It’s bigger, badder, louder and more spectacular, of course, but despite its $160-million budget, the new “Godzilla” is still, at heart, a big, dumb old-fashioned monster movie — not all that different from any random appearance by the big G back in the ‘60s.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
What’s the main appeal of a Godzilla movie? Seeing him stomp stuff, of course, whether that happens to be a major city or another monster dumb enough to get in his face. And savoring that patented, stentorian Godzilla roar. Along with my personal favorite: the radioactive breath thing. And we get all of that and more in “Godzilla” 2014. Just don’t expect deep drama.
And while you’re not expecting things, don’t expect Godzilla himself to show up for a good long while. We have to make do with the opening act first, a special-guest monster that’s been gestating for millions of years before finally deciding to go on a rampage. Kind of anti-climactically, really, considering that it looks like a giant dung beetle. And gets stuck with the clunky name of MUTO (for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). The MUTOs (they’re a male/female tag-team) feed on nuclear energy, though, and think of missiles as snack food, so that’s a problem for our team. Fortunately, Godzilla has an ancestral-memory grudge going on with them and eventually feels obliged to rise up from the depths and handle the situation.
Sound silly? Well, it is, but here’s the thing: the new “Godzilla” looks awesome (setting aside the dung beetle business). Tremendously awesome, at its best, and it sounds even better — just wait until you hear that magnificent roar. Director Gareth Edwards, a former visual-effects specialist collaborating with “Lord of the Rings” Oscar-winner Jim Rygiel, knows how to rock the rock-em/sock-em monster combat. And how to milk long, somber, panoramic shots of epic-destruction aftermath. If you can shut off your brain for a couple of hours, you might be convinced something serious is going on.
That’s particularly impressive considering how hard the scenario works to keep us from taking it seriously for even a moment. This is one of those Godzilla outings where the big guy’s on our side, inexplicably, exhibiting a scrupulous concern for human life and property even while we’re trying to kill him. (All the fleeing crowds and people being squashed underfoot come courtesy of the MUTOs.) And the best that can be said about the human drama that makes up the bulk of the running time is that it’s easy to ignore. Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” as a scientist obsessed with solving the MUTO-related mystery of his wife’s death, Aaron Taylor-Johnson of “Kick-Ass” as his combat-trained MUTO-fighting son and Ken Watanabe of “The Last Samurai” as a Godzilla expert warning the army to back off — all providing emotionally bogus filler between monster attacks.
Not that it’s likely that anyone’s going into this movie expecting an actual cathartic dramatic experience. If that’s what you want, check out the 1954 original. Preferably the original original, the Japanese-language version complete with its brooding A-bomb anxieties.
This “Godzilla” has nothing to offer but some expertly executed thrills.