Directed by Gareth Edwards
The new Godzilla isn't a disaster movie. It's a disaster of a movie.
Hollywood owes one of Japan's most beloved pop culture icons another apology.
What can be said of a movie in which the giant monsters, while noisy, are colossally uninteresting, and the humans, perpetually stoic in the face of mass destruction, are boring beyond all reason? A new, big budget Godzilla movie in 2014 should be cathartic, not lethargic.
Let's dissect this Godzilla and see what it uncovers.
First of all, there's the scale. Godzilla has a fairly small role in this rendition; there are a couple other giant beasts, huge insects, dubbed MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object), which dominate the movie's story arc. It's not uncommon for Godzilla to share the screen with other monsters (he's battled giant moths, sea monsters, flying dragons and even robots), but as the singular title character, his role here is at best supporting if not mere extended cameo.
And when it comes to design, this Godzilla comes up short. Figuratively, not literally. Physically, this one's ginormous, but there's also a whole bunch more junk in Godzilla's trunk. While he should probably cut down on consuming the empty calories found in the typical skyscraper, the bigger problem is he simply looks like a giant lizard, not a more fanciful creature of the imagination.
As for the roar, that's another miss. Godzilla's iconic roar sounds like sheet metal machinery instead of something organic. Actually, there's a scene in which a train comes to a lumbering halt. The sound of the train's brakes makes for a more convincing roar than what this CGI monster has been given.
Made in America
It's a sad state of affairs in the world of giant, destructive monster movies when the most clever element is found in the opening credits. Associated with each credit is a factoid that is quickly redacted, leading up to the opening scenes in 1999 Japan and the coverup of a devastating incident eerily reminiscent of Fukushima.
What this Godzilla proves beyond a shadow of a doubt is that having more funds doesn't guarantee more fun. That's probably the biggest tragedy in this whole mess. Making it through this mostly humorless exercise in poor production design, lame 3D and lousy sound design is a chore. Even the giant-screen IMAX presentation can't redeem the movie. In contrast, all of those elements were available in spades in Pacific Rim, which turned the IMAX theatre into an immersive experience, a veritable amusement park ride.
The slow reveal, the tease and build up of anticipation (E.T.) or anxiety (Alien) is a tried-and-true Hollywood tradition that was revisited in Super 8. Director Gareth Edwards approaches this Godzilla in that same vein, as though there were no other Godzilla movies and the audience needs to be teased before the big reveal.
But it doesn't work.
The anticipation doesn't build. There's no anxiety, no sense of dread.
Don't Cry for Me, San Francisco
As with his Monsters directorial debut, Edwards tries to focus on the human characters. In Monsters, the result was a dull ride out of Mexico, with the titular monsters making a cameo at the tail end.
To pull it off, Edwards needs to make the characters worth knowing. Effort is made in establishing the relationship between Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston, TV's Breaking Bad) and Sandra Brody (Juliette Binoche, The English Patient). Edwards successfully uses cinematic shorthand to make that happen, but, in a move best described as Hitchcockian, the rug is pulled out from under these characters and the bulk of the story, which picks up 15 years later, focuses on Joe's son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kick-Ass).
Ford is devoid of personality, along with all the other humans, who seem incapable of emotion while the world crumbles all around them.
Could somebody shed a tear for San Francisco? Please?
In one scene, Ford, recently returned from a military tour of duty, is about to get it on with his wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene), when her phone rings - loudly. Later, while anxiously awaiting word from Ford while he travels through a zone of devastation, Elle is seen bathing their young son. Her phone is now on vibrate and Ford's call is missed.
But what difference does it make? Ford seems absolutely uninterested in reuniting with his wife and child as he gets sidetracked from mission to mission. Then there's an all-too-tidy reunion in a stadium that is every bit as devoid of emotion as the preceding two hours.
Et Tu, MUTO?
The lead cast members, including Ken Watanabe (Batman Begins), are all capable of creating believable characters. But they're not given anything to work with here.
It's tiresome watching children stare blankly at what is, really, their imminent demise. A child is separated from his parents on an airport tram. The child's indifference is astonishing. A similar reaction comes from a little girl on a beach when faced with an incoming tsunami.
It takes a little something extra for a director to get credible performances out of children. Spielberg and precious few others have that gift. Gareth Edwards does not.
And the adults don't fare much better. What is Taylor-Johnson's deal? He's usually good. Here? Nuthin'. At the very least, where are the selfies? Where are all the other things people do naturally these days?
The wee bits of humor this movie musters involve a small aquarium tank with a label that reads "Mothra," a scene involving clueless gamblers in Vegas and a massive traffic jam that's revealed immediately after people are advised to stay off the roads. If only the screenwriters, Dave Callaham (who made more fun happen with The Expendables) and Max Borenstein, had enough sense to plunder those elements more often, and take the theme of nature being the great equalizer a little less seriously, there could've been some modest gains in entertainment value.
As for action, leave it to a parachute jump into San Francisco to yield the movie's sole "cool" scene.
Sorry, Godzilla. Your career would've been better served with a supporting role in Pacific Rim.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.