The old Godzilla movies made by Japan’s Toho studio between 1954 and 2004 were B-grade monster movies. They were cheesy and primitive, for the most part, but displayed the charm of inventive filmmakers who were trying to transcend the limitations of budget and technology by having a guy in a rubber lizard suit trample model cities to make the illusion work.
It’s an attitude that Gareth Edwards — director of the new Hollywood reboot of Godzilla — should understand. Edwards made the intriguing indie science fiction film “Monsters” in 2010 for a mere $800,000, doing the special-effects work on a laptop. His new “Godzilla” cost more than 200 times that amount, yet has little to show for its budget. Godzilla still looks like a guy in a rubber suit — perhaps unavoidable due to the original anthropomorphic design of the monster — and the film takes forever to get what the punters paid for: battling monsters.
This “Godzilla” is 10 percent monsters, 90 percent bad acting. The most monstrous thing might be seeing Bryan Cranston, in a role as poorly written as that of Raymond Burr’s in the 1954 U.S. release of the original “Godzilla.” Cranston plays a nuclear engineer investigating seismic activity near a Japanese nuclear reactor when a massive tremor hits, causing a meltdown. There’s also a tsunami and radioactive no-go zone likely modeled on the Tohoku catastrophe, and this casual use of 3/11 imagery may seem in poor taste to some.
Cranston’s scientist spends more than a decade trying to figure out what caused the mystery quake — no prizes for guessing — but it’s up to his military bomb-expert son (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who plays a walking, talking G.I. Joe doll) to save everybody when giant prehistoric creatures emerge and start destroying cities.
The problem with all those old Toho films (and why Hollywood needs to do remakes) is that it was never the U.S. military who saved the world! Made with the full cooperation of the U.S. Marine Corps and Navy, and released in Japan shortly after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has taken the incredibly unpopular move of subverting the constitution to allow the Japanese armed forces to engage in conflicts overseas — a move long pushed for by the U.S. — Edwards’ “Godzilla” presents the U.S. military as the only force capable of taking on the monster threat. There’s even a pandering scene where Johnson’s heroic G.I. saves a cute Japanese kid in Oahu, reuniting the kid with his grateful tourist parents. See the benefits of the security alliance?
OK, maybe I’m getting into conspiracy theory la-la land now, but when a film that was explicitly about the dangers of nuclear weapons — which was made by the only nation to be attacked by them — has its focus redirected to the very military who dropped the bomb on Japan, and even has them deploying nukes to try and defeat the monsters, well, we’ve slipped through the looking glass, Alice.