Directed and Co-Written by Roland Emmerich
May 20, 1998 (United States)
A mutated bipedal iguana starts terrorizing Manhattan and must be stopped before it spawns more.
This is not a bad film, but it is not a great film and it is definitely not a high or even mid quality Godzilla film. It is more a movie about people dealing with a pest infestation than anything. Godzilla is not a character of any stripe but rather a confused animal that is looking for a place to nest. How it decides on Manhattan is never answered. Magic, I guess.
They made the decision of seriously redesigning Godzilla. Admittedly the guy in the rubber suit had to be changed but they went with something that had little resemblance to the source. And this is a sign of a problem this film had from the start: the people making it did not like the source. They did not like the design of the main character nor apparently the basic mythology.
Another issue with this film is it is just too jokey. I admit that a giant monster rampaging around any city is a silly premise, but it does not mean you have to be goofy bordering on campy. What was the point of the mayor character other than to try and generate a larf? It was too much comic relief and too many jokes. Even if there was some weird stuff in the original Godzilla films, they still took it seriously. And the original ORIGINAL Godzilla film was 100% serious. It was a warning against atomic weapons and runaway technology.
The cast of characters are not a group I could see actually going up against anything and winning. Most are bordering on incompetent or disinterested in the giant monster that threatens the city.
Col. Hicks (Kevin Dunn) in the film is perhaps among the more competent and serious characters but his subordinates are kind of incompetent. Sgt. O’Neal (Doug Savant), who is leading the forces on the ground, is a bumbling boob. How he rose in the ranks defies comical logic. And the military in general is the usual bullheaded military that wants to blow everything up. Considering they created some sophisticated military characters in Stargate I would think they could do better here.
The cast of actors is not bad. With the likes of Matthew Broderick as Dr. Nick Tatopoulos, Vicki Lewis as Dr. Elsie Chapman, Jean Reno as French secret agent Philippe Roaché, Hank Azaria as “Animal” Palotti, and the aforementioned Kevin Dunn as Col. Hicks we have a talented cast that is unfortunately stuck in a mediocre spectacle.
It looks like director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin were attempting to subvert the usual action-oriented film casting with who they hired. Matthew Broderick for example is the last person I would cast in an action film though he is probably the first person I would cast as a scientist.
The tepid love interest of Nick’s, struggling reporter Audrey (Maria Pitillo), was okay but she was fairly disposable. She did not harm the story, but much like the mayor she did not do anything to enhance it.
The special effects for the day were great. They are a little dated now (some of the shots look like bad game graphics) but given that it’s been over 20 years since the movie came out that they’ve stood up as well as they have is a credit to the effects artists.
This Godzilla film infamously avoided Godzilla’s signature fire breath until the last minute. You cannot skip that! That is something that must be shown in the film. They added it in but in such a way that it was obvious it was an afterthought.
The destruction. That is an important part of any giant monster movie. In a Godzilla film and New York gets the shit kicked out of it. Buildings are devastated major landmarks are destroyed most notable be the Flat Iron Building and Madison Square Garden.
Speaking of that venue, the moments in Madison Square Garden should have been more intense. At points it felt a little silly and some of the logic questionable. For example I never understood why flesh eating dinosaur like creatures would be ripping through popcorn.
Godzilla is not a bad film, but it is definitely far less than what it could have been. I give this an if you want.