For some, it may be enough that director Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is far more faithful to the storied history of ‘The King of the Monsters’
than director Roland Emmerich’s 1998 dud of the same name.

That’s a low bar to set, however, and this reimagining of Japan’s cinematic sensation is a severely flawed film with no genuine emotion and
questionable direction.

One could commend this latest Godzilla for trying to invest in its human characters.  There is far less action here than one would suspect,
and Edwards holds back the titular character’s reveal for as long as possible.  Even after the mayhem begins, the film never goes into
action overload.

Unfortunately, those human characters are completely forgettable, and (despite what the trailers would have you believe) the film greatly
underutilizes its greatest assets in actors Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe.  Both bring a palpable sense of dramatic weight to the
disasters as they unfold, and they needed to be the focus here.

Instead we get anonymous performances from stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen as a family that, well, is a family.  If I had to
describe Taylor-Johnson’s Ford Brody it would be by saying that he plays Cranston’s son.  His arc is nonexistent and his actions in the film

Cranston’s limited screen time as Joe Brody elicits far more character than the lead actors can muster over the entire film.  Brody is a
scientist at a nuclear plant in Japan.  A seismic event leads to an explosion that kills his wife and leaves the area quarantined.

He doesn’t believe the government’s official story, however, and, utilizing that wonderful film cliché, covers his walls with maps, charts and
newspaper articles reporting the event and its aftermath.

He revisits the contaminated site, along with his reluctant son, just in time to witness a monster (Called a MUTO) emerging from the
epicenter.  Talk about good timing.

(On a side note, I read an interview where Edwards explained how years of effort went into designing the MUTO.  Really?  It took years to
give the Cloverfield monster a differently shaped head?)

Watanabe’s Dr. Ishiro Serizawa is a scientist tracking these monsters.  The Japanese Watanabe is a nice addition to the cast, recounting the
history of giant monsters and of ‘Gojira’ himself in a nice tribute to the franchise’s origins.  Like Cranston, he too is underutilized, many
times being relegated to ominously gazing into the distance as the generic military officers do generic military things and spout generic
military dialog.

When Godzilla emerges from the ocean to hunt the monsters that threaten humanity, Serizawa suggests Gojira, not the military, is the best
hope for our survival.

Edwards slyly obscures the king of the monsters, tantalizingly teasing him for a grand reveal well into the movie.  It’s a fun bit of direction
as the great monster’s spiked back emerges from the ocean, the waves pulling back from shore in reaction to his massive form drawing
closer.  And his trademark roar is one of the most iconic sounds in cinema history.

Edwards does a wonderful job setting up these larger-than-life showdowns, but his insistence on cutting away from the action just when it
begins becomes infuriating.  When we finally get to the monster battles we’ve been waiting for, the director constantly shies away, always
reverting back to the dull human characters.  This is a rare summer blockbuster that actually begs for more action.

I believe this is an intentional effort to not lose the human perspective during these massively-scaled set pieces, but this is still a Godzilla
movie.  Give us Godzilla, damn it!

Compared to Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, which bombarded us with incredible, adrenaline-pumping action, Godzilla seems quite tame.

Even the climactic sequences fail to leave much of an impression.  Once again, the setup is better than the payoff, with the military HALO-
jumping through a storm where Godzilla and the MUTO do battle.  Sure, it’s almost nonsensical, but the visuals are stunning, the best
example of the film’s combination of quality visual effects and art direction.

The movie also features some fantastic sound design and an energetic, refreshingly extroverted orchestral score from composer
Alexandre Desplat.

Godzilla is well-produced and certainly has its moments.  The film also gets a great, nostalgic sendoff in its final moments, but I can’t look
past the fatal flaws that diminish the entire affair.

The human characters are poorly realized and there isn’t enough action to work as a pure spectacle.

It may be a decent tribute to the king of the monsters, but as a film on its own, Godzilla is merely king of the mediocre movies.

* *
(out of four)
Directed by: Gareth Edwards

Written by: Max Borenstein

Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe,
Elizabeth Olsen, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston

Music by: Alexandre Desplat

Cinematography by: Seamus McGarvey

Released: May 16, 2014; 123 Minutes