Godzilla joins the collection of characters and franchises being reinvented for yet another turn on the big screen. At 60 years old, Godzilla has turned out one sequel (27 in all) nearly every two years since his debut. In this latest version he’s given both a makeover and a pair of new monsters to battle.
The premise finds mankind unwittingly helping Godzilla’s mortal enemies when the Japanese government — in cahoots with a handful of scientists led by Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) — quarantines a large area surrounding a Japanese nuclear power plant following a mysterious meltdown 15 years earlier. The area ought to be contaminated by radioactive fallout, but the fact that it isn’t feeds the suspicions of former plant manger Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), who is determined to learn what event the Japanese government is covering up.
Following Joe’s latest arrest for trespassing, Joe’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a military explosives expert on leave in the U.S., is contacted by the American consulate in Japan with the news. Hoping to prove his father’s suspicions wrong, Joe agrees to sneak into the quarantined area to visit their confiscated family home. The act places father and son near the site of a gestating monstrous egg, the creature inside now ready to be born after 15 years. Once hatched, MUTO (for Massive Unidentifiable Terrestrial Organism) begins searching for a mate.
While humans, especially Dr. Serizawa, wax on about the importance of nature rebalancing itself, Godzilla too has sensed the MUTO’s presence, arriving to kill it. The great reptile battles the male and female MUTOs in San Francisco, wrecking the city’s buildings and infrastructure in the process.
Together the MUTO pair proves formidable. Their insatiable appetite for any radioactive substance inspires the U.S. government to place intercontinental ballistic missiles in the MUTOs’ paths, setting the bombs to detonate in the monsters’ bellies once they have left urban areas. As a precautionary measure, bomb expert Ford is brought in to disarm any uneaten explosives left lying around.
The plot, silly as a whoopee cushion, did little to deter lovers of creature features, a group I count myself among. The human drama, thinly drawn and overly emoted, never draws us in, assigning that task to the grimacing monsters. Filmed in 3D, virtually all the action is placed dead center, as 3D effects tend to flatten beyond the middle third of the screen. In any case, such effects are unnecessary because it is the gargantuan size of the creatures that impresses us.
The reptilian relic Godzilla is rendered in dull grey-greens and browns. He’s a mountain of a lizard, incapable of rapid movement and topped by a small-brained, peanut-sized head. The MUTOs fare somewhat better. Their long-legged, insect-like appearance recalls the alien walking machines from “War of the Worlds.” Hapless humans can only stand by as Godzilla attempts to kill or fend off the mating MUTOs. We are told he risks his life to kill them because Godzilla is “Earth’s ultimate alpha-predator.”
Since it is our radioactive products that serve as the monsters’ intended target, the film lacks a sense of urgency that would arise from the idea that our on-screen brethren may be his next victims. We are inconsequential as either friend or foe and are therefore virtually ignored by the outsized creatures in our midst. We needn’t cower at the thought of Godzilla casting his rage upon us. Should he succeed in vanquishing the MUTO, the lizard will return to the deep ocean where he will hibernate for millions of years — or until the next “Godzilla” sequel, its hour having come around again, slouches toward Hollywood to be reborn.