'Godzilla': Nothing subtle, just smashing good fun

The Fresno BeeMay 13, 2014 

When Godzilla stomped his way through Tokyo in 1954, little attention was paid by director Ishiro Honda to developing the subtleties of the characters or making sure every nuance of the giant lizard's emerging mythology was handled correctly. The script probably read, "Godzilla smashes everything."

It's been 60 years and little has changed.

Gareth Edwards, director of the new "Godzilla," tries to deal with some character development and the franchise mythology, but in the end the film is 123 minutes of Godzilla smashing anything that gets in his way.

The plot is simple: two massive unknown creatures emerge from hibernation. If they aren't stopped, mankind will go the way of the Mauritian giant skink (look it up under extinct lizards). The only hope — as explained in a very vague way — is Godzilla.

This sets off a series of destructions that eventually ends on the streets of San Francisco. While the plot and emphasis on action hasn't changed in six decades, technology has moved light years ahead. Each action scene — from a tsunami that hits Hawaii to the monster mash in the city by the bay — is presented in a visually grand destructive manner.

Edwards incorporates the same special effects ploy that Guillermo del Toro used when making a similar film in "Pacific Rim." To save on the visual effects budget, del Toro staged a lot of the monster fights in the water and did not have to animate the bottom half of the creatures.

In the case of "Godzilla," Edwards stages a lot of the battles so that there are only glimpses of the creatures, such as having a giant tail swing overhead. There are some detailed fights, but about 75% of the battles are depicted in an abbreviated version. Even with that approach, this is a fun film if all you want is creature combat.

The human cast might as well have been left out. Bryan Cranston's crusty old scientist is dispatched too early, along with Juliette Binoche. Ken Watanabe's giant lizard expert seems to be in the movie to deliver the line that gets the biggest laugh. And the talented Sally Hawkins is reduced to being the purveyor of exposition.

All of them shine compared to what's supposed to be the movie's emotional core. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays Ford Brody, the young soldier at the forefront of the fight. Back home are his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son. The couple are together so little, the battling creatures have more chemistry.

Part of the problem is that Taylor-Johnson is one of the dullest heroes in film history. If he faded into the background anymore, the actor would have been listed in the credits under set decorations. He gets no help from Max Borenstein's screenplay that is a series of plot potholes between battles. Olsen might have been able to do more if she had been given more to do than just stare into space.

But "Godzilla" isn't about character and plot development. This latest offering has enough punch from the gigantic creature battles to make it enjoyable and send you screaming to the theater shouting "Godzilla!"

Movie review

"Godzilla," rated PG-13 for scenes of destruction, violence. Stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen. Directed by Gareth Edwards. Running time: 123 minutes. Grade: B-

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TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, rbentley@fresnobee.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at www.fresnobeehive.com.

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