Guess what Godzilla’s about?

The name of the movie is Godzilla, but the title character doesn’t make his entrance until midway through a two-hour running time. This proves to be a fatal error in the second unsuccessful stab to make the legendary Japanese monster an American film franchise.

To be fair, this Godzilla looks more like his classical counterpart than in Roland Emmerich’s much-hyped and much-disappointing 1998 attempt, and the filmmakers seem to have a better grasp of the Godzilla mythos, which makes the end result of this attempt almost as much of a letdown.

The monster scenes deliver the goods, but there aren’t enough of them. Too often, Godzilla is relegated to a co-starring role in his own film. The intent is likely to draw maximum suspense from the anticipation of Godzilla’s appearance, but said anticipation is dragged out to such an extent than even the most indulgent viewer and Godzilla fan is likely to become impatient. The human characters simply aren’t very interesting, despite the cast on hand.

Bryan Cranston plays a scientist who shouts a lot although no one pays him much heed. Juliette Binoche plays his scientist wife, who exits the proceedings so early it’s a wonder she’d take so small a role. Ken Watanabe (not bad) and Sally Hawkins (not good) play scientists who gawk a lot. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays Cranston’s son, a soldier who repeatedly finds himself in the thick of things – yet always manages to emerge unscathed. Elizabeth Olsen plays Taylor-Johnson’s doctor wife, who hasn’t much to do. David Strathairn, looking vaguely embarrassed, barks orders as the admiral evidently charged with defending San Francisco from Godzilla – a task that, not surprisingly, proves futile.

This time around, Godzilla’s the hero – although it’s a long while before that becomes evident. The real threat are a pair of monsters known as M.U.T.O. (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). These beasties have an appetite for nuclear warheads, wanton destruction and procreation. Yes indeed, their eggs are getting ready to hatch – a situation that does not bode well for humanity. Of course, no amount of military firepower seems to have any effect on them. Thus must Godzilla come in and save the day (and the movie, for that matter).

Director Gareth Edwards evidences some proficiency in large-scale action sequences, but without much underlying resonance. The film takes itself very seriously (almost laughably so), but there’s little emotional investment in the human characters. A few of them die, yet it’s conveyed so casually that these on-screen fatalities carry no dramatic weight. The special effects are computer-generated, yet so too might be the paper-thin screenplay. Godzilla is a technical marvel but a (melo)dramatic muddle.

No matter. Godzilla will undoubtedly be back to fight another day, hopefully in a more persuasive (and less pretentious) showcase than this. Whether good guy or bad guy, it makes no difference. Godzilla’s appeal is in no way diminished by which side of the right he’s on.

Quite simply, there are things the Japanese do better, and Godzilla is one of them. Leave it to the experts. !

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