If the title were “Godzilla vs. the Mutos,” we’d know the film at once for what it is: The most expensive B-movie ever made, a sequel cheerfully and cheesily riffing on 60 years of thunder lizard mythology, a story packed with every cliché and coincidence for which it has room in two hours and four minutes.
As the title is simply “Godzilla,” and The Scaly One doesn’t lift his head for the first third, it seems to have hopes of becoming a science fiction classic. It’s not – it’s just a popcorn movie – but it’s loud, smashing fun, if you accept it as a high-tech piece of silliness.
How else can one take it, when bomb dismantler Ford Brody (expressionless Aaron Taylor-Johnson) happens to be at the center of the action wherever the destructive Mutos seem to be? He also happens to be the son of engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), the lone truth-teller who has spent 15 years trying to prove a nuclear plant meltdown in Japan was caused not by an earthquake but by some living force. (A lot of stuff “just happens” in this story.)
That force turns out to be a monstrous arachnid dubbed a Muto, with a head that might have been designed by the late H.R. Giger (“Alien”), multiple legs and internal organs that feed off radiation. (It snacks on a Russian submarine.) This Muto has come up out of the Earth to mate with a long-dormant Muto in North America, an even larger female. They plan to converge in San Francisco, which just happens to be the place where Ford’s wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and little son live.
The script doesn’t clearly explain why Big G rises from the sea to combat the Mutos, except for a passing reference that suggests another Godzilla died at their jaws. But rise he does, on our behalf or his, eventually unleashing a special weapon that could’ve ended the film half an hour earlier if he’d thought of it.
Like a lot of modern superhero movies, this one has tremendous sound editing and sound effects, especially when seen in IMAX. Director Gareth Edwards (“Monsters”) and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (“The Avengers”) stage spooky battles at night, where we see mostly shadows and segments of the stalking beasts.
Unlike most of its competition, however, “Godzilla” has no sense of humor: We laugh at it, not with it. What other response could one have to the Japanese scientist played by Ken Watanabe, who’s on hand to call the monster “Gojira” (its cooler name in the 1954 Japanese film) and make Zen utterances: “The arrogance of man is in thinking nature is in his control, and not the other way around.”
Max Borenstein fills his script with clunky dialogue. “I’ve been digging holes for 30 years,” says a scientist played by Sally Hawkins. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” Or, in a case of Foreshadowing with a capital F, Ford’s wife bids him goodbye after a visit: “You know, you’re only gonna be gone for a few days, right? It’s not the end of the world.”
Cranston delivers such a compelling performance that he mostly reveals the shortcomings of Johnson and Olsen. Watanabe, Hawkins and David Strathairn (as a U.S. admiral) bring prestige to the cast, if little else. But when did anyone go to a goofy “Godzilla” sequel in search of good acting?