Hollywood's first big attempt at taking on Toho's Godzilla franchise may have translated into a decent enough haul at the box-office but critics were much less enthusiastic and a sequel never saw the light of day. A reboot was finally put together a full 16 years later.
Following nuclear tests in French Polynesia, a Japanese fishing boat is attacked by an unknown creature the sole survivor identifies as "Gojira". A scientist, Nick Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick), is promptly brought in by the U.S. Army to look into the matter and lend his expertize. The army's initial plans to get rid of Godzilla backfire and, despite Nick's warnings that the giant reptile has probably laid dozens of eggs in the city, the scientist is eventually fired due to a leak. It becomes up to him, the French secret service, his ex-girlfriend Audrey (Maria Pitillo) and her cameraman friend Victor (Hank Azaria) to try and track down Godzilla's nest and find a way to destroy it.
To say that the marketing for this Godzilla movie was inspired would be an understatement as it focused primarily on the carnage and destruction, never really showing Godzilla himself. This was enough to get butts in seats but, watching the film itself, it becomes clear that this wasn't so much clever marketing as it was hiding the actual movie as much as possible. Roland Emmerich, on paper, seemed like the perfect choice for a movie like this and, indeed, he handles the action sequences well: whether it's Godzilla stamping on New York cabs or getting caught on the Brooklyn bridge, there's a movie in there that works but the movie that doesn't work is just too big and too strong to let it happen.
Every step of the way, this Godzilla film makes weird choices and it all adds up to a thoroughly messy experience. Godzilla himself is about as ugly and as far from the original design as it gets, the supporting cast is an odd mix of Simpsons veterans, Siskel & Ebert impersonators and French character actors, the second act is mostly just a sluggish, claustrophobic Jurassic Park ripoff and the plot is full of holes. The performances are rather patchy as well with Hank Azaria chewing on a not-so-convincing thick New York accent throughout and Maria Pitillo awkwardly attempting quirkiness as Audrey but, in all fairness, the lazy writing is really mostly to blame here.
Jean Reno and Matthew Broderick are endearing enough, however, and even though this feels like a generic big dinosaur movie that decided to slap on the title Godzilla at the last minute, it's hard to deny it can be entertaining. This is the kind of dated, trashy event movie you catch on TV late at night and find yourself not hating despite the many complaints bubbling around in your head as you sit through it. It's a disaster but it's an ambitious, expensive one and as such it delivers just enough for you to not spit out your popcorn and/or beer. It fails to impress on just about every level except the special effects which were quite good for the time but at least it never aimed to be anything more than just good fun and it almost gets there.
When it comes to Godzilla films or even mindless Hollywood blockbusters, you could do a lot better than this cartoonish, underwhelming and bloated mess. It's incredibly silly and misguided but as a late 90's effects-laden spectacle movie, with its cheesy comic relief and mindless action, it has its charm.