Did you know that Godzilla is 60 years old? That first frantic effort came out nine years after Hiroshima. It was an atomic-bomb cautionary tale — somber and tragic — told knowingly by a people still living under a mushroom cloud.
The version we saw in the States as children in 1956 was vastly re-edited to water down the nuclear sermon. Raymond Burr, who went on to play TV’s ‘Perry Mason” the following year, was spliced in to give American audiences a character with whom they could identify.
Since then, Godzilla has had more makeovers than Cher. He’s gone from pure malevolence to grudging benevolence, occasionally fighting off other irradiated monsters and, in so doing, saving mankind.
This newest iteration returns to Japan and to the atomic hangover Godzilla invokes. Instead of Raymond Burr, we are offered Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) and Juliette Binoche (“Chocolat”) playing husband-and-wife nuclear engineers in modern-day Japan. But they don’t stick around: she gets killed in the opening scene and he doesn’t last much longer. We are left with a largely unrecognizable cast, with the exception of Ken Watanabe (“Inception,” “Letters from Iwo Jima”), as anxious scientist Dr. Ishiro Serizawa. He lasts all the way to the end of the movie, which is more than we can say for our spousal unit who, early on, expressed disappointment.
“This is stupid,” she said. She repeated this evaluation at 15-minute intervals. Finally, she left.
Sadly, the people handling the screenplay and script must have left 30 minutes into the story, right after Juliette and Bryan. After an edgy opening credits treatment that promised conspiracy, connivance and government cover-ups, we are left with insipid acting, the confusing introduction of two radiation-eating monsters called “Mutos” and the CGI destruction of Hawaii, Oakland and San Francisco (long overdue).
Oddly, Godzilla is but a co-star in the movie bearing his name. The two Mutos (picture a preying mantis made of black Legos) lack Godzilla’s more nuanced personality, but get triple the screen time.
Odder still was dumping Cranston, who appeared to be giving it his histrionic all, first as a devoted husband, then as a crazed, paranoid.
In the end, Godzilla defeats the dreaded Mutos and, under the formula “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” earns the gratitude of the shaken survivors of the San Francisco Bay Area.
But it took a grueling two hours to get there. And when we are finally there we are left with a still-truculent Godzilla who “struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Shakespeare said that.
“‘Godzilla’ is stupid.”
That would be the spousal unit.