‘I’ ON CULTURE
Reports are that the new Godzilla is making monster-style money, but, frankly, it is a loser. It is not so bad that I would call it a “stinker,” but, considering the price of movie tickets these days, it is rather a waste of money. In other words, Godzilla is not just a lizard… but a dog.
The original movie, made in 1954, was actually a warning about nuclear bombs, something Japan had recent knowledge of. The character has been used 28 times, almost all the movies being silly. Roland Emmerich did a remake in 1998 that had the ultimate metrosexual Matthew Broderick as the hero battling the big reptile with French troops being the real tough guys, and most of us laughed. How could anyone do worse? Well, director Gareth Edwards actually had me missing Broderick and his wisecracks.
This movie begins in the Philippines, where in 1999 a strange object is found by scientists Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his assistant Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins). They have no idea what it is. Soon afterward, vibrations coming from the thing wind up setting off tremors at a giant nuclear plant in Japan. American Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandy (Juliette Binoche) are engineers there and try to stop a disaster, but Joe is forced to shut the blast doors, which prevent Sandy from leaving and she dies.
Fifteen years later, their son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a navy lieutenant bomb disposal officer coming back to San Francisco after a tour of duty. He has barely arrived, has just about enough time to give a nice hug to his pretty wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and tuck his son Sam (Carson Bolde) into bed before getting a call that his father has been arrested in Japan. He goes over and fights with his dad, who is obsessed with the events of 15 years earlier, but helps him check out the site of the plant. Of course, they arrive in time for the birth of a “Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism” (MUTO), which had caused the disaster earlier. It kills Joe.
Ford flies off to Hawaii and then to San Francisco, where it turns out the MUTO is going, on its way to meet a female MUTO that has just mashed up Las Vegas. And suddenly Godzilla starts to show up, first fighting the MUTO in Hawaii, taking down a few hotels with its tail, and then heading toward San Francisco. Of course, eventually the MUTOs meet, spawn, and have a fun honeymoon, destroying a nice piece of that city. Godzilla swims in, fights them and kills them, then leaves to some applause, presumably happy as the largest undocumented worker in American history.
Since Godzilla does nothing but fight and roar, and the MUTOs mostly hiss and fight, the most important element in a film like this is the cast. Unfortunately, Binoche is only onscreen a couple of minutes before being killed. Cranston dies maybe 40 minutes in, and they are the interesting characters. Watenabe is mostly stone-faced, giving off lines like, “Nature always maintains a balance,” and “Don’t you understand, it [Godzilla] is a god.” Hawkins basically provides a gloomy face throughout. Taylor-Johnson, the hero, is so uncharismatic that at a couple of points, I thought other characters were him. He was also presented as a sort of weak hero, one who just survived but did not do very much. He was a bomb specialist who in the end did not stop the nuclear bomb, just sort of collapsed next to it and was rescued. Olsen is a good actress but had very little to do except look scared when the monsters were destroying buildings. David Straithairn was good as the taciturn admiral who really wanted to use nukes, even while knowing the MUTOs fed off nuclear radiation. The kid, Bolde, was very good.
Even the special effects were pedestrian. All the real battling by MUTOs and Godzilla took place at night. It was not easy to see details, which made the battles far less impressive. Except for widespread destruction by the large feet of all three of the monsters, not much else happened. Effectively, there was no real climax. The MUTOs died but the film meandered on, allowing a handful of moments that were not wildly exciting.
No one in our group fell asleep or wanted to leave, but none of us thought the film was worth what we paid to see it. There was too little of the monsters, too little characterization. A lot of movement is not a plot. This is one you can miss.