How can a movie about giant monsters be so boring? That’s the biggest question surrounding Hollywood’s latest attempt to bring the King of the Monsters stateside. Though not quite as bad as Roland Emmerich’s farcical 1998 version, “Godzilla” is a bewildering piece of blockbuster filmmaking, stuck somewhere between an old-school monster extravaganza and a po-faced thriller that’s almost afraid to have too much fun. Gareth Edwards may have seemed like the perfect director to revive the scaly beast on the big screen – especially for anyone who saw his 2010 indie, “Monsters” – but it’s possible that he was a little too right for the job, because what worked so well in that movie doesn’t have the same effect here. Of course, it doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to realize that a Godzilla film should probably have more, you know, Godzilla.
The film opens with a lengthy prologue set in 1999 detailing how a mining company in the Philippines inadvertently awakened something deep underground, prompting the creature to leave its hiding spot for Japan, where it leveled a nuclear power plant that killed hundreds, including the wife of American scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston). 15 years later, Joe is still obsessing about what happened that day, convinced it was more than just an earthquake. After he’s arrested for trespassing in the quarantine zone, his military son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) travels to Tokyo to bail him out of jail.
Joe is adamant that he’s uncovered more evidence that not only confirms his original claim, but proves that it’s about to happen again, and before he can say “I told you so,” a pair of insect-like MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) burst from their cocoons and begin to wreak havoc. The military plans to lure the radiation-fueled MUTOs to a single location (tough luck, San Francisco) using a nuclear missile in the hope that they’ll be destroyed in the blast, but when the long-dormant Godzilla rises from the Pacific Ocean, Japanese scientist Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) believes that nature has already provided them with all the firepower they need to stop the monsters. After all, Godzilla is a nice dude, and he’s more than willing to help.
This isn’t the first time that Godzilla has played the antihero in one of his films, but quite frankly, it’s pretty ridiculous to suggest that a giant, prehistoric lizard’s only interest is in defeating these other monsters, especially after it’s revealed that the U.S. military tried killing him 60 years earlier. None of it makes any sense, and yet Edwards dedicates a large chunk of the movie trying to do exactly that. Unfortunately, he gets so wrapped up in the one-dimensional human drama and exposition-heavy plot that he seems to forget all about Godzilla. People usually bemoan the lack of a strong human element in big blockbusters like this, but while “Godzilla” aims to remedy that by placing the focus more on them than the giant monsters doing battle, the characters are so bland and thinly written (with the exception of Bryan Cranston’s scientist, who has a smaller role than is hinted at in the trailers) that it only makes things worse.
Edwards delivers some great money shots by the end, but it’s a long, mostly dull slog to get there, relying more on the lame and generic MUTOs to drive the action than its titular character. In fact, just about everyone gets more screen time than Godzilla, who takes nearly an hour to make his first, full-fledged appearance before going MIA again until the final climactic battle sequence. There’s nothing wrong with teasing the audience using a slow burn approach (“Jaws” does it masterfully), but you need actual suspense and interesting characters for it to be successful, and “Godzilla” has neither, instead packed with a bunch of unnecessary filler that pads the two-hour runtime without doing much to further the story. The one thing they did get right is Godzilla himself. He looks and sounds incredible, and you’re left wanting more when it’s all over. Sadly, that’s not because the movie is any good, but rather because you see so little of Godzilla in “Godzilla” that it feels more like an appetizer than the main course.