Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, the brains behind the successful films STARGATE and INDEPENDENCE DAY, turn their golden touch on Japanese monster movies in the eagerly-awaited American version of GODZILLA. Consummate showmen, they have created another monster hit, though their newest creation owes more to KING KONG than it does to its Oriental roots.
This time, Godzilla is the creation of nuclear testing by the French government in Polynesia. After attacking a Japanese ship and a small town in Panama, Godzilla heads for New York.
While investigating the Panama incident, the United States Army brings in nuclear biologist Nick Tatopoulos, played by Matthew Broderick. Nick figures out that the monster is a giant mutant created by nuclear radiation. After Godzilla attacks New York, he runs a test showing that the monster is pregnant and can reproduce asexually. Nick urges the Army to locate the monster’s nest before the city is overrun with a bunch of baby Godzillas, but the Army officers are skeptical. They fire Nick when his ex-girlfriend Audrey, played by Maria Pitillo, steals a top secret tape about the monster from Nick’s office to further her journalistic career.
Nick joins up with the French Secret Service, however, to locate the nest. The lair turns out to be located in Madison Square Garden. They learn that Godzilla has laid “way more” than the 12 eggs Nick predicted – more than 200! The rest of the movie entails Nick and the French Secret Service, joined by Audrey and her photojournalist buddy Victor “Animal” Palotti, running from the baby monsters and their angry parent.
GODZILLA lacks the depth and characterizations of Devlin and Emmerich’s earlier two hits, but it packs an immensely powerful punch in its action sequences. This is especially true after Godzilla’s first attack on the Big Apple. There are several incredible scenes of Godzilla chasing and being chased by military helicopters among cavernous New York skyscrapers. The scenes of Broderick and his buddies in the monster’s lair and outside of it are also exciting. The scenes inside the nest are reminiscent of the ones in JURASSIC PARK where two raptors attack the main characters in the park’s headquarters, but here they are much more clever and engaging than the raptors in that disappointing movie. In these scenes, the baby monsters resemble a bunch of angry hockey fans run amuck.
The only problem with the action scenes in GODZILLA is that most of them take place at night, often in the rain. This gives the movie a murky quality. That is fine if you want to cover up mistakes that the special effects people make, but many viewers may find it difficult to follow what is happening because of the murkiness. Too many of today’s action films in Hollywood take place at night or in the dark when it is hard to follow the amazing, crazy stunts and fight scenes. This isn’t true of comic genius Jackie Chan’s movies, where most of the action sequences are well-lit and easy to follow.
Despite this, Emmerich and Devlin show that they are a force to be reckoned with in the cinematic firmament. They understand the nature of popular filmmaking – give people a story to go along with their popcorn and soda. This is something that many critics themselves forget. Ironically, Devlin and Emmerich take their own potshots at such pompous critics: the mayor in GODZILLA is named Ebert, and his sidekick is named Gene (for Gene Siskel).
Regrettably, GODZILLA is filled with foul language. Although most of the profanities are mild, there are so many of them that the movie gets our highest rating for excessive foul language. The movie also lacks the prayers and patriotism of Emmerich and Devlin’s last movie, INDEPENDENCE DAY, which earned a MOVIEGUIDE Award for Ten Best 1996 Films for Mature Audiences. The film does, however, condemn lying and stealing to get ahead. In doing so, it explicitly decries the old adage, “Nice guys finish last.”
(B, H, LLL, VV, M) Mild moral worldview with humanist elements; three obscenities, 21 mild profanities, 6 strong profanities using the Name of God, & 6 vulgarities; intense action violence & scary suspense (Godzilla & his young eat a few people but there is no gore); no sex; no nudity; drinking; smoking; and, a female journalist is goaded into stealing to get a hot story.