‘Godzilla’: As pointless as ever

May 14, 2014

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Here’s a misleading metric: This new film of “Godzilla” is miles above Roland Emmerich’s turgid mess of a film from 1998, which starred an embarrassed-looking Matthew Broderick and a bemused Jean Reno.

Duh.

There are lots of movies that make Gareth Edwards’ new “Godzilla” look like a masterpiece. That, however, is not the same as saying that this movie is actually worth seeing or, more crucially, worth making in the first place.

And when I say the first place, I’m looking back at the 1956 original, as snicker-worthy an endeavor as ever graced a movie screen. The original “Godzilla” may have been the film that acquainted the mass audience of American moviegoers with the idea of badly dubbed foreign films, at least until Steve Reeves’ “Hercules” came along.

It was huge at the time – just as this “Godzilla” is going to (insert verb denoting destruction) the box office this weekend.

Again, not much of a metric, particularly in a year when both “Ride Along” and “Mr. Sherman and Peabody” have won the box-office weekend. Popularity and quality should never be confused with each other.

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But the subject at hand is “Godzilla,” which promises scenes of the aforementioned destruction, with monsters running amok in Japan, the Philippines, Las Vegas and San Francisco. It all looks fairly convincing – but why should anyone give a rat’s ass?

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine anyone who’s serious about film taking this movie seriously. So there you are.

Edwards is a British-born director whose last film, “Monsters,” managed to create a creepy, unsettling vibe by NOT showing its monsters, except glancingly. It was an interesting idea, shot for pennies, one that managed to be ingenious and tedious at the same time.

Which is about the best that can be said for “Godzilla,” a bloated extravaganza of special effects which, occasionally, turns the camera around to look at the humans. The actors, in turn, make a Sisyphean effort to seem relevant to the story. Much of that effort is devoted to not looking like they’re acting in front of a blank green screen.

The human stories here are so generic, so formulaic and predictable, that you assume actors as distinguished as Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins had to hold their noses while they read the scripts. That, and taking a long disinfectant shower after cashing their massive paychecks.

And the action? It’s on a par with “Man of Steel” and “Pacific Rim,” in terms of the scale and square mileage of urban landscape that’s flattened in the course of the film. But in terms of actual excitement? There isn’t any. In that respect, “Godzilla” suffers from the same lack of humanity that have made the numerous “Transformers” films all but unwatchable.

Just as it’s hard to get excited about giant computer-generated robots fighting with each other, the idea of a battle between giant computer-generated monsters does nothing to make my pulse race. I found more thrills during Guillermo del Toro’s “Pacific Rim,” because each of those giant robots was being piloted by a pair of tiny humans, so you had an actual character to root for, instead of a pickup truck that turns into an automaton.

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Over the years, critics and scholars have made an effort to attach metaphor or symbolism to “Godzilla,” from fears and regrets about atomic weapons to a statement about nature rebelling against human despoilment of the planet. But those overlays can’t disguise what this is now and has always been: a movie about giant lizards rampaging through our cities. Yet here, even as whole blocks of offices and apartment buildings crumble, there’s no sense of the humanity within. As convincing as it looks, it might just as well be cheesy miniatures being stomped by a guy in a Godzilla suit.

Critics have gushed over this movie already, particularly the fact that, while he shows another monster early on, Edwards doesn’t do the reveal of the title behemoth until an hour or so into the movie. But who cares, if “Godzilla” doesn’t actually scare you? Or thrill you. Or excite you in any way.

This is an expensive and mediocre movie which, for great stretches of time, has no dialogue that matters – or even dialogue that qualifies as a conversation. Because when Godzilla shows up in your town, there’s no point in talking about him. Running away is the obvious response.

So don’t mistake reviews that say “Hey, this isn’t so terrible” with critics actually attributing anything resembling quality to this massive pile of CG product.

“Godzilla” doesn’t suck. The fact that it exists, however, does.

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