My, how he's grown.
The star of the latest "Godzilla" movie has come a long way since 1954, when a nuclear bomb disturbed his prehistoric slumber and sent him rampaging through Tokyo. In reality, he was a guy in a foam-rubber suit, crushing tiny buildings and chomping on Lionel trains, but the effect was captivating -- so much so that "Godzilla" spawned dozens of sequels over the decades, most of them driven by scenes of diorama-scale destruction.
The latest Godzilla is a bigger and costlier monster, even more than when we last saw him in 1998 opposite co-star Matthew Broderick. Godzilla towers over today's taller skyscrapers (made not of balsa wood but of pixels) and his distinctive metallic bray now resonates in seat-shaking surroundsound. Somehow, though, the iconic movie monster feels diminished in this multimillion-dollar disappointment.
For starters, Godzilla barely appears in "Godzilla." A long backstory involving an ill-fated Japanese nuclear plant (Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche play married staffers) introduces a raptor-like creature nicknamed MUTO, for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism. This monster, which has magnetic-pulse powers and can fly (isn't that a MUFO?), is the one threatening civilization, specifically picturesque San Francisco. That's where solider-on-leave Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is heading to rescue his wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and their young son, Sam (Carson Bolde). The characters are even thinner than the plot, and they all wear out quickly.
As the MUTO demolishes other tourist towns like Honolulu and Las Vegas, director Gareth Edwards (2010's "Monsters") repeatedly cuts away from the action -- a confoundingly strange decision in a "Godzilla" movie. Seriously, what else are we paying to see? Certainly not Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his near-silent assistant (Sally Hawkins) trying to explain monster behavior to Admiral Stenz (David Strathairn).
When Godzilla fully reveals himself, in a climactic battle that wavers between WWF slapstick and "Braveheart" pathos, we haven't spent enough time with him to care. The film doesn't really care, either. As a character, the original Godzilla was born from genuine horror -- his Japanese creators were thinking of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Bikini Atoll -- but here he's just another generic city crusher. Though updated and inflated, he's as devoid of personality as the humans underfoot.
PLOT A prehistoric creature threatens modern-day civilization.
RATING PG-13 (intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence)
CAST Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston
BOTTOM LINE A slapdash, crash-and-bash treatment of the iconic movie monster. He looks bigger and more expensive than ever, yet somehow seems diminished.
'GODZILLA' DIRECTOR GARETH EDWARDS ON NATURE'S POWER
In "Godzilla," director Gareth Edwards presents a cautionary tale about environmental collapse and the dangers of nuclear energy. An early flashback to a reactor meltdown in Japan recalls the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster that devastated the east coast of Japan -- which the director admits could surprise audiences expecting pure summer movie bombast.
"Our film doesn't preach," Edwards said. "But we tried to respectfully show that we opened a Pandora's box when we started doing all this stuff. Obviously our monsters are metaphors, and they're never going to really appear, but we should be very careful in terms of this amazing power of nature that we're trying to control. The reality is, we can't always contain it."
Edwards aspired to give "Godzilla" the same poignancy as the crowd-pleasing sci-fi cinema by George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and James Cameron that initially inspired him.
"I'm always looking for the bit where they [the audience] might tear up," Edwards said, "even if it's not tearing up in a sad way, just that you're so much in awe of what you're looking at that you get goose bumps and you start to well up."
-- Los Angeles Times