Say this for the big guy: The camera loves him. The new Godzilla, best seen in 3D IMAX to revel in his textured scales, his heaving gills, his deafening digital roar, is a rock star, the effing real deal in FX monster cool. Godzilla has come a long way since he (actually a dude in a rubber suit) starred in the 1954 Japanese original that spawned 27 spin offs, plus comic strips, video games and a titanic turd of a 1998 Hollywood remake. In the last third of this lumbering reboot, the latest Godzilla springs to life and wakes up the wide-eyed kid in all of us.
Why the wait? Gareth Edwards, the Brit director making a leap from his 2010 indie debut with the low-budget Monsters, is following the lead of Steven Spielberg in Jaws. That means you withhold the shark or the ‘Zilla as long as possible, and in the process build suspense and a rooting interest in the characters. Spielberg pulled it off triumphantly.
Edwards does not. He’s hamstrung by a script by Max Borenstein, from a story by David Callaham, that never met a cliché it didn’t like. The topheavy plot kicks in when Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his partner, Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins), chopper into a Filipino mine, where they discover a pod containing a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) and evidence of another MUTO that has escaped. In Tokyo, engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his scientist wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche), work in a nuclear plant whose product is mother’s milk to the MUTO. Cue the tremors. Start the explosions.
Jump ahead 15 years to Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Joe’s son, an explosives expert working for the Navy in the person of Admiral Stenz (David Strathairn). Ford thinks Daddy is crazy, preferring to spend time in San Francisco with his nurse wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and their young son, Sam (Carson Bolde). And then, at Honolulu Airport, Godzilla shows up on a rampage.
It would take an insomniac to wade through all these plot complications without dozing. The actors are top-tier, but they over-emote to sell a human drama that never rises above soap opera. Cranston deserves better than a script that confuses hysterics with breaking bad.
Luckily, Godzilla and those punk MUTOs finally go at it full romper-stomper. Nothing equals the original film’s use of ‘Zilla as a symbol of the Atomic Age. But seeing the scaly dude side with Mother Nature against the freaks is almost worth enduring the blather that precedes it. I said “almost.”