Written by Nick McCann
By the 1990’s, Godzilla had a 40 plus year history built up and American audiences had got a few different tastes of his growing legacy. It was about time though that a proper American production took him on with a big budget spectacle picture done by the best of our crop. Development took a hair longer than expected but 1998 saw the first fully American produced Godzilla picture. And it turned out to be silly and unworthy.
Roland Emmerich takes the directing wheel here. His take on Godzilla starts off with a fairly nice build up. Suspense brews in that old school monster movie sense as you see traces of the coming disaster. After the big creature reveal though, the film slowly declines in quality. Not only does Emmerich recycle many of his own tropes from past movies, but he shows a total disregard for the character himself. It’s a lighter tone without much gravity to what’s coming at you. It becomes what I’d call a hodge-podge movie. You can trace many major plot points back to other better films. Had it not worn the name, this could’ve functioned fine as it’s own story. But no. The name’s just a free pass and easy money.
Getting to Godzilla himself, it’s clear by now that this creature doesn’t resemble him in any fashion. This rendition of the beast lacks the menacing weight the actual Godzilla possessed. It’s too sleek, too fast, too hesitant to cause destruction. I will say it’s a good creature design on it’s own. Still, the designation makes it hard to separate from objectification. The film attempts to make you feel empathy for this creature. Which mixes the message quickly when the very citizens it’s terrorizing show sympathy for it, and there’s also the whole it’s breaking a city thing.
The human characters are even less interesting. What it comes down to is the performers, who are the strangest picks for a film such as this. A lot of them don’t look comfortable with the material and often they give awkward deliveries. Matthew Broderick looks too unlikely of a presence for a lead. You look at him and feel like he walked on the wrong set. Jean Reno on the other hand is great fun and is visibly relaxed. Things are instantly cooler whenever he is on screen. The written dialogue that these actors are asked to do sets them up terribly to begin with. Many of the jokes fail to land, and all the winking and nudging this movie does is eyeroll inducing.
What’s left is the action and it’s not all bad. There are some admittedly exciting set pieces throughout that are mostly done well, from Godzilla’s first attack, to a submarine pursuit in the Hudson River. The visual effects hold up fine too, even if the rain and darkness make the CGI look muddier than it is. However these sequences leave a lot to pick at, namely how it looks like the military does more damage to the city than the monster. Also the third act feels like a bad Jurassic Park movie at every turn. But for all the nagging, the action is well filmed and propelled further by David Arnold’s score.
Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla lacks the weight and respect the character deserves. It’s got cliched characters, silly action and derivative concepts. But in that lightweight blockbuster fashion, it’s a fun watch if you don’t give it much thought. I hate to admit it but I do have to credit this movie for putting the name in my head, like a lot of kids my age around the time of release. Now after becoming a seasoned fan of his various entries, it’s turned into bad movie comfort food. And I will never turn it down in that regard.
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