Everybody’s favorite metaphor for Atomic Age anxiety turned 60 this year, and Hollywood's idea of a great birthday gift was — you guessed it — a big-budget, star-studded reboot. The studio should have gone with a necktie. Even a bad one would've been better than this.
Sitting through Gareth Edwards' (Monsters) lumbering, muddled Godzilla is no party. We could spend all day listing its shortcomings, but how's this for starters: The guest of honor is an hour late.
This is the 28th feature to star the lizard king, so you might imagine they'd have this down to a science. You'd be wrong. The latest makes Roland Emmerich's maligned 1998 update look like Alien. Which is fitting, because the real stars are a pair of giant mantis mutants that look like they were inspired by an H.R. Giger doodle.
You didn't realize this is a monster movie in which the monsters with the most screen time are total unknowns? Speaking of surprises — Bryan Cranston turns in borderline-embarrassing work here, which isn't helped by a silly wig and sillier dialogue. The actor plays a scientist who works at a Tokyo nuclear facility and suspects the truth hasn't been told when the place is totaled and the tragedy is blamed on geological tremors.
That's 1999. Fast-forward to the present, and the scientist finds his paranoia to be well founded when he sneaks into the quarantined site with his son (a personality-free Aaron Taylor-Johnson). They set in motion a chain of events awakening a sleeping giant in the form of a MUTO, or Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism.
Two of the creatures end up being roused. One's male, the other female, and both are in really bad, if randy, moods. Movie mayhem ensues. Skyscrapers are reduced to rubble. People run down the street screaming. The military launches Operation Why Bother?
A lot of money was spent on this yawn-athon, and a lot of gifted writers worked on the script, among them, unbelievably, Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, "The Walking Dead" — which he created!). Beats me completely how a talent like that could produce characters, storylines and dialogue this generic.
Likewise squandered is a top-notch cast including the likes of David Strathairn, Juliette Binoche, Elizabeth Olsen and Ken Watanabe, none of whom is given anything remotely interesting to do. It's a sad day when an actor of Watanabe's stature is reduced to upchucking lines like "The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control and not the other way around" while gazing up at a green screen.
The film offers no explanation as to how the G-man is alerted to humankind's peril or why he considers it his problem, but eventually he does make his entrance and engages the MUTOs in a smackdown. It'll absolutely leave your jaw dropped — assuming you've never seen a Transformers film, Independence Day, Armageddon, 2012, War of the Worlds, Cloverfield, Pacific Rim or any of the dozens of other ear-splitting effect fests that have offered pixelated spectacles of mass destruction since the dawn of CGI.
If devastation porn is your cup of tea, this is the picture for you. That's all it has to offer. No characters who are developed enough to care about, no narrative coherence, no tweaks to the genre, not so much as a suggestion of humor, and zero metaphors. Just monster-on-monster, building-bashing action like you haven't seen since maybe last week.
Are the effects good? It goes without saying at this point and at this price that they are. But the movie's not. At a cost of $160 million, I'd venture to say Warner Bros. didn't get its money's worth. I can say with certainty you won't get yours.