Chuck Dowling’s review published on Letterboxd:
So you just saw 2014's GODZILLA, and might be jonesing for more "big monster smash" action. Well don't even consider revisiting 1998's US version of Godzilla. Just don't. Put it out of your head.
I, like most of the common folk I represent, sometimes enjoy a good brainless action/sci-fi movie with lots of special effects and little character development. I was a big fan of Independence Day, the previous effort from Godzilla director Roland Emmerich and co-writer Dean Devlin. And although I've soured on that film a little over the years (especially since The Day After Tomorrow has trumped it to become my official guilty pleasure Emmerich film), it remains somewhat of a benchmark of what I like to see in the summer months.
So how could a no-brainer concept like remaking Godzilla have gone so wrong? Sadly it does, in many, many ways.
Now you can make almost any premise seem plausible by film's end, no matter how ridiculous it initially sounds, by creating a credible universe in which the story is taking place. Thousands of films are 100% absurd but are executed in such a way where they're believable enough within their own little universe. They play by the rules that are established along the way. In Godzilla, the most believable thing in the film is that a giant mutated lizard is attacking New York City. Nothing else makes a lick of sense.
Godzilla's main problem is its tone. The old Godzilla films were mostly camp, so the new film needed to do either one of two things: also be pure camp, or treat this matter very, very seriously. Amazingly, it manages to do neither. It sits right on the border between the two, unable to make up it's mind. It's too silly to be taken seriously, but too serious to be taken lightheartedly.
The casting is also a problem. Look, I love Matthew Broderick, and was looking forward to that tried and true "Broderick shtick" where he's placed in awkward situations and never seems to understand what exactly is going on so he just looks flustered a lot. There is some of that here, but Broderick plays his character way too broadly, with cartoony facial expressions and a strange amount of whimsy.
And the type of character Broderick is playing just isn't good enough to be the lead role in anything, let alone a Godzilla movie. He's a dorky scientist working for the government who is called into action to help solve the Godzilla crisis. He's similar to Jeff Goldblum's character in ID4, a strong supporting role but not heroic enough to be the out and out lead.
So then the hero role falls onto Jean Reno, as a member of the French secret service sent to destroy Godzilla and all evidence of its existence (since the French made the thing with their nuclear testing, as we're told). Trouble is, his character isn't meaty enough to be the lead either, and much of the time he's not doing much of anything except complaining about American coffee and cuisine. There's actually a running gag, in a Godzilla movie, about bad cups of coffee.
The most annoying part of the cast is two needless characters who serve no purpose except to take shots at well known film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. Michael Lerner plays "Mayor Ebert", the mayor of New York and yes, he made to look exactly like Roger Ebert. He's running for re-election, and so his campaign slogan is "Thumbs Up for Mayor Ebert". He's also a complete moron. To make matters worse though, he has an associate named "Gene" who is made out to be Mayor Ebert's little kiss-ass of sorts, telling him at times to just calm down and enjoy some candy. What a childish and petty move to write this nonsense into your screenplay. So two guys didn't like Independence Day... it made 11 hundred million billion dollars. Who cares what they thought? Is anyone even going to understand this "joke" 10 years from now?
Then there's the female lead played by Maria Pitillo, a shrill, shrieking, wimpy, arm-flapping waste of space. Her character was once Broderick's girlfriend, but ran out on him while they were in college, never speaking to him again. Now a wannabe reporter, she tracks him down upon seeing him on the news and steals his top secret video footage (conveniently labeled "Top Secret" in Sharpie on the tape label). Then the character just kind of hangs around until the final credits roll. Much time is devoted to her quest to become a news reporter and her tears because life's unfair. Umm, hello? Godzilla is destroying your fucking city and you're sitting around crying about your job?
This is pretty much where my outrage set in. This movie seems oblivious to the fact that Godzilla is destroying a major American city, and instead focuses on unfair workplaces and bad cups of coffee. At this point, New Yorkers reaction to having their city destroyed by Godzilla seems to range from "Meh..." to "Come on, I'm going to be late for work..." to "Wheee it's fun!" There's no drama here. There's nothing compelling. If the fictional people don't really care about surviving an attack by a giant mutant lizard, why should we? Later, after about 10 trillion dollars worth of damage has been done to New York, once the news (erroneously) reports that Godzilla is dead they IMMEDIATELY demand to be let back in to the city. Godzilla is merely an annoyance to these people, not a threat. Why bother redesigning Godzilla? Why bother spending millions of dollars on CGI effects to make Godzilla seem scarier than a man in a suit if no one in the movie itself is going to give a damn?
So who's in charge of the military operation to stop Godzilla? A mere colonel (Kevin Dunn). No five star generals anywhere in sight, just a colonel in charge of the most inept group of fighting men our country has ever assembled. In charge of the operation out in the field? A stammering, nervous idiot soldier (Doug Savant) who has no business being in charge of a military washroom, let alone a mission to destroy Godzilla.
And of course even though Broderick's character proves to be right about the creature again and again, eventually the military dismisses him from helping them defeat Godzilla for no other reason than because the script says to. There's no logical reason to do it. It was just necessary in order to get to the next point in the script.
So yes, Godzilla is seemingly killed off about 2/3rds of the way into the film, and it goes on to rip off Jurassic Park by having the characters have to deal with a bunch of baby Godzillas. So we've gone from city and millions in total peril to Madison Square Garden and four people in peril. Way to ramp up the danger and tension!
The "death" of Godzilla and discovery of dozens of Godzilla eggs is when the total indifference set in. At this point you realize that absolutely nothing else mattered in the film because all we're building to is the final reveal where one lone egg will be shown unhatched somewhere. Whether or not it hatches right before the credits roll is insignificant. It's coming, you know it's coming, and that sucks. The whole thing sucks.