Godzilla Looks Good in “Godzilla” (2014), but Not Much Else Does


Godzilla Poster

The last attempt by Hollywood to adapt Godzilla into a film of its own was the equally clueless and disastrous “Godzilla” (1998), a big-budget flick that had Matthew Broderick running around New York City trying to destroy 200 eggs that a hideous-looking Godzilla laid in Madison Square Garden. With the point of comparison being so low, it doesn’t mean much to say that Hollywood’s latest attempt in “Godzilla” (2014) is an improvement over the first effort, but that’s about all that can be said for this otherwise insipid film.

First the good.  Screenwriter Max Borenstein, who adapted the story by David Callaham, made the right decision to respect the essence of the Japanese cultural phenomenon by depicting Godzilla as the sympathetic hero to the humans, even if not entirely lovable. Yes, Godzilla is a monster that wrecks havoc to the human world, but fans of the original Japanese series would appreciate this oddly likable depiction, which for the most part is consistent with its traditional portrayal in Japan.

In “Godzilla”, Godzilla’s battle isn’t against humans but is against the MUTOs, or “Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms,” of which there are two. The male that is awakened in Japan can fly, and it seeks to mate with an even larger female that the U.S. government happened to keep in the Yucca Mountains in Nevada, with all the other nuclear waste, because the female MUTO was radioactive in its inactive state.

After awakening for reasons that are not entirely clear, these MUTOs destroy everything in their path, and the U.S. military decides that the way to destroy them is to nuke them.  Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), an expert on the MUTOs and Godzilla, opposes this because MUTOs, he says, feed on radioactive material.  This is about the only fact about the MUTOs that we get, mostly because whenever MUTOs appear, they’re either looking for a nuclear bomb to snack on or swallowing a Russian nuclear submarine.

Academy Award-nominee Watanabe (“Inception”) gets a co-starring credit in this movie, but I can only presume he agreed to have his name associated with this film because he wasn’t insulted with the treatment given to Godzilla upon reading the script and he wanted to give some legitimacy to a movie about a creature created in his home country.   Perhaps he was willing to lend his name but wasn’t willing to get too involved. Watanabe doesn’t do or say much other than to express ungrounded faith in Godzilla that it will hunt and destroy the MUTOs to save humankind.

I can’t blame Watanabe if he didn’t want to have much to do with the film’s plot, which is long on convenience but short on plausibility.  The movie’s storyline centers on Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a US Navy explosive disposal officer who is always in the wrong place at exactly the right time to be caught in the middle of every chaos inflicted by Godzilla and MUTOs around the globe, starting in Japan, then in Hawai’i, then in San Francisco.

Even more preposterous is how time flows.  The U.S. military is somehow able to transport a nuclear warhead from Nevada to the west coast in an hour or so, which time period seems to be as long as the 27 minute countdown that Brody races against to prevent a nuclear bomb from exploding in the middle of San Francisco.

I suppose I should get over all the plot holes since human characters and their story are just a sideshow in a film about three gigantic monsters.  In that regard, credit must be given to the special effects team that did a decent job of designing Godzilla and the MUTOs, each of which look their part: MUTOs, the villains, hideous and menacing, and Godzilla, the hero, exuding likability even as a destructive force.

The film is most entertaining when it matters, when Godzilla and MUTOs engage in battles of the monsters as humans become collateral damage.  These scenes in “Godzilla” are probably what a Godzilla movie produced by Toho, the Japanese production company that made the original series, would have looked like had it been able to pour unlimited amount of resources to produce the best-looking Godzilla movie.

Much has been made of the fact that, despite the title, Godzilla doesn’t appear until well into the film, and even then, only sporadically.  As in “Jaws” (1975), there is some cinematic technique to this approach of “less is more” in which late and infrequent appearance builds suspense.  Of course, “Godzilla” is no “Jaws,” either in the quality that it seeks or the technical mastery that it achieves.  This naturally means that during the vast majority of “Godzilla,” without Godzilla’s full force against the MUTOs on display, the audience is left to suffer from the rest of the material that is at times inept and is otherwise mostly ridiculous.


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