The good: the clever set-up of the origins of the beast incorporated into the opening credits; Bryan Cranston, as the obsessed Area 51 type who devotes his life to revealing those origins and the threat; the avoidance of the evil military-industrial tropes that often infect disaster movies; the destructions of cities other than NYC and LA; an ominous, moody score; and the monster battles, which are realistic, haunting and classic instead of computer-dizzying, antiseptic and deadening. And at just over 2 hours, it is the perfect length.
The bad: the script is banal. Anything the scientists (a barely intelligible Ken Watanabe and an absolutely pointless Sally Hawkins) contribute is mush, and when they object to the military’s plan to lure other monsters from the Godzilla family with nuclear weapons (which the eat like Chicklets), Hawkins merely shakes her head, like, you know, come on . . . that’s soooooo crazy, and Watanabe produces the pocket watch his father carried . . . in Hiroshima. Heavy.
Military commander David Staitharn is merely low grade concerned throughout, with an almost “Well, thank God this ain’t no 9-11” air about him. Aaron Taylor Johnson (Kick Ass), in a role made for Channing Tatum, is as evocative as a hot dog bun sopped in tap water (The Atlantic’s Christopher Orr said it better: “As for Taylor-Johnson’s performance as Ford, the movie’s central human protagonist, it was so dutifully generic that I forgot it even as I was watching it. I have no lasting impression of him whatsoever”). There is also a child actor who is child actory, better utilized to sell Underoos than terror at the loss of his mother and/or father. Finally, this is Godzilla. I don’t need Seth Rogen toking on a bong and yukking it up, but this film has almost zero sense of humor, depicting a world that perhaps deserves a good stomping.