By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
If you’re a grad student in film school or a parent paying the tuition for one, I have a suggestion for a thesis that’ll surely pave the road to career success and thus return Mom and Pop to empty nester status. It’s “A Godzilla for All Seasons.” It came to me as I watched Gareth Edwards’s “Godzilla,” the nth (actually, about the 30th) permutation of the legendary monster. One thing’s for sure: The big guy (or is it gal?) keeps on trucking.
Whether Godzilla is a metaphor or just the embodiment of our need for an occasional jolt of scariness, the big brute certainly doesn’t let any moss grow under his tootsies. Indeed, the terror, known for an adaptability born of its atomic birth, proves its strongest suit is the continual ability to reinvent itself for succeeding generations. As the old time carnival barkers were so fond of informing, “Step right up…it’s never old, it’s never new.”
This go-round, a CGI-infused travelogue that chronicles the title character’s reappearance and subsequent travail, takes us from Tokyo, to Las Vegas and then San Francisco. The fire-breathing lizard stays true to its enigmatic persona. In other words, we’re not sure of his motivation or ethos, whether he’s devil or angel…only that the beast certainly isn’t as innately evil as the heinous M.U.T.O.s (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) that have concurrently arrived to mate and feast on our planet’s radiation.
Ooh, they’re bad and surely a testament that, while beauty is in the eye of the beholder, conversely ugliness can depend on how severe a threat one is deemed. And these pterodactyl-like, slimily skeevy ogres sure are hideous. Luckily and true to recent form, the Sizable Slither is more concerned with decimating this repugnant competition for nuclear grub than chomping on skinny old us.
Besides, the bathetically hackneyed subplots perpetrated between the violent bursts of attacking M.U.T.O.s would surely bore him to death.
While not wishing to do the same to you, good form stipulates a synopsis. In quick order, it’s a generational tale that begins in Japan, circa 1990s. As a result of the harm that comes to his wife (Juliet Binoche) at the nuclear reactor plant where they worked, scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) develops a white whale relationship with the unexplained havoc. He insists it’s a cover up.
Fast forward and son Ford, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, is all grown up, married, a daddy in his own right and a naval explosives dismantler a la “Hurt Locker” (2008). Things are good. Gee, if only his dad could get over having his life torn asunder. Living as a hermit and surrounded by scads of newspaper clippings and wallpapered equations, his trespasses back in Japan require intermittent intercession from the deadpan bomb diffuser.
Now, at the risk of sounding cold, these people should all live and be well, but preferably in another movie…one I don’t review. They are really dull. OK, the kid (Carson Bolde) is cute. But enough already. We want Godzilla!
Alas, when he arrives, though still largely dependent on what you were expecting, it’s kind of fun. He brings with him a nostalgia quotient. Like crazy old Mr. Delansky next door who scared the bejesus out of you when you were little, he’s now come to represent a part of our past and, because he hasn’t killed us yet, earns an odd sort of sympathy. Hey, this survival of the fittest stuff isn’t his fault. And psst … he might be an ally.
Culturally, he has become the Big Kitsch, the pink transistor radio of movie monsters. Doubtlessly to please our sentimentality, he is constructed to look like the rubberized version of him that ruled your toy box, only a little bigger. Dialogue full of cheesy patter pays homage to the primordial, B movie heritage that spawned the franchise, a freak of commercial serendipity as whimsical as the fictitious beast’s origin. Though still no Barney, he’s not very scary.
Enjoying this childhood fear conquered, we bask in our courage, yet don’t completely discount the possibility of becoming collateral casualties when the infamous amphibian slaps his tail…incidentally the only time when that extra 3-D fee isn’t ill spent. But as V.P of Film Critics Local # 53, I have a bone to pick.
Were it not for the film criticizing conundrum the contemporary dragon represents, my 2 & ½ popcorn rating would suggest you wait until he’s available at Netflix or any of the other secondary options. But the sly Hollywood survivor conceitedly knows that for true fans and curiosity seekers, it’s the big screen or nothing. Hence, “Godzilla” is not only omnipotent, but also, as box office receipts attest, accursedly review-proof.
“Godzilla,” rated PG-13, is a Warner Bros. release directed by Gareth Edwards and stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe. Running time: 123 minutes