Critic’s Corner: ‘Godzilla’

Once upon a time, Godzilla was the embodiment of the nuclear age of terror. While the world’s concerns have largely shifted toward other man-made issues, Godzilla is still raging to “restore balance” to a world unhinged by hubris.

Yet, Godzilla’s allegorical value is diminished in his latest on-screen appearance. While better than the 1988 Roland Emmerich version, Gareth Edwards’ “Godzilla” is certainly nothing more than another run-of-the-mill action flick with large monsters and the U.S. military. Indeed, it is hard to distinguish the destruction of San Francisco from the ravages of major metropolises in other films.

While Godzilla takes his time making an appearance, the film wastes no time in kicking off the action. In 1999, we find Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his parents (Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche) living in Japan, with Ford’s parents working at a nuclear power plant. Unusual “seismic activity” causes the destruction of the plant and the death of Ford’s mother. Fifteen years after the incident, Ford has returned home to San Francisco from a tour of duty, and his dad is a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist still living in Japan. Ford’s father is obsessed with uncovering the truth about the cause of his wife’s death, convinced it wasn’t caused by a natural disaster.

“Godzilla” carries listlessly on for about half an hour before the monster makes his first appearance. What happens next is hardly surprising: many anonymous citizens of Japan, Honolulu and San Francisco die, while just about everyone important survives close call after close call.

Despite the cast’s obvious talent, “Godzilla” does not provide its human characters much opportunity for growth, who wind up as the most unexciting part of the movie, solely staring fixedly at Godzilla or running away from him.

The meat of the movie is in the story of the monsters. Godzilla and his nuclear powered enemies (a pair of insect-like Mosura) battle in overcrowded metropolises. The fights are epic, many buildings are leveled, and the Golden Gate Bridge is destroyed onscreen for the billionth time.

Another notable feature is the movie’s attention to sound. Godzilla’s roar is hair-raising, and the rumbling, clicking, growling Mosura are some of the cooler sounding monsters in recent memory.

Edwards’ directorial skills shine brightest during scenes of intense suspense. He proves to be a master of manipulating silence and shadow to thrill the audience rather than fixate on the hugeness of his film’s subjects. Edwards did an excellent job of dialing back the CGI where it wasn’t needed by using veils of fog and darkness to create moments of penetrating anticipation.

Still, because of its lack of a compelling human element, “Godzilla” isn’t high quality. The script, written by Max Borenstein, was mediocre, offering little variation from every other pseudo-science-fiction film of recent memory.

With evolving global fears and a saturated movie market, it’s hard to make the story of a huge dinosaur who protects the world from nuclear annihilation compelling.

While not a total bust, “Godzilla” lacked feeling and thus failed to be more than another digitally crafted slug-fest.