By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — That large leapin’ lizard is back! Again.
Godzilla, the featured creature in the mammoth monster mayhem movie series that surfaced in 1954, born of the Atomic Age as a metaphor for understandable post-World War II A-bomb anxiety, rose out of the sea as a result of nuclear testing to terrorize Tokyo, then over the years appeared in a couple of dozen Japanese horror flicks.
Godzilla follows two wobbly American movies (1998’s Godzilla and Godzilla 2000) as a campy reboot.
Originally presented with primitive guy-in-a-lizard-suit hokeyness, this indelible movie icon, modeled after the komodo dragon, has mutated into an enormous, state-of-the-art special effect, a much more convincing whatever-it-is.
The new version, set in 1999 and 2014, focuses on a nuclear scientist (Bryan Cranston) and his soldier son (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a bomb-disposal expert, who are trying to expose a “natural disaster” government cover-up of the fearsome, 20-story-tall beast after a mysterious disaster at a fictional Japanese nuclear power plant causes the evacuation of a district in Tokyo.
Others playing second fiddle to Godzilla are Juliet Binoche, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, and David Strathairn –- none of whom has much of consequence to do. Talk about underemployment!
The script by Max Borenstein, based on a story by David Callaham, flirts with the theme of nature restoring balance and has more humongous radioactive creatures than just the marquee monster up its sleeve. They’re referred to as “MUTOs,” which stands for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Objects.
Relatively inexperienced British director Gareth Edwards (Monsters), with a background mostly in visual effects, starts his film out as if he and it are actually interested in the dramatic story unfolding and not just the upcoming, anticipated monster footage and chaotic carnage.
But after a promising start and relatively absorbing buildup, the franchise reverts to form and the urban destruction special effects once again become the tail that wags the reptile.
Which is a shame, because the early reels provide Cranston with the opportunity, Godzilla willing, to give an actual performance that gives his portion of the film an emotional power that the rest of the film lacks.
But when the point of view switches from Cranston’s character to that of the much less expressive Taylor-Johnson, we lose whatever emotional investment we’ve generated and become merely gawking spectators.
And when it gives up on the human story in the late reels, it turns into the kind of shallow monster spectacle that disenfranchises discerning viewers.
So we’ll radiate 2 stars out of 4 for Godzilla, a movie with a CGI star who’s half-whale and half-gorilla, traipsing around in another cheesy thrilla.
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