When, in 1954, Godzilla first stomped onto the scene (and into our hearts), it was as a harbinger of absolute destruction, a dinosaur-like creature born out of nuclear weapons testing that apparently had a violent aversion to Japanese architecture. The film became instantly iconic for both its cautionary message and rampant mayhem. Over the years — and many sequels later — Godzilla transformed into a kind of hero, a savior who protected Japan (while still harboring a resentment toward its buildings) from other, more fearsome creatures.
The reboot of Godzilla (), helmed by newcomer Gareth Edwards, plays off the monster’s heritage as a… well, god. Godzilla’s the “alpha-predator,” the tip-top of the food chain. He’s the world’s protector designate. The film is haunting and beautiful and strange, not at all what you expect from a typical summer blockbuster. It strives to be more than the sum of its relentlessly movie-homaging parts.
But therein lies the problem — Godzilla might be a little too art-house for its own good. Yes, there are profoundly stupid moments — particularly a convenient “needle in a haystack” moment in Honolulu — and the script frequently borders on the eye-rolling. “The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control and not the other way around,” says one character before proclaiming, like a WWE Ringmaster, “LET THEM FIGHT!” The warring parties are, of course, Godzilla and a Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism, or MUTO, in this case a ferocious, EMP-producing monstrosity that looks as though The Predator had mated with the Chrysler Building eagles.
Godzilla, happily, looks (and sounds) just like the old Godzilla — without the man in the rubber suit aspect. (The effects are, in fact, breathtaking. See it in 3D, as Edwards has a real gift for using 3D as a visual enhancer.) And the cast is relatively high-end: Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass), further reinforcing the movie’s art-house allure.
For a summer action blockbuster, Godzilla is oddly lacking in excitement for much of its two-hour running time. More than once, it leaves you impatient and bored, as Edwards revs up some good old-fashioned monster mashing and then abruptly cuts to the aftermath. It’s like having sex withheld. Yet the paucity of traditional destruction sequences turns out to be a shrewd move, as we’re more than ready for it by the time the magnificent climax rolls around. Call it Godzilla Interruptus.
Godzilla is rated PG-13 and opens Friday at area theaters.