In 2014, we had a different sort of Godzillasaurus. This one is camera-shy and you won't get to see him until well after the halfway mark. The big scaly creature is also seriously in search of a motivation. If you lived in Los Angeles and were Hollywood starstruck, you'd realize the seriousness of this problem.
The movie changes the premise of the original. Here Godzilla wasn't awakened by the American nuclear testing in the Bikini Islands, but the testing was actually anti-Godzilla measures made secretly by a government desperate to prevent panic.
The first stop is Japan at a nuclear reactor near Tokyo which is inexplicably run by an American Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) who sends to his wife and her team to their death when they can't escape in time and he must seal them off to prevent radiation from reaching the larger populace.
About 15 years later, Joe has become one of those crazy men spouting conspiracy theories and remains in Japan. His son has grown up and started a family of his own in San Francisco. He's a bomb expert and he's just come home for some family time when he has to jet over to Japan and bail his father out. His father convinces him to visit their old home, in the quarantined area. What they find is not Godzilla, but Godzilla's latest foe, a Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism (MUTO).
You know what's going to happen now. Big-time destruction and this time in Oahu and then in San Francisco and parts of Las Vegas.
What exactly is Godzilla's motive? We're told he's an alpha predator, but why does he hunt down the MUTOs and then not stop to dine? The message seems to be Godzilla will save us from the dangers of nuclear reactors which happen to attract prehistoric insects. I was thinking the MUTOs are like ancient cockroaches. We get to see a lot more of the MUTO cockroaches and less of our hero. We do have a Japanese scientist, Serizawa, played by Ken Watanabe with a bad haircut that rivals Cranstons. Serizawa intones the theme: "The arrogance of man is thinking that nature is in our control...not the other way around."
You might not feel the full weight of human suffering, but director Gareth Edwards is more interested in moving us forward and showing how helpless we are in the face of nature. Writers David Callaham, Max Borenstein and Frank Darabont dump the character development once we leave Japan, but we see the terror through the eyes of innocents--children looking for their parents and parents searching for their children.
There are problems with the CGI. The streets of Tokyo, Oahu and San Francisco have never looked so wide and the MUTOs don't make quite as much sense biologically speaking as Godzilla. The Godzilla stays true to the original: forward-looking eyes of a predator, long neck and upright stance. The forepaws have fewer toes/fingers and keeps the opposable thumb. All of these are relics of the man-in-a-creature suit era. What the movie lacks is sympathy for people outside of America.
For a more detailed review, see my blog essay.