I'll just cut right to the chase: I wanted to wanted to love the just-unleashed American Godzilla movie. I really did. But while it is not a bad movie, per se, I found it to be profoundly underwhelming. I'm not even going to bother with describing the plot in detail because it simply just wasn't all that, so here's what you need to know:
- While certainly a giant monster movie, this film is not so much a Godzilla movie as it is a giant monster movie in which Godzilla's role/purpose has been reduced to a cameo. The central threat is a pair of male and female behemoths who feed on radiation and are about to reproduce, so Big G — who the U.S. military attempted to destroy in 1954 but obviously failed in the attempt and subsequently covered it up — of course has to handle them, but they are the real focus of the movie.
- With the exception of Bryan Cranston as an engineer whose wife perishes in a kaiju-caused nuclear reactor meltdown, I did not give a squirt of rat's piss about any of the human characters. Cranston is marketed as being the human character draw but the film in actuality focuses on his completely uninteresting soldier son (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, whose performance is perfunctory at best), and that was a massive narrative error.
- And speaking of narrative errors, one does not evoke the memory of the 1954 GODZILLA's dour-with-very-good-reason Dr. Serizawa if the character named for him in the new iteration is as much of bland manikin as the majority of the cast. All Ken Watanabe has to do in the role is stand around looking serious and miserable, with a tinge of Spielbergian expectant wonder on his face. The role could just as easily have been filled by a cutout of his face mounted on the end of a broomstick.
- Though not tedious, the film's just over two-hour running time works against it as it goes for the slow build, or maybe an attempt at crafting an epic feel to the proceedings, but what the filmmakers seem to have forgotten is that Godzilla himself is always the epic element in his films. All the rest, including any other monsters whose asses he inserts him mighty foot into, is simply window dressing.
- In this iteration, Godzilla returns to his periodic role as humanity's protector, and as such he is in no way cutesy. In fact, he's pretty fucking awesome. That said, I freely admit that I'm an old school Godzilla kid and I will go to my grave preferring the "suitmation" style of realizing Godzilla-style critters. Though CGI can bring special effects miracles to life, to me there is a certain organic charm found in suitmation (and stop-motion in some very good cases) that is largely absent in today's effects spectacles.
- The MUTOs ("Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms") that serve as our titanic hero's opponents are of interest solely because they're something for Godzilla to destroy. Though they are impressive when in action against Big G, they made me think of other monsters that I found way more interesting, such as the pair of uber-destructive carnivorous birds from RODAN (1956, and one of the best giant monster movies ever made) and Gaos from GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE (1995, also an outstanding giant monster flick). If the film gets a sequel, I hope the filmmakers give Godzilla worthier antagonists.
- Ifukube-style music was definitely missed but that was to be expected.
- Though the film's tableaus of destruction were certainly impressive in IMAX, it's not necessary to shell out the exorbitant ticket price for that perk. Likewise for the 3D.
- Though your kids' individual mileage may vary, the film is probably too talky and bereft of action to prevent them from becoming restless.
But the thing that most irked me about the film is that Godzilla himself is almost beside the point. He has relatively little screen time and while what we get is spectacular, it's mostly a case of too little too late and a lack of badassed giant monster action that really rouses the audience. (Which is not to say there weren't cheers when Godzilla was finally revealed in full and when he roared in triumph after exterminating the MUTOs with extreme prejudice.) And when we do get Godzilla in action, his first set-to against a MUTO begins as one would expect but immediately shifts to being covered silently and briefly as seen in a TV news broadcast. Following that, the big two-against-one battle in Honolulu kicks off but is swiftly brought to an abrupt halt when we get a POV shot from the perspective of people fleeing into a fortified shelter as the doors close and cut off the action. The scene then shifts to the efforts of the uninteresting soldier's efforts and sporadically returns to Godzilla's too-brief battle with the MUTOs, which actually has the nerve to crib one of Godzilla's finishing moves from the grand-daddy of all giant monster movies, the original KING KONG (1933). When all was said and done and Godzilla made his way back into the sea, I was left with the feeling of having been on the receiving end of half of an unfinished handjob. The film's too-few monster moments are impressive while they last and almost get the audience to where it wants to go, but at the most crucial moment the action is derailed and the recipient is denied the giant monster movie's equivalent of a truly satisfying, spunk-a-flyin' orgasm.
GODZILLA is worth seeing if you're a giant monster hardcore and there are certainly other fans of Big G who will give the film a more enthusiastic pass than I did, but I say caveat emptor. My love of Godzilla has been borderline-religious since I was five years old but I am not one of those fans who willingly turns a blind eye to even the most redolent cinematic turd because it happens to feature their favorite monster. I have absolutely seen worse Godzilla movies but, thanks to it mostly being the kaiju movie analog to a high school cock-tease, I assure you that I won't be returning to this film for repeat viewings. All it did was make me want to sit through a few of the old school Godzilla films yet again — or, for that matter, the vastly superior PACIFIC RIM — and I'm saddened to say that that desire ignited while watching the new movie. When you're sitting through a brand-new big-budgeted installment in a six-decade franchise and all you can think about is how much more fun it would be to see some of the previous entries containing the likes of Mothra, Akira Takarade, Kumi Mizuno, and King Ghidorah, that does not say much for what's currently unspooling onscreen.