Cue the dramatic music.
The King of Monsters returns to stomp on the previous 90’s mistake with heavy drama, improved graphics and respect for the original material. In this somber reboot, the direction is a la Jurassic Park, where less is more and the focus on the human characters as opposed to the actual battling monsters.
And of course, therein lies the problem.
I understand what the intent was: Godzilla isn’t exactly exploding with personality. He’s a force of nature that rises from the sea, battles other monsters and stomps off in to the sunset -after wrecking entire cities, of course. It only makes sense to establish characters for the audience to connect to while the mayhem ensues. Godzilla hits an unfortunate snag with this method for a very simple reason: the characters are stale and boring.
Don’t get me wrong. Bryan Cranston delivers a gripping performance as a high-strung widower looking for answers to the force that caused his wife’s death. But once he makes his exit, the film lacks for characters that I could bother to be interested in.
The filmmakers want me to be interested in Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character: a young soldier who lost his mom in a nuclear plant meltdown as a boy, is saddled with a half-crazed father, and apparently is the perfect husband and father. Throw that wide-eyed, emotionally conflicted lad into a fray with giant monsters and no chance of survival, and the emotions are guaranteed to roil, right?
The story of the human family in turmoil never quite feels like anything except a plot foil, probably because the characters are never interesting enough to care about. (Idle query: is the military bankrolling action films these days? So many films end up with scenes that seem like an infomercial for the Armed Forces) The film also wastes some scientist characters played by Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins by giving them nothing to do except observe the chaos. Imagine if they’d been paired up with our Captain America along with perhaps a quirky character or two to accomplish some sort of task that would actually impact the plot. (This movie was dying for a Jeff Goldblum or a Samuel L. Jackson to add a decent amount of stammering genius or overly loud yelling to the mix.)
Fortunately, the film survives that major letdown by the sheer fact that Godzilla is back. I enjoyed the rather risky move of not giving the main character a lot of screen time, because it really made every scene containing Godzilla special, epic, and awesome. The climatic battle in San Francisco really made it all worth it. In fact, it made me hunger for more scenes, which is probably better than feeling the chaotic action fatigue experienced in movies like Transformers or the third act of Man of Steel.
Godzilla is already stomping all over the box office, which guarantees one thing: a sequel. Hopefully next time they give us characters that we can appreciate. If not, then I demand more giant lizard for my dollar.