Godzilla: Not Great but Delivers the Goods…..

godzilla_posterThe eagerly-awaited monster movie, “Godzilla,” is not great on any level (thematic, emotional, and stylistic) but it delivers the goods of some striking 3D special effects, which justify seeing it on the big screen, when it opens theatrically May 14.

A claim could be made that every generation needs its “Godzilla” movie and so this big-budget, special-effects drive version is suitable to our digital times, target audiences (largely young, male, and not particularly discriminating), and mass entertainment that’s neither provocative nor demanding (on any level).

I don’t wish to belittle the movie by claiming that it’s a summer popcorn event, because, for one thing, the cast is composed of half a dozen talented actors, even if they are not given much to say or to do after the first reel.

That said, this “Godzilla” is a vast improvement over Sony’s 1998 version, which was not just underwhelming but downright embarrassing–in every possible way–plot, characterization, live-action and effects.

As is well known, Warner has acquired the rights to the tale from Toho in 2010, and an impressive effort (and money to match in both production and marketing) has been invested in making a scary (but not too creepy) and upsetting (but not too disturbing) that will deliver the goods and surpass the global gross of the 1998 version, which amounted to $400 million.

As scripted by   Max Borenstein; story, David Callaham (based on the latter’s story), and directed by Gareth Edwards, this “Godzilla” is sort of middle of the way picture, lacking the overt political contexts and subliminal subtexts of the iconic 1954 Japanese picture, which, incidentally this year celebrates its 60th anniversary.

Trying to build up tension and to sustain suspense, the filmmakers may have taken too long a time to introduce the monster, about 50 minutes into the saga (if my watch is accurate), perhaps following the lead of Hitchcock’s 1963 masterpiece, “The Birds,” in showing the first birds attack (during a birthday party, nonetheless) well into the film’s second reel. But Hitchcock was smarter than this picture’s filmmakers by interspersing shots of the flying birds from the first moment on, as if telling the audience, hold on and you will be rewarded.

As noted earlier, all the main roles are played by respectable actors (Oscar winners and nominees), but not stars, probably to save money that ultimately went into the effects, which dominate and overwhelm the second and third reel.

Like most Hollywood blockbusters, the first hour or so of “Godzilla” is the most emotionally involving, due to the fact that detailed attention is given to social setting and characterization. Also like most Hollywood tent poles, and this one claims a budget of over $160 million, as the story evolves (or rather devolves) the visual and sound effects take over, leading to a disappointing third reel.

Whether intentional or not, this “Godzilla” bears resemblance to Spielberg’s superior horror “Jurassic Park” film series in both characters and plot points. I can only imagine what skillful directors like Spielberg, James Cameron, David Fincher, or Guillermo Del Toro would have done with this material. Why did Warner hire a second-tier helmer, whose resume is underwhelming, and who (almost predictably) ends up making a second-rate picture, which more of a committee product that a personal or visionary feature.

The first reel is rather verbose and defined by too much exposition. We learn of the existence of gigantic prehistoric creatures and how the government in its secret operations is trying to handle the potential crisis.

Those who saw the Japanese movie back in the 1950s, in the atmosphere of post-WWII and Cold War, interpreted the films as a cautionary tale, a serious warning against nuclear disaster after the tragic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki a decade earlier.

The scribes of this reboot borrow the basic Japanese idea, but they lack the skills to make it socially or politically relevant. Frankly, how many Americans (especially young ones, who would rush to see the picture on opening weekend) really care about the cover-up of nuclear tests conducted by America in the Pacific in the 1950s and during the Kennedy Administration? The conspiracy theory presented here, that the nuclear operations were not tests but actual fight to defeat a giant amphibious dinosaur, is not convincing, not even paranoids like Oliver Stone and his followers.

Also, the writers play it safe by suggesting that the cause of the problems is not Japanese, but the Philippines, in the form of a mining plant that provokes a giant creature called MUTO (“Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism”). This notion is too vague and vain for today’s savvy and knowledgeable viewers.