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New version of ‘Godzilla’ is the same old thing

Published: Thursday, May 15, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
Caption
(AP)
This film image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows a scene from “Godzilla.”
Caption
(AP)
This film image shows Bryan Cranston in a scene from “Godzilla.”

Let’s see if we remember how this goes.

“With a purposeful grimace and a terrible scowl, he pulls the spitting high-tension wires down.”

And “Oh no, there goes Tokyo.” Well, not this time. It’s “Oh no, there goes [San] Francisco.”

“Godzilla” belches back to life in a new Warner Bros. film that harks back to the kid-friendlier versions of these Japanese “Kaiju” (big monster) movies. In an increasingly radioactive world menaced by radiation-eating beasties, the return of the almost cuddly “King of the Monsters” might be the least of our troubles.

The opening credits cleverly revisit the 1940s and ‘50s atomic testing that awakened Godzilla once. Gareth Edwards’ film then jumps to the late ‘90s, where mysterious goings on in mining operations in the Philippines and near nuclear plants in Japan hint that something bad is about to go down.

Bryan Cranston is an American engineer working with his wife (Juliette Binoche), when a tragic accident means their little boy, Ford, will grow up without a mom.

Years later, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson of “Kick-Ass”) is a Navy bomb disposal expert, and Dad’s still hanging around the ruins of that Japanese reactor, a wild-eyed loon determined to get to the bottom of a cover-up. Something is awakening. Call it a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). And call in the military.

Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) has been following developments all these years. He knows what’s up. He’s seen the Toho movies. He’s heard the Blue Oyster Cult song.

Visual effects master turned director Gareth Edwards impressed Hollywood with his low-budget version of this sort of story, “Monsters.” Given a huge budget and hours to tell the tale, he delivers a lumbering movie that’s as bloated as this new roly-poly version of the Big Guy, whom we only see in all his glory in the later acts.

Cranston blubbers with emotion – “Something KILLED my wife, and I have a RIGHT to know!” Taylor-Johnson doesn’t break a sweat as beasts try to keep him from making it home to his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and child in San Francisco. Watanabe runs through a panoply of “stricken” looks as he sees the menace, understands it and fails to convince the admiral (David Strathairn) in charge that the natural world needs “order,” and perhaps the giant lizard “will restore it.”

Sally Hawkins was wastefully cast to simply stand behind Watanabe as Dr. Serizawa makes another “What fresh hell is this?” face.

The effects are decent – warships tossed about like bathtub toys, trains trashed and torched, nuclear missiles munched. The movie’s never less than competent. But the fatigue of over-familiarity curses this franchise like few others. We’ve seen Japanese men in monster suits. We’ve seen digital kaiju, and gigantic robot-armored soldiers fighting them (“Pacific Rim”).

So in a tale this timeworn and a film this devoid of humor, with only a few moments of humanity, with tension frittered away by the tedious repetition of the fights, anybody who has ever seen “Godzilla” in any incarnation can be forgiven for asking the obvious:

“What else have you got?”

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