Someday, a Hollywood studio will produce a "Godzilla" remake that reminds us just how terrifying a good monster movie can be, while still establishing disturbing connections between science, nature, humanity and survival.
Gareth Edwards' banal and boisterous "Godzilla" isn't that movie.
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Other: A Warner Bros. release. Rated PG-13 for violence. 123 minutes
Oh, sure, the trailers and TV commercials make "Godzilla" look like a masterpiece of suspense, thrills and chills.
Those goose-pimply trailers inspire mystery and awe on a level commensurate with Edwards' 2010 low-budget "Monsters," a nerve-jangling jaunt through a forbidden zone of deadly creatures the main couple could actually feel more than see.
Given a chunky budget of $167 million, Edwards creates a creature feature with a bland band of humans bearing witness to giant reptiles participating in a numbing series of protracted professional wrestling matches:
In this corner, fresh from being awakened from his prehistoric nap by detonated nuclear weapons: Godzilla, king of the monsters!
In the other corner, fresh from being hatched in a giant pod attached to an ancient skeleton: MUTO, the Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism!
As silly as this sounds, Edwards' remake still isn't as dumbfoundingly idiotic as Roland Emmerick's version of "Godzilla."
In that 1998 epic (shot with lots of rain, presumably to camouflage chintzy special effects), the King of the Monsters has no trouble disappearing in the tunnels under Manhattan, despite being as tall as the Empire State Building.
In Edwards' remake, Godzilla looks ferociously sinister enough, then he (it?) becomes a scaly ninja, capable of moving quickly and quietly through major cities undetected until the plot requires him to be noticed.
The first hour of Edwards' "Godzilla" lovingly replicates those grade-B monster movies from the 1950s, complete with a government conspiracy, an obsessed mad scientist and a family torn apart by disaster.
In Tokyo (the setting of the monster's original Japanese 1954 production that introduced the fire-breathing beastie), Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) work at a nuclear power facility when disaster strikes.
Apparent earthquakes cause the reactors to implode, and young Ford Brody loses one of his parents.
Fifteen years pass. Ford has grown up to be "Kick-Ass" star Aaron Taylor-Johnson, a tough-as-nails U.S. Navy explosives disposal expert (conveniently qualified to neutralize a nuclear device in the final act).
He's also a dedicated family man, married to a weepy wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and dad of a little boy frequently put in jeopardy when the narrative begins to lag.
Ford thinks Dad was a nut job obsessed with some unknown entity that caused the reactor to blow years ago. Could the government be hiding something?
Max Borenstein's screenplay, based on David Callaham's story, recreates an old-fashioned creature feature but brings in nothing new. With monster cage fights demolishing San Francisco, Las Vegas and other locations, Edwards strives to immerse us into the action by utilizing lots of POV (point-of-view) shots.
Then, when all else fails to work well, he reverts to putting children in jeopardy to maximize our emotional investment in the story.
The biggest misstep in "Godzilla" is in the way the filmmakers attempt to spin the creature's actions as those of a knowing savior, an accidental hero as depicted in Japan's later "Godzilla" movies.
This works just about as well as finding out Bruce the Shark was only a misunderstood, well-meaning fish in "Jaws."