Godzilla (2014)

godzillaDir. Gareth Edwards, 123 min., in theaters

As it’s summer, I once again to return to tell you my boring opinions on movies you’ve probably already seen. No goals this year for how many films I want to watch, but I’d be surprised if I top 40. First up, everyone’s favorite building-stomping lizard.

As a point of comparison, nothing could be worse than Roland Emmerich’s 1998 stab at the identically titled film (Nathan Rabin sums up the disappointment pretty well). It could be that the mists of time cloud my recollections (I saw this film in theaters as a high school junior), but I remember loud “boo”s ringing out when Godzilla was resurrected near the end of the film and had to be defeated yet again by tanks and jet fighters.

Employing characters that actually have depth (instead of one-line, “cast of characters” descriptions), as well as coming up with monsters that have a (semi-)plausible raison d’etre, massively vaults Edwards effort over his predecessor.

Without giving too much away: Bryan Cranston (Brody) plays a disgruntled loner, trying to prove that the site of a terrible nuclear accident (strongly reminiscent of the tragedy at Fukushima) is actually a massive cover up of a large monster. Meanwhile, his son (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and a scientist who studies ancient, nuclear-feeding monsters (Ken Watanabe) become enmeshed in the subsequent events (sometimes unrealistically, as Brody’s son always seems to be wherever the monsters are).

I got a kick out of the character name, as there is a similar Cheif Brody in another summer blockbuster movie trying to convince the world of the existence of a “prehistoric” monster; the film itself is not without some humor, but mostly this is a special effects showpiece that uses character development just enough to make us care whether these people get crushed under a monster’s foot.

The effects are pretty good, though watching one building get crushed is no more exciting than watching the next. The monster battles are equally entertaining, and the showdown with Godzilla and his adversary is on par with King Kong battling a T-rex. The cleverness of the Godzilla origin story pays homage to the horrors of the nuclear age, while similarly (and smartly) avoiding any hint that the current USA has anything good in the way of technology or ideas to contribute to this monster hunt.

Ken Watanabe is predictably underutilized in this Americanized rendition, but far from the borderline offensive Emmerich take on the Japanese:

Watanabe instead comes across as a “quiet man” type, burdened by his own painful connection to the nuclear age. Cranston gives a strong performance, though I don’t have much to baseline him on as I’ve still yet to watch that famous TV show he was on (what was it called again?). The rest of the cast is serviceable.

Is there a future for Godzilla after this film? IMDB already lists “Godzilla 2″ as a future directorial credit. I suppose I’d probably go see it, and that’s about as much of a ringing endorsement as you’ll get out of me on any monster movie.

AV Club: B+
Dissovle: 3.5/5
RT: 73%
Me: B+