Face-Off: Cloverfield vs. Godzilla 2014

This Friday sees the sneak attack release of 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, a "blood relative" to the 2008 found footage kaiju film CLOVERFIELD that we didn't even know was connected to that movie at all until a couple months ago. With that release coming up, it was a given that CLOVERFIELD would be involved with this week's Face-Off. But what film to pit it against? The option that quickly came to mind was another recent kaiju hit, 2014's GODZILLA. Now that we have our opponents, the only thing to do is let them fight.
I don't like the design of the giant monster in this movie very much, I just don't find it appealing, but it appears on screen so fleetingly that it barely registers as a factor in whether or not you enjoy the overall film. It gets overshadowed by other elements; the effects of its destructive behavior are more important than the creature itself is. It's just a "terrible thing" that's usually off in the distance or glimpsed on a TV.
This is a bit of an unfair category. How can a one-timer hope to measure up to an icon who has been smashing his way across the screen for more than 50 years? This Godzilla is very true to the character as we know him from the Japanese films, but does have unique qualities - he was realized through the use of CGI and mo-cap, he's bulkier and larger than usual. The only complaint I have is that he doesn't have nearly enough screen time.
The large parasites that fall off of the giant monster are the most interesting aspect of this kaiju. The parasites move at an alarming speed, scuttling along like ALIEN Xenomorphs that have been hopped up on goofballs, and the coolest thing about them, and perhaps this entire film, is the effect their bite has on a human being. A sickly pale appearance with bleeding from the eyes and nose is very quickly followed by the person literally exploding. Things don't get much better than that. If only that was shown happening more times in the movie.
Godzilla is presented in a rather heroic light in this film, humanity's greatest hope in a battle against a pair of MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) that threaten to breed a monstrous species that could wipe out a lot of people in their quest to consume radiation. Insect-like creatures, the male capable of flight and both of them armed with the ability to emit EMPs, the MUTOs aren't the most impressive or memorable creatures, but they get the job done when you need something to smack around Godzilla and get smacked around in return.
The characters of CLOVERFIELD are just an average group of twentysomethings who get swept up in a nightmarish scenario during a going away party. They aren't the most outstanding people, but the fact that they're played by the likes of T.J. Miller and Lizzy Caplan ensures that they're entertaining to watch (or listen to the voice of, as is primarily the case with Miller). It's also interesting that they're not trying to escape, but moving further into danger in an effort to save a friend.
Bryan Cranston brings some intensity as Joe Brody, a man obsessed with finding the cause of the nuclear power plant meltdown that killed his wife (it was a MUTO), and Ken Watanabe is fun to watch as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, a scientist who puts a lot of faith in Godzilla's fighting skills. Unfortunately, the characters we spend the most time with - Joe's son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Ford's wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) - are two of the blandest people to ever have a blockbuster placed on their shoulders.
The kaiju action in this film is concentrated in New York City and there's only one giant monster, but that doesn't make it any less of a spectacle. Explosions send flaming debris through the sky, buildings fall, the Brooklyn Bridge crumbles, the Statue of Liberty loses her head, the military does battle with the monster rampaging through the streets. CLOVERFIELD packs a lot of destruction into its short running time.
These monsters make a mess of several locations around the globe. One MUTO destroys a nuclear power plant and causes a city to be quarantined, the other tears its way through Las Vegas. Even the heroic Godzilla causes destruction, most notably the tsunami that sweeps through Honolulu when he arrives there. The climax features the three battling monsters wrecking San Francisco, although the dark cinematography saps out some of the fun.
I'm usually not a fan of the found footage aesthetic, but in this case watching the situation unfold from the perspective of one of the characters makes the film all the more effective and unnerving. This is partly because the film is at times clearly trying to evoke the real life horror and tragedy of 9/11 with its imagery, a fact which it has caught criticism for. That is a cheap way to manipulate the viewer's emotions, but at its core the film is still just a creature feature that moves along at a refreshingly fast pace, wrapping things up before the 80 minute point.
Director Gareth Edwards captured some impressive visuals here, but his approach of cutting away from monster action to "build anticipation" is maddening to me. Godzilla gets his first big reveal 57 minutes into the film, anticipation has been built, you don't have to continue cutting away from the fights until the movie is past the 90 minute mark. It feels like Godzilla has far less screen time than ever before. When I watch a movie called GODZILLA, I want to see more Godzilla than this film delivers. Previous Godzilla films have conditioned me to expect more.
I love the character of Godzilla and most of the movies he has been in, but the 2014 film disappoints and frustrates me more than it entertains me. I've never been blown away by CLOVERFIELD, but at least it delivers in the fun department, giving it the edge over GODZILLA.

Do you agree that CLOVERFIELD is the better movie to watch, or does Gareth Edwards' approach to GODZILLA work better for you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. If there are any movies you'd like to see fight it out, Face-Off suggestions can be sent to me at [email protected].



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