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Godzilla: Eye-poppers galore and not much else

A still from the film Godzilla

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

2 out of 4 stars

Written by
Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham
Directed by
Gareth Edwards
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins

Put it this way: if your slumber at the ocean's bottom had been regularly interrupted by atomic blasts for 60 years, you'd be cranky, too. And not make a lot of sense.

Such is the state of Gareth Edwards' Godzilla, both the movie and the Chrysler Building-sized ridge-backed dino – Japanese by birth, American by corporate movie-making providence – who this time is prodded into angry wakefulness to engage in a world-shaking slamdown with two giant bat-mantis thingies bent on eating the world's nuclear stockpiles for (three guesses) energy purposes.

There are eye-poppers galore, especially once the young director of the low-budget handycam horror Monsters gets his various bad-tempered behemoths lined up for the final city-toppling brouhaha. Edwards prefers his battles at night, against skies roiling with clouds, smoke and mist, often lending the impression of prehistoric gods duking it out in weather conditions they've arranged for their own vanity purposes.

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But Godzilla – both the movie and the big guy – is otherwise something of a lumpy, lumbering great beast of a thing, lurching from city to city, continent to continent, smackdown to smackdown and plot point to plot point with singularly graceless indifference to anything other than those take-home jaw-dropper shots.

Anyone who cares about such things knows that Godzilla is an especially vivid metaphor for nature's anti-nuclear blowback, a monster who first rose from the seas around Japan sixty years ago to tear one open on those puny humans who'd dared to mess so arrogantly with Mother Nature. And there are traces of this is the current Godzilla, especially as the story struggles to find its scaly huge feat.

Opening with the discovery of an underground monster nest that revives engineer Bryan Cranston's conviction that governments have been hiding something from the world and using the story of nuclear accident as a cover – a lie that's personal to Cranston because it cost him his wife (Juliette Binoche). The movie then shifts forward to focus on the scientist's grown son Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who has helpfully grown into a navy bomb-dismantling expert just in time for all hell to break loose.

It's possible you're thinking "Bryan Cranston? Juliette Binoche? Aren't they like, real actors?" And if you are, prepare to be disappointed, for not only are these real actors only around for as long as it takes to get the monsters up and rampaging, their summary dispatch is perfectly in keeping with the movie's wholesale lack of interest in the very human beings whom Godzilla may or may not have been prodded from his deep-sea slumber to serve and protect. Another sign you're not in sensitive adult drama terrain here: although he's cast the charismatic David Straithairn as a high-ranking military honcho, Edwards shoots the man mostly from behind, as though the real attraction here was the back of his head. Godzilla gets more closeups.

After establishing itself promisingly as a kind of Spielberg tribute flick, replete with Cranston (whose name, Dr. Brody, is snatched from the jaws of Jaws) doing the nutty-professor version of Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters and lots of awe-struck staring into windy huge holes in the ground, Godzilla morphs into James Cameron-style martial porn – without even having the decency to pause and be as knowingly silly as Starship Troopers or Pacific Rim for a few minutes along the way.

Which leaves us with the singularly uninteresting Taylor-Johnson as our primary point of human identification. It also encourages us to sit back and pray that this time the monsters finish the job, if only so they can finally get some quality sleep without being poked awake for another movie like this.

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