Judging from “Godzilla,” I would guess that British director Gareth Edwards has never, in his life, eaten dessert first.
Indeed, one can picture him as that guy from Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” crowing, “How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?!”
See, like many red-blooded human beings, when I go to see a movie about giant monsters — especially when all teaser material has hinted at the possibility of multiple daikaiju (more or less translated from the Japanese as “giant strange creature”) going at it — I expect to see sticky, flaming monster-on-monster action.
Instead, again and again throughout this 120 minute remake of Ishirô Hondo’s brilliant 1954 atomic anxiety classic “Gojira,” Edwards cuts away from battles just as they are about to take place or shows characters watching them on TV screens. This is perhaps to build up expectation for the final confrontation between Godzilla and the other monsters (which is, admittedly, satisfying). Perhaps it is to subvert the nature of giant monster movies. Perhaps Edwards wants to swim against the tide of exhausting CGI fight sequences.
Instead, it is just annoying. Instead, this is a 120-minute exercise in delayed gratification that just makes Edwards look like he doesn’t trust his monsters to carry the movie, which is unfortunate if the title of your movie is “Godzilla.” It doesn’t help that the non-monster-combat bits, aka the vast majority of the film, alternate between thin character moments and the most egregious city disaster porn since “Man of Steel.”
In 1999, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), his wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche), and his young son, Ford, are all living in Japan. Joe and Sandra are scientists running a nuclear power plant when something goes horribly wrong. The plant is destroyed. Lives are lost.
Is it related to a seismic event in the Philippines, an event that has fascinated Japanese scientist Ishiro Serizawa (the great Ken Watanabe, mostly required to look worried and walk slowly toward shocking images). Or is it … something else?
Fifteen years later, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who played the title character in “Kick-Ass”) is a kind if completely colorless explosive ordnance disposal technician in the Army, and his father is a raving lunatic, convinced Japan is covering something up. After Joe is arrested trying to enter the ruins of the plant, he convinces Ford to go exploring with him.
If you’re thinking, gee, I don’t see the word “Godzilla” anywhere in the above paragraph, well, he isn’t around yet. Edwards has made “The Third Man” of monster movies.
Eventually we learn that there isn’t just one other giant creature deep underground, there are two (neither of them nearly as entertainingly designed as our man ’zilla). Which is the greater danger, the alpha predator Godzilla or these other monsters? Can they be nuked, even if they eat radiation for breakfast?
Cranston is lively as the Crazy Guy Who Might Not Be Crazy After All, while Taylor-Johnson uses all of one facial expression for most everything, whether he is trying to defuse a bomb, rescuing a child or arguing with his father.
Even when the big man does show up, he is often underwater, obscured, a bit like “Jaws.”
But here’s the thing: What made “Jaws” so scary and Steven Spielberg’s glimpses of the shark so brilliant is that sharks are real. It is entirely possible that you could go swimming and get eaten by a shark. Unlikely, but possible.
And as depressing as it may seem, daikaiju are not real. You can have Serizawa intone, “The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control, and not the other way round” all you like; there’s no reason to give “Godzilla” a more grounded, “realistic” spin. This doesn’t mean it has to be corny or campy (though a little humor would go an awfully long way here).
But it does mean, you know, showing the monsters being monsters and not just the war-zone results of their encounters.
One wishes Edwards had heeded Serizawa’s advice when discussing how to deal with the city-busting creatures: “Let them fight.”
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence.
Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes
Theaters: Alamo Lakeline, Alamo Ritz, Alamo Slaughter, Alamo Village, Barton Creek Sqaure, Cinemark Cedar Park, Cinemark Galleria, Cinemark Round Rock, Cinemark Southpark Meadows, Cinemark Stone Hill Town, City Lights, Domain, Flix Brewhouse, Gateway, Highland, Lakeline Mall Moviehouse & Eatery, Starplex, Tinseltown Austin, Tinseltown Pflugerville, Westgate. 3-D: Alamo Lakeline, Alamo Slaughter, Alamo Village, Barton Creek Sqaure, Cinemark Cedar Park, Cinemark Galleria, Cinemark Round Rock, Cinemark Southpark Meadows, Cinemark Stone Hill Town, City Lights, Domain, Flix Brewhouse, Gateway, Highland, Lakeline Mall, Moviehouse & Eatery, Starplex Tinseltown Austin, Tinseltown Pflugerville, Wesgate. Imax: Barton Creek Sqaure, Gateway