In other words, I am a great big annoying nerd.
I recently saw Watchmen (finally) on DVD, and while I think for the most part it was a surprisingly good adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel, it annoyed me that they “powered up” the non-powered characters, having them effortlessly beat up hordes of goons and get thrown through walls and stuff. In the comic book, most of them were not super-fast or super-tough; they were just a bunch of crazy people in tights.
I was thinking about this as I watched Cloverfield on my laptop during an airplane trip the other day. (I hate seeing movies in theaters, so I'm usually catching up a couple years later with Netflix.)
Cinematography-wise, Cloverfield was pretty good (if you can handle all the bouncing camera shots). Story-wise, there wasn't much to it: giant monster trashes New York; people run.
Watching with my author's eye, though, what bugged me about it was the details that would make me throw it against a wall if I were reading it as a story. So, yes, I'm going to nitpick the “realism” of a monster movie.
Two main things bugged me:
1. Invulnerable Monster
I love Godzilla movies. When I was a kid, seeing a Godzilla movie scheduled for a Saturday morning would make my weekend. And even now, I can kind of accept that Godzilla's hide can bounce tank shells and bombs and lasers, because Godzilla is basically a comic book monster. He can bounce tank shells the same way Superman can bounce tank shells; he's a magical being to whom the laws of physics do not apply.
But Cloverfield was filmed as a “modern” monster movie. The critter is supposed to be (kind of) believable. Well, I'm sorry, but unless it's made of some sort of alien matter, no living thing that size would still be alive after being hit with tank shells, rockets, RPGs, grenades, heavy machine guns, and finally, HE bombardment for eight hours. After a while, I was no longer buying the way it just kept shrugging off everything the military threw at it. It could have been made of titanium, and it would still be scrap after taking a pounding like that.
Especially since the little spider-spawn it was shedding appeared to be quite killable. If its kids can be beaten to death with table legs, then it's not made of invulnerable space-matter.
2. Invulnerable Protagonists
What's known as “Player Character invulnerability” in role playing games. You expect the main characters to be luckier than average and survive things most people wouldn't, but you shouldn't show them walking away from things that kill everyone else for no other reason than that they're the main characters.
It was unrealistic enough when they climbed into the demolished apartment building and found that the main character's love interest was still alive after lying there impaled on a piece of rebar for hours (let alone that after they pulled her off of it, she was able to climb down and run away with them).
The helicopter crash, however, really made me roll my eyes. Everyone in the helicopter should have been pulped and incinerated. But no, all the Army guys in the chopper are dead, but somehow all three protagonists are able to walk away?
I'll admit their “invulnerability” was subverted in the end. But what was otherwise a pretty good monster movie was flawed, to me, because too many implausible occurrences were stacked together.
Plus, of course, there was the too-stupid-to-live behavior of the main characters to begin with. Which, I admit, is pretty much a requirement of the genre, but still, I'd like to see just one monster movie in which the main characters say, “No, let's not go toward the giant monster that's destroying the city, let's go away from it!”
So, I give Cloverfield 3.5 out of 5 stars. For what it was (giant monster movie), it was pretty cool, but it was all visuals. Probably would have been worth seeing on a big screen. (Although watching an aerial view of a giant monster wrecking Manhattan and knocking helicopters out of the sky, while you're on an airplane going through turbulence, was also a unique viewing experience.)