I’ve always liked the idea of the “Godzilla” movies more than the movies themselves. Because much like porno, there’s something appealing about watching large, rubbery objects collide into each other until something finally explodes. But, unlike porno, the “Godzilla” movies don’t seem to understand their audience. Nobody goes to a “Godzilla” movie for the dialog or the characters or the compelling plot; they go to watch large, rubbery objects collide into each other until something finally explodes.
Yet this is the one element that’s doled out sparingly. 85 percent of any “Godzilla” movie is made up of dry exposition, military jargon, and extreme close-ups of very concerned faces. There’s too much pretense in any “Godzilla” movie and not nearly enough fun. In the franchise’s 60-year history, it’s dumbfounding that nobody tried to fix or – better still – completely eliminate the films’ human element. Even right now, in the year of our Lord 2014 AD, as evidenced by director Gareth Edwards’ overlong and far from compelling “Godzilla” reboot, there’s still an unnatural compulsion to push Godzilla into the background and drag, boring cardboard characters front and center.
Here’s the thing, ladies and germstlemen – it’s summer time. I need you to give me a big green pop-shot as quickly as possible and without any preamble. I didn’t pay to watch a man who looks like a slightly warped cardboard cutout of Jake Gyllenhaal (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) wander around Japan as he attempts to excrete emotion-like substances through that beige outer-casing he probably calls a face.
Nonetheless, “Godzilla” starts out deceptively strong as Bryan Cranston plays an unstable nuclear engineer who never seems to stop weeping openly and fills his pants with a combination of urine and fear at the slightest provocation. Cranston has discovered that a pair of giant cockroach-like monstrosities is the real cause behind a series of seismic anomalies. Because of this, Cranston must die. Mind you, it’s not because Cranston has uncovered a massive conspiracy; it’s because he’s the only interesting character in a “Godzilla” movie that wasn’t a stuntman in a rubber dinosaur suit.
With the status quo maintained and the only compelling character safely eliminated, Cranston’s son (Taylor-Johnson) is called in to destroy the cockroaches because he’s, I don’t know, an army guy or whatever who touched a bomb at one point in his life or something? It’s all very hazy and oh so uninteresting. Besides, you don’t care about that anyway. “Where’s Godzilla?” you ask, and does he creep and stomp about on the heads of the giant cockroaches? Yes, he’s here and he’s creeping and stomping about. But it’s in very measured, almost disappointing doses.
“Let them fight,” Ken Watanabe’s plot point-spewing scientist solemnly intones at one point. It’s good advice because that’s why all of us are here, to watch a friendly dinosaur blow radioactive flames down the throat of a mutant cockroach. Unfortunately, “Godzilla” rarely practices what it preaches. Some critics have compared “Godzilla” to “Jaws” in the way it builds suspense by delaying Godzilla’s appearance. However, critics seem to have forgotten that “Jaws” was more than just about a shark. It was a thriller, a character study, and an occasional black comedy. “Godzilla,” on the other hand, is just about Godzilla. The storyline is slight and the characters exist almost solely to look sadly into the camera. About the only thing “Godzilla” has going for it are the fight scenes, and those are frequently interrupted in order to bring us more stillborn melodrama.
Granted, “Godzilla” eventually stops teasing us and finally gives us the giant monster showdown we’ve been asking for, but it doesn’t come until well after the two hour mark, at which point it’s too little too late. On other hand, even though “Godzilla” is a frustrating, inert, and ultimately joyless film, it’s still better than Roland Emmerich’s “Godzilla” reboot. Then again, Emmerich set the bar so exceedingly low that Edwards’ could’ve re-imagined Godzilla as a wisecracking cartoon cat that farts up gold coins and it still would’ve been a better film than Emmerich’s “Godzilla.”
Rating: W V