Messing With a Classic

This remake of Godzilla provides on-screen flair, but little insight into the legendary monster

Why has Hollywood tried again to revive Godzilla? The first American reboot, in 1998, made some money but also earned much scorn from critics and viewers, as nothing about it came close to the spirit of the long-running series of Japanese Godzilla films.

And why did they even bother to call this one Godzilla?

Yes, there's a big, charcoal-gray, dinosaur-like creature knocking down buildings and fighting other big creatures that are knocking down buildings. And he's able to torch anything in his path with his atomic breath. In a direct nod to the original 1954 film Gojira, there's a scientist named Dr. Serizawa, and there's plenty of talk of atomic power gone awry. Movie history buffs know that the slow-moving monster in the original film stood in for the atomic devastation America had unleashed upon Japan nine years earlier.

But Godzilla doesn't even make an appearance in this film until the one-hour mark. Hold on. What, then, is that "massive terrestrial creature that has taken to the air" near the beginning of the film? It most likely came out of the giant eggshell that was found near an old, abandoned nuclear plant where "electromagnetic pulses are happening again, just like 15 years ago." But the creature, of which we get a glimpse, is too sleek, something of a mix between an insect and a dinosaur. Hey! That's not Godzilla! That, it's later revealed, is a Muto. No, wait, there are two Mutos? They run around absorbing radioactive fuel, which makes them grow and grow. And... are they kissing? Are they going to spawn? Where the hell is Godzilla?

The big gray guy eventually arrives, coming ashore preceded by a tsunami that puts kids and dogs in peril. And he does battle the big, nasty Mutos. But this long movie (it's just over two hours, but feels like one of Kevin Costner's '90s films) has too much talk, too many side stories, and too much exposition before it gets down to the real nitty-gritty.

Part of the problem with the film's length is an unnecessary prologue at a nuclear reactor that introduces Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) as well as two married scientists, Joe and Sandra Brody (Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche), and features fossils, high radiation levels, and people in panic. Fans of Cranston and Binoche shouldn't blink.

Cut to 15 years later and say hello to military hero and explosives expert Ford Brody (a disappointingly bland Aaron Taylor-Johnson), the son of those scientists, who has come home from war to his nurse wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen). Then get ready for some convoluted stuff about that old, supposedly irradiated nuke plant being rebuilt, and how some atomic tests in 1954 weren't actually atomic tests, but something to do with killing a big creature, and (in another nod to Gojira) a secret government project to study the new creatures but not destroy them.

Things finally get around to Godzilla, reportedly heading toward Las Vegas, but we only get to see the remnants of Sin City, accompanied by Elvis crooning "(You're the) Devil in Disguise." Dr. Serizawa insists that "Godzilla is here to restore balance. He can defeat the Mutos."

Of course, Godzilla and the Muto couple finally go at it, and a great deal of real estate crumbles. It all comes much too late in the film. The new Godzilla can move around at a good clip, but like the old Godzilla, the movie plods. ♦

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