I keep imagining Juliette Binoche holding a script in one hand and a cell phone in the other, asking someone on the other end, “And you’ll pay me how much for this? OK, I’m in.” Every great actor in this thing — Binoche, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen — inexplicably cast aside, the movie instead focuses on Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s bland Navy officer, who follows Godzilla himself from waypoint to waypoint, from a ruined nuclear plant in the shadow of Mount Fuji to a wrecked Honolulu airport to the heart of San Francisco. (Eventually, he and the big green guy himself exchange meaningful gazes; it’s pretty silly.)
Riddled with sci-fi action movie cliches, the screenplay may not have a single original idea, but the film is all about the kaiju-on-kaiju action. Director Gareth Edwards has a good eye — the opening images of the Philippines implicitly compare the bumpy island landscape to giant lizard spikes peeking up from the water, setting up the film’s notion that Godzilla is a manifestation of the natural world itself. His camerawork is naturalistic, angling for documentary-style shots that inspire more awe than the swooping and spinning virtual cameras that have gotten so popular. And he sets up a genuinely spooky spydiving sequence toward the end of the film, brave soldiers plummeting directly into harm’s way.
But a reprocessed Gojira is wheel-spinning almost by definition — no way can the Hollywood version have the same mournful resonance as the radioactive creature that leveled Tokyo just nine years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even if the smoky imagery is rife with the kind of 9/11 visuals that have become commonplace in American action movies over the last few years. Even as homage, it’s secondhand — the big green guy’s high-decibel farewell (at least until the inevitable sequel) made me flash back to Jurassic Park rather than Gojira. Will Edwards develop his own style? Let’s hope this film’s box-office returns give him the confidence he needs to start developing as an artist without looking over his shoulder.