Say this for the American reboots of the Japanese science-fiction monster movies, especially the ones from the 1960s: Originality counts for nothing; the actors in rubber monster suits and the miniature model cities they smashed have been replaced by cutting-edge digital special effects; and they run at epic lengths where the old movies clipped along at around 90 minutes.
All of this is apparent in Warner Bros.’ “Godzilla, King of the Monsters,” which is essentially a remake of a 1968 Toho Studios chestnut called “Destroy All Monsters” with elements of “Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster” (1964) and the recent “Pacific Rim” thrown in for good measure. The new movie is the latest entry in Warner’s MonsterVerse franchise and, against all odds, it offers a good amount of fun. The audience had a fine time and so did I, although the spectacle and no-brainer script pretty much kicked a game cast to the curb.
The movie isn’t bad at all as monsterfests go. The splendid use of the widescreen frame and especially the richly textured cinematography blended with the sweep and skill of the creature designs and backgrounds provide the visual wonders. The human race, represented here by Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga as estranged husband-and-wife scientists, Millie Bobby Brown, their teenage daughter, whose mental link with Godzilla is vital to the plot, Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins as scientists who monitor the activities of the monsters, called Titans and Charles Dance as some sort of paramilitary eco-terrorist. It’s a generally personable group as they wrestle with King Ghidorah, a triple-headed outer-space destroyer invulnerable to all earthly weapons and try to round up Japan’s favorite monsters to turn them against this planetary enemy.
Director Michael Dougherty is more tour guide than filmmaker as the movie hops from Antarctica to Mexico to Boston (no kidding) and all points in between so fast that the plot is almost impossible to follow. The monsters arrayed against King Ghidorah are a power trio of Godzilla, Rodan, a flying creature with wings fringed by volcanic fire, and Mothra, a gargantuan caterpillar that morphs into a gargantuan moth in a lovely scene where the cocoon, glittering with light, is partially ensconsed under a waterfall.
“Godzilla” works best when it doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel or namecheck the old movies. King Ghidorah is codenamed Monster Zero, a reference to the 1966 film of the same name, and when Watanabe abruptly declares, “I have a weapon, the Oxygen Destroyer, that can kill Godzilla,” the reference to the original 1954 “Godzilla, King of the Monsters” feels arbitrary.
The climactic confrontation between the Godzilla Gang and King Ghidorah is a battle royal with the army of special effects teams working overtime. It’s a roaring, stomping, screaming, fire-breathing sight, as hyperbolic as it is clever. If you stay through the end credits, you’ll get an idea of where this free-for-all is heading. And it’s heartwarming to see these sleek new monsters fight as dirty as their crude forbears did 50 years ago.