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“Godzilla”

  • Tuesday, May 27, 2014

It isn't a good idea to approach a Godzilla movie with a “less is more” attitude. The gold standard of the “less is more” horror movie is “Jaws,” which this movie wants to be so badly. In that film, you didn't actually see much of the shark, but you were scared nonetheless. There isn't much of Godzilla in this movie, and the attitude seems to be that if you're impatient waiting for her to show up, then it's your fault for not appreciating the nuanced way the film is subtly toying with your expectations.

The problem is that Jaws, as big as he was, had a whole ocean he could hide in, and it was believable that he was doing all his damage beneath its surface. It made sense to keep us in suspense about his appearance and actions. Godzilla, on the other hand, is the size of a skyscraper and spends a lot of time on the surface. It does not make sense to shroud her appearance and actions. Yet we spend most of “Godzilla” not quite getting a good look at her. It quickly becomes apparent that the film simply does not have the money to represent the creature properly.

The first half of the film where we wait for Godzilla to first show up is boring, but at least it can get away with saying that it's just building suspense. Eventually there comes a point where it has to give us one good look, and then it spends the rest of the time coming up with one reason after another to not give us subsequent good looks. Sometimes Godzilla is underwater with just her spikes sticking out. Sometimes it's dark or rainy. Sometimes there's an obstruction like a slowly-closing door. Watch the scene where Godzilla is blocked by a closing door and tell me you don't feel cheated.

There's some bare-bones plot about Godzilla only coming out from hiding now so she can stop a pair of even more dangerous creatures called MUTOs, who have just escaped captivity on two continents. The army naturally wants to nuke all three of them and we're supposed to see them as reckless for doing so. They just won't listen to the reasonable alternate plan of trusting the giant monster with animal instincts to defeat the MUTOs and then walk away and leave us alone.

The human characters aren't very interesting. There's a scientist played by Ken Watanabe, a general played by David Strathairn, a soldier played by Aaron Taylor-Johnston, and his wife, a nurse played by Elizabeth Olsen. None of these roles are written with any personality. The only character who comes even close to being memorable is Taylor-Johnston's father, the requisite broken-down conspiracy theorist that no one believes until it's too late played by Bryan Cranston. And if you've seen the trailers, you've gotten the extent of his passion. Also, there is zero comic relief in the movie. Say what you will about the poorly-regarded 1998 Godzilla movie that this one thinks it's so superior to, but at least that one knew enough to have some fun with the absurdity of a giant radioactive creature destroying a city.

Every now and then we'll get a hint of what this version of “Godzilla” could have been. Godzilla does look pretty good in the brief glimpses we do get, and the MUTOs don't look half bad themselves. Of course everyone cheers when the creatures roar or smash or do that other thing that Godzilla is known for. But the film just takes one shortcut after another, and this is definitely not the place for a “less is more” approach. The less people waste their time on this movie, the more happy I'll be when it bombs.

One Star out of Five.

“Godzilla” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence. Its running time is 123 minutes. Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.

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