Alongside King Kong, Godzilla is one of film’s most iconic ‘big monsters or kaiju. Since Toho Studios debuted the atomic monster in 1954, Godzilla (or Gojira) has appeared in 37 movies. Most of those movies have come courtesy of Toho. Not surprisingly, however, Hollywood has tried to cash in with an American-ized version for Western audiences. Most recently, Legendary Pictures have done a pretty decent job brining the ‘big guy’ to cineplexes as part of their MonsterVerse (Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Godzilla vs. Kong). But ‘disaster artist’ Roland Emmerich’s first attempt at a decidedly Hollywood Godzilla tanked. While the 1998 Godzilla made money, no one really liked it. A lot of time has passed since its release so has time repaired this American adaptation’s reputation. Or is it still just a bad movie?
When a trail of fishing vessels are mysteriously attacked across the South Pacific Ocean, the US military turn to a nuclear scientist, Dr. Niko Tatapoulos. All of the evidence points to a massive mutant monster – a new apex predator created by nuclear testing. And the monster has made its way to New York City. As time runs out, Tatapoulos and a military strike team search for a way to destroy the creature before it reproduces.
Godzilla Trades Allegorical Storytelling for Loud Noises and Heartless Spectacle
For better or (more accurately) worse, Godzilla is less a ‘Godzilla‘ movie and more of a Roland Emmerich flick. A lot of fans took issue with the character re-design of the iconic monster. But let’s face it, a man dressed in a rubber suit was never going to pass in a mega-budgeted Hollywood action movie. And the monster design is the least of the re-imagining’s problems. In fact, Godzilla looks pretty good amidst Emmerich’s trademark big screen chaos and destruction. Early monster teases work quite well at building up the anticipation for the eventual reveal. And Zilla’s arrival New York City was initially worth the wait, achieving the kind of spectacle one expected. It also helps that Emmerich paces out the action at a generous clip. Godzilla is rarely boring and its finale feels sufficiently epic.
But let’s face it, a man dressed in a rubber suit was never going to pass in a mega-budgeted Hollywood action movie.
Yet while it’s not boring Godzilla is often stupid and always very cheesy. The classic Toho movies are certainly cheesy B-movies. But there’s a difference between embracing B-movie roots and punching down to B-movie quality. Emmerich and co-writer Dean Devlin crafted a story that rarely makes sense – even for a monster movie – and often feels childish in tone. Most of the story bits and dialogue in between the mayhem is groanworthy. Of course, Emmerich knows a thing or two about destroying cities and monuments. And there’s plenty of destruction on the screen. None of it has much impact after a while. That is, Emmerich favors noise and hectic editing over anything emotional.
Godzilla Plagued By Miscasting and Poor Performances
Whomever was in charge of casting for this mega-budgeted Godzilla did … an interesting job? Because the first thing comes to mind when you think an action-packed Western taken on the big lizard is Matthew Broderick. And yes, several voice actors from The Simpsons are on hand. Though Broderick’s ‘Dr. Niko Tatopolous’ makes for a perfectly fine ‘everyman’ the actor’s still woefully miscast here. Devlin et al.’s screenplay does Broderick no favors. That is, the writing saddles the non-descript character with a wholly unnecessary romantic subplot with a college ex. And Maria Ptillo’s ‘Aubrey’ – the plucky journalist and said love interest – is an annoying character, which isn’t entirely the actress’ fault. But the Golden Raspberry Awards did gift Ptillo with a Worst Supporting Actress nod for her effort.
Though Broderick’s ‘Dr. Niko Tatopolous’ makes for a perfectly fine ‘everyman’ the actor’s still woefully miscast here.
Both Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer of Simpsons fame turn up in Godzilla roles. While they’re wonderful comedic talents, like Broderick, they’re miscast in a movie more focused mayhem and spectacle. In what’s a clear shot at film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, Michael Lerner and Lorry Goldman clown around as ‘Mayor Ebert’ and his assistant, ‘Gene’. The jokes comes off as mildly funny. Once. Most of the other supporting performances qualify as mildly annoying. Arguably, Jean Reno is the only actor who’s able to do anything with the middle-of-the-road humor. And it’s largely Reno’s charisma that lets him skate out of this one unscathed.
Godzilla Is a Long, Loud, and Pointless American Spin on the Classic Monster
So time doesn’t heal all wounds. Not even 20-plus years has erased the general stink that surrounds Hollywood’s first attempt to reboot Godzilla. On one hand, the westernized ‘Zilla boasts the big screen spectacle that’s defined Emmerich’s career alongside decent pacing and effects that largely hold up. But that’s where the positives come to a halt. Miscasting, clunky performances, and a cheesy tone don’t work and haven’t aged well. Even Godzilla’s most thrilling moments in the climax feel lifted from Jurassic Park rather than inspired by the Toho classic. Maybe nostalgia will find some fans amongst audiences who grew up in the 1990s. Younger kids may also enjoy the noise and spectacle. Everyone else can take a pass.