The mighty Godzilla hype machine has been booming and thundering for months, mostly fueled by the love for the long-reigning King of Monsters first introduced in the powerful 1954 Japanese monster movie Gojira (dubbed and with actor Raymond Burr inserted for American release as Godzilla). With all that, it’s a drag to report how little there is to say about the new long, dark, noisy remake. We guess if you’re up for a big, state-of-the-art, kick-ass 3-D giant monster movie, Godzilla gets the job done. And at least it towers over Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version starring Matthew Broderick, so there’s that. This one is directed with great know-how by Gareth Edwards (Monsters), it boasts a thundering, unsettling score by Alexandre Desplat along with ear-popping sound design, and it features mostly dazzling CGI effects of three mammoth, city-stomping monsters—the heroic, truly massive Godzilla and unrelenting nasty Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms (MUTOs, for short)—duking it out and leveling cities with audience-rocking bravura.
But the movie also features human characters, a lot of them military and scientific types, and that’s where the trouble starts. Sure, there’s a blue ribbon cast on hand that includes Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn, but the screenplay credited to Max Borenstein gives most of them very little good stuff to do except to spout snoozy scientific jargon or bald exposition, run or die. Most of the movie’s two-plus hour running time and gung-ho derring-do is shouldered by a bulked-up Taylor-Johnson, who plays the military son of brilliant, humane scientists Cranston and Binoche and the husband of loving, dedicated nurse Olsen and their little boy. Although Taylor-Johnson has been good in other movies like Nowhere Boy, here he’s so frozen-faced and emotionally bottled up that he’s much less compelling or appealing than a character in a really good video game.
In fairness, though, even usually powerful, idiosyncratic performers like Cranston, Binoche, Hawkins and others are just so much collateral damage. That’s really too bad, because the movie has some stunning, Spielbergian sequences involving a tidal wave, mayhem on trains and bridges, and a last-ditch military operation launched from the sky. But it loses its impact and just feels long and stretched out because we don’t care enough about these characters surviving the big crunch. The movie also seems to come from a wellspring similar to the deeply felt place that produced the original Japanese Gojira, released by Tokyo’s Toho studios just nine years after the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But it just doesn’t put us through the wringer like it should. If this new Godzilla isn’t the great monster movie some of us have been awaiting, it’s at least a well-intentioned one.