the guy but he really does a fine job.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit isn’t going to set the world on fire. It is, however, a decent rebooting of a long moribund franchise.
6.5 paws out of 10