There are two great moments in this Godzilla: One, when the scientist played by Ken Watanabe -- a wonderful actor who's as underused as Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, and everyone else here -- captivates a roomful of unimaginative military types with a heartfelt story about the Japanese origins of the movie's nuclear-radiated troublemaker, capping it off with the unbeatable kicker "We call him -- Gojira!" In the other, Godzilla uses his super-powered radioactive heat-ray breath to fry a something-or-other whose identity the spoiler police forbid us to reveal. You could make a Vine of this moment and charge people $13.50, plus $7.50 for 3D glasses, just to watch it over and over again for two hours. It's that awesome.
But it's just one tiny beat in an otherwise way-too-big movie that, weirdly, doesn't give us enough of the one big guy we showed up to see in the first place. Instead, we get massive, elaborate sets -- of destroyed cities, of caves, of nuclear-reactor innards -- that could be anywhere but look like nowhere. The action jumps from the Philippines circa 1999, where scientists investigate weird formations in a cave, to Japan around the same time, and then to the present day, where we might be in Hawaii, San Francisco, or anywhere in between at any given time -- it's hard to keep track, or to care.
Godzilla is one of those generic blockbusters that's undone by spectacle: Everything is so gargantuan that nothing has any weight. This Godzilla, no matter how cool his fire breath is, can't live up to the monster of our dreams. That one we still call Gojira.
In Ishiro Honda's 1954 extravaganza Godzilla, our hulking, scaly friend embodies the kind of existential rage most of us never dare to express. Bigger than life, sadder than the sea, he's a being created by man's mistakes: Nuclear radiation has made him what he is, an origin story with an...