Cinema Corner: “Godzilla Minus One”/”Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom”/”Next Goal Wins”/”Anyone But You”

Godzilla Minus One

With the more recent Godzilla films making you groan when it comes time for the human scenes to pop up, Godzilla Minus One sucks you into their story, and at times, makes you forget completely that you’re even watching a Godzilla film. That’s not a slight, but high praise for the care put into the human story behind the city-leveller. 

Kamikaze pilot, Koichi, makes a pit stop for his plane on Odo Island at the tail end of World War II, only to be told that there’s nothing faulty with his plane, as he “assumed” there was. During the night, the whole island awakens to a loud siren, forcing all the guards to their posts for an attack. But it wasn’t the US invading them; rather, a giant lizard dinosaur. Godzilla wipes out the entire population of this small outpost bar two people: a mechanic and Koichi. In the aftermath of the war, Koichi returns home to find his parents killed and his home obliterated. He begins to rebuild again, but it’s not long before a strange woman, carrying a baby who doesn’t belong to her, runs into his life and seemingly won’t leave, despite his requests. The two adults then agree to raise the child to the best of their abilities together.

Although he only appears a few times, whenever Godzilla does appear, the weight of his presence is always felt. And that’s not due to his size. The way director Takashi Yamazaki handles these action scenes is with heft and little remorse, taking inspiration from films like Jaws and Dunkirk to help set these moments and create total devastation. Destruction isn’t something taken lightly in this film: There’s loss in every moment, evident through the fact that Koichi suffers from PTSD due to his first-ever encounter with the kaiju, crippled with survivor’s guilt, and on top of that, a sprinkle of being dishonoured by Japan due to the failure of not completing his duty. It’s really a story about a lost soldier after World War II who needs to find a place in this world, gaining honour once again after society makes him feel disgraced for not wanting to kill himself for his country. For this film, one man’s problems are bigger than a gargantuan Godzilla.

All of this climaxes in a final act that loses a lot of its bark that it previously built up to this point, going from being harrowing to relaxing the teeth that were biting into you. Which is a shame since you can really feel the teeth dig into you as the score from Naoki Sato booms and riddles your eardrums with a captivating Godzilla motif. The special effects look mighty fine for being on a tenth of what a Hollywood blockbuster film would be. Just please excuse the extremely robotic walk that Godzilla has. but please don’t excuse the fact that this is more than likely due to the ruthless labour laws evident in Japan that overwork animators and pays them a pittance. If Godzilla Minus One upkept the belief of having aloofness towards its characters till the bitter end, it could’ve been a really strong ending to an excellent monster flick. Yet still, Japan is showing America who the true kings of the monsters are.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom 

It wouldn’t be remiss of you to think that the DCEU already ended with The Flash earlier this year, or Blue Beetle, or was it this… It was with this! A film that was totally forgotten by its own studio. How so? Well for one, it wrapped up shooting two years ago only to undergo reshoots earlier this year (although, the director downplays the severity of those reshoots) and, two, the first trailer for it was released three months prior to the film actually coming out. Put all that on top of being the last piece in the game of Jenga that the DCEU is playing above a bin that’s on fire, filled with the leftovers from 2023. This film was dead in the water; not even Aquaman himself, with the help of floaties, could rise up to the surface with this amount of baggage.

Speaking of baggage, Black Manta returns and carries a grudge towards Aquaman, vowing to get revenge. On his venture to take down The King of Atlantis, he comes in possession of the black trident, an object from an ancient civilisation that grants him the strength to take down Arthur Curry. Meanwhile, Aquaman has become a father and figures out that he isn’t cut out for the life of a king. After an attack from Black Manta in Atlantis, Aquaman enlists the help of his imprisoned brother to try and take down this new and improved enemy.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’s script feels like it was washed up on the shore, leaving James Wan to try and make some semblance of a film out of it. The film opens up with a catch-up on what Aquaman has been doing (Is this going to be a common thing with superhero films in the future, or just a 2023 thing?) Until halfway through the second act, every scene is so segmented. You’re crying out for some action to take place at some point. No cohesion at all. Only finding the glue when the fish-out-of-water character of Orm plays off Jason Momoa. But it’s too little, too late by that point, as we’re already entering the final half of the story. Another afterthought of the script is Mera. Being so integral to the first film, her participation in this one is significantly less. Her character and actions are so void that she could’ve been cut from the film and her presence would’ve been felt more. Amber Heard does a poor job of conveying whatever role she plays in the film, but it’s also a shame she hasn’t anything to work with. A dangerous combo of a poor performance and woeful writing.

A major criticism early on in the DCEU’s short lifespan was that it was bereft of humour. The same goes for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, as the jokes are dull and extremely forgettable. Even Jason Momoa, who was having a blast in his previous entry, was more grating than endearing with the himbo, surfer dude persona. Thankfully, he can bounce off Patrick Wilson, and whenever those two are on screen together, they inject life into this otherwise drowning film. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays such a dull and tired villain in Black Manta. With so much of the early part of the film focusing on him, you’d expect more in terms of character development than just a simple revenge plot, but he becomes another villain that you forget about once his time on screen comes to an end. 

Not even James Wan’s eye for the extreme is shown off properly here, who performs a daring one-take to try and grab the viewer’s attention through the slog that is the story. But this film feels so cut up that not even some impressive filmwork could distract you from the formulaic trip you’re taking. Wan’s directing style feels reeled in here, as opposed to how let loose it was in the first Aquaman, as he’s forced to show flashbacks to get across exposition to push the story forward. With this being a farewell to the failed DC Universe, one can only hope that James Gunn’s attempt has a better chance than whatever just sank to the bottom of the ocean, never to be brought back up again.

Next Goal Wins

After bowing out of the MCU with a less-than-mediocre farewell in Thor: Love and Thunder, Taika Waititi returns to the pictures, bringing with him his latest Searchlight-distributed film about an international football team. Well, a team that kicks a football would be a more accurate description of them. So, does he return to form, or is this the second yellow to send him off completely?

The premise of Next Goal Wins is fairly simple: Based on true events – but still taking creative liberties, as Taika himself, playing a priest, lets us know at the start of the film – we follow the football team American Samoa, ten years after they suffered a record-setting 31-0 loss to Australia. The hot-headed manager, Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender), takes on the job of head coach after getting sacked from the US U20s national team. Challenged with the impossible task of getting this team – who wouldn’t even be able to take on a drunk Sunday League team – to score one goal.

Taika Waititi is no stranger when it comes to heartfelt comedies. One needs only to look towards his previous output, such as Jojo Rabbit or Hunt for the Wilderpeople (funnily enough, another film where he also plays a priest) to see that he can produce them. However, when it comes to his latest effort, he seems to have scuffed his shot with this one. Dipping his toes into both camps while only half succeeding in each one, resulting in a disconnect that hasn’t been present in his previous non-MCU films. Half the time it’s funny, half the time the jokes fall flat. When you think you’re about to get some dramatic or emotional satisfaction, it flattens out before it even gets a chance to build up. Just like how Thomas yells at his team for some synergy, this script is crying out for chemistry between the laughs and the tear-jerkers.

The film is at its best when it gets you laughing through Michael Fassbender’s performance as a super serious football manager – who is firing on all cylinders with his comedic timing and deliveries – but stumbling when it comes to the emotional core. There’s only so many times that he can say he’s quitting before we don’t care, nor believe him anymore. He has quick switches in his character without much set-up. When the final match approaches, we’re not shown the result of the climactic end; rather, we’re told it by one of the players after the fact, being taken out of the moment completely for an anticlimactic ending. If there was one big flaw in Waititi’s game, it’s the struggle to make you feel something other than a laugh.

For the most part, Waititi is attempting a shot before getting the pass. The payoff isn’t nearly as rewarding due to the fact that we don’t get an inside look at these characters. We get the classic “Who’s that guy?” moment when he first sees the team, but the film leaves those characters there, never diving in further to the majority of the team with the exception of mainly one player, the first openly transgender football player to compete in a World Cup qualifier, Jaiyah. It may not be as embarrassing as a 31-0 loss, but Next Goal Wins really feels like how Manchester United is currently: Their glory days behind them, settling for mediocrity.

Anyone But You

Well, well, well, if it isn’t a rom-com in 2023. It seems as if cinema has forgotten about this genre of films of late. I struggle to remember if I had even seen one in the pictures this year. Nevertheless, the genre is a welcome sight of harmlessness, filled with meet-cutes, extremely convenient situations, and the hottest people Hollywood can find. Unlike Ben to Bea’s boxes, Anyone But You checks them all.

Anyone But You doesn’t need an extreme plot, but it needs a convoluted enough one to sustain the runtime. Bea, played by Sydney Sweeney, runs into this sculpture of a man, Ben (Glen Powell). The two hit it off in a coffee shop before spending the night in each other’s company. All fine and dandy until Bea inexplicably decides to leave without a goodbye in the morning and is only hit with how stupid that was when on the phone to her friend about how great he was. Cut to her returning to his place just in the nick of time for Ben to tell his mate that Bea was a disaster and worthless to him. Cue the beef. Months later – now, would you believe it – the two then meet again as they find out that they are both invited to the same wedding. To Bea, it’s her sister’s wedding. To Ben, it’s his friend’s wedding (Bea’s sister isn’t his friend, just to clear up the weird spider web of who knows who, just stay with me). So, the pair travel – somehow aboard the same flight, a classic scenario for two people who despise each other – to the wedding in Australia, where Ben meets an old flame and Bea’s parents attempt to set her back up with her ex-fiancé, whom they flew in specifically to get them back together during this wedding. Now, cue the fake, circumstantial romance between Bea and Ben so that they can get what they want from their own unique situations… Don’t you miss rom-coms?

It’s so unapologetic in its nature, with two characters asking, “Why’d we break up again?” or a “chase after the girl” moment. We know that they’re going to get together in the end, – this time for real – so we might as well just have fun in the moment. Having Will Gluck direct this, you feel in safe hands from a man who has experience in the genre, inserting fun physical gags to decent banter back and forth between the two leads. He even re-creates his Easy A bit – without doing the same shtick as in that film – of a classic 2000s song repeating at different points, crescendoing in a credit sequence of the characters singing the song throughout the movie. Although, it must be said that the comedy is at its best when it leans into its more physical, outrageous side.

A rom-com lives or dies on whether or not the two leads have chemistry. Do Sydney and Glen have that? I’d say so. Their bickering towards each other flows quite well. But the imbalance comes in the form of how well they play their parts. Glen Powell stuns in this. He’s as if George Clooney has aged back thirty years; seriously, you can’t help but see the comparison of how Glen acts like him. Needless to say, he’s got the rom-com chops. On the other hand, Sydney doesn’t find the fluidity that Glen does. Her sense for overplaying the situation isn’t quite there, which is shocking, considering how melodramatic her character in Euphoria is. Her wry delivery and stunning outfits really contrast with Glen’s natural charm and charisma. Oh, and his polo shirts.

All this being said, the two still bounce off each other in a natural fashion that is entertaining for the entire film, set to the backdrop of gorgeous Australia, shot quite astonishingly by Danny Ruhlmann. If there’s one thing I didn’t expect from a rom-com, it was to look as well as it did here. Will Gluck shows why there is a need for these ridiculous, yet fun and cheesy movies, the kind that makes you sing Natasha Bedingfield as you leave your seat. He really does like her music, huh?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *