There isn’t any nice way to say this, so I figured I might as well just come out and get it over with: Godzilla is terrible. Not worse than the 1998 version, mind you, but not at all worth watching for anyone who isn’t one of the biggest fans of the titular giant monster. If you aren’t, you’ll find better spectacle or disaster movies elsewhere. Some of the direct-to-DVD Asylum movies are going to be more fun than watching this, and some of them feature more monster-fighting-monster warfare, too.
After a dumping of back story involving a scientist (Bryan Cranston) losing his wife after not-earthquakes destroy the power plant at which he worked, we fast forward to present day when his son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is in the Navy and is married to Elle (Elizabeth Olsen). They have a son. Cranston’s character is still trying to get to the bottom of what killed his wife, and is getting the same sort of readings he got 15 years earlier. And then, boom, giant monster! A MUTO, which is short for “Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism,” has been kept hidden by a secret organization all this time, and now it’s hatched and is going to destroy the world.
Oh, right, and another, much larger, one appears shortly after, and the two head to San Francisco in order to mate. Why San Francisco? Because that’s where Ford and his wife live. The only reason that Ford and his wife matter at all is because Ford’s father kind of, sort of, knew that random earthquakes didn’t happen fifteen years earlier.
Are you wanting to know about Godzilla? Well, he shows up to fight with the two MUTOs. Why? A doctor (Ken Watanabe) explains that Godzilla exists to ensure that balance in the world is maintained. Watanabe is joined by Sally Hawkins, although they exist solely to deliver exposition. Actually, most of the characters exist to deliver exposition or to create “drama,” even though most of them are ultimately irrelevant and they don’t even help sell how scary and/or impressive the giant monsters are. They distract from the main attraction; they’re exactly like the human characters in the Transformers series.
Actually, Godzilla is worse than most of the Transformers films. The reason for this? At least when you’re getting Transformer scenes in Transformers, you get to see them do Transformer things. In this film, all you get to see are the monsters stumbling around into buildings and occasionally fighting one another. We cut away from most of the fight scenes, though, so that we can focus on meaningless humans doing nothing of consequence.
The human characters don’t do anything for the film, save for trying to explain it to the audience. They’re robots incapable of having a personality or genuine emotion. The idea is that we’re supposed to care about their plight, but we’re given no reason to do so. And since we don’t even get to see much of the titular monster or his foes, either. We spend most of the time traveling, slowly, to San Francisco, so that the final showdown can occur.
I ask, then, what exactly is there to see? The large-scale destruction is nothing we haven’t seen before, there isn’t much to the fight scenes, the few times it wants to thrill us comes across as artificial — random smoke appears to “hide” a 350-foot creature just so it can appear at the most opportune moment — and the special effects aren’t even that good. There isn’t a moment in this film when the monsters don’t look like CGI constructions. You can’t even get engaged in the spectacle. A man in a suit in 1954 looked less fake than this.
The film is uneven. It’s serious for the vast majority of its running time, but then out of nowhere it goes for an awkward laugh. It’s very awkward and takes you further out of the experience. It also struggles to balance its human drama — I call it that even though it fails at every moment it has humans in the picture — with its action. Maybe that wouldn’t be so much of a problem if any of the action or human scenes were good, but that’s not the case. It’s all boring. It’s all uninteresting. It’s all terrible.
Even normally good actors are awful in Godzilla. Aaron Taylor-Johnson beefs up for his role, but he is completely disengaged from the material. Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins do little but look mildly concerned at the film’s events and try to explain them. Elizabeth Olsen does nothing. Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche are barely in the film. David Strathairn is another victim of being given a tiny and insignificant role. The characters are atrocious to begin with, but the actors do nothing to help.
Godzilla is a really bad movie. It doesn’t work on any level whatsoever and is incredibly boring from start to finish. Its titular monster doesn’t get to do anything of interest, its human characters are given far more focus than they should — and are poorly characterized and do not deserve that amount of time — and even the spectacle of seeing the giant monsters on-screen doesn’t work thanks to lackluster special effects and a deliberate decision to not concentrate on them. Godzilla is the Transformers of monster movies.