Gareth Edwards' GODZILLA is a frustrating experience. It manages to improve in every conceivable way on the 1998 attempt to Americanize the King of the Monsters, but that's pretty a low bar by anyone's standards. Today's blockbuster must be oh-so-serious, and the pageantry of tragedy on display in GODZILLA not only drains the film of life, but might even elevate it to accidental camp status. There's probably a drinking game to be made from the film. Take a shot whenever a character stares blankly into the distance toward impending doom. Take two if that character is a child.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays ... well, I don't remember his character's name. Save for the big guy himself, I don't remember anyone's name in the film. It doesn't really matter because the characters are just constructs that exist to get you from beat to beat. Taylor-Johnson plays the kind of role usually reserved these days for Channing Tatum: A young, no-nonsense military officer with more muscle definition than personality. Here, Taylor-Johnson is a Naval officer, but that's mostly an irrelevant designation because he's an expert in almost everything. His military occupational specialty is demolitions, but he later proves to be an accomplished HALO jumper, marksman, diver and survivalist. It's that last skill that proves to be the most useful, because the character tends to be the sole survivor of every Kaiju encounter in the film.
A prologue establishes that a nuclear accident 15 years earlier in Japan killed Taylor-Johnson's mother (played by Juliette Binoche) and drove his father to the edge of madness. Cranston is convinced that there's something more to the accident than the world was told, but even he doesn't seem to really know what was kept secret. It's a little unclear on what he was expecting to discover, but it probably wasn't a giant grasshopper feeding off the plant's reactor. Luckily for us (and unluckily for Cranston and Taylor-Johnson) their investigation brings them back to the site just minutes before the film's first monster hatches.
The rest of the film is disaster imagery designed to conjure memories of everything from 9/11 to the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Families are separated and reunited, the badguys vanquished and none it means a whole hell of a lot because the film lacks anything resembling a point of view. The script presents numerous opportunities to express itself with something more than bombast. What role does industry play in protecting the environment? When are government conspiracies justified? Is all the film's talk of ecology a veiled message about climate change? We'll never know, because GODZILLA has no opinion on any of the topics at hand.
There are good ideas in the movie, though. I was pleasantly surprised that the title monster was not the film's villain, and it was delightful to see U.S. Naval vessels following Godzilla around the Pacific as if he were the team mascot. The monster's backstory (which I won't spoil here) was also novel, and it was difficult not to get a little excited when Godzilla finally cuts loose in the movie's final minutes. After two hours of carnage and a body count exponentially higher than that of MAN OF STEEL's, I don't really understand how the world decided Godzilla was a "hero." Perhaps it was the always on-point television news coverage depicted in GODZILLA, which appeared to have all been coordinated by the same producer. A shot of a dissenting Fox News anchor accusing Godzilla of violating U.S. sovereignty might have added a touch of humor to an otherwise grey and lifeless film. But, the movie would have need a perspective for a stunt like that.
If all of this sounds harsh, that's not my intent. Unlike the 1998 GODZILLA feature, this is not a film to be hated. It's probably too much to expect great human drama from a Kaiju film, and I'm unsure who is expecting too much from GODZILLA: Me, or Gareth Edwards? This isn't a product that was shit out over a weekend script-planning session by studio executives. The film is clearly a labor of love by the director, but don't be surprised if you can't share in his enthusiasm.