"History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man." So goes one of the lines in Blue Oyster Cult's radio hit Godzilla (a song that I think would've worked out great in this film). Godzilla the movie illustrates this truism with great visual effects.
When a species of lizard is buffeted with radiation from nuclear blasts, it finds a way to survive (shades of Jurassic Park) by evolving into a new species, one that could replace man as the most dominant one in the planet. The sole asexual representative of this species decides to lay its eggs in Madison Square Garden (ah, New York, New York). It's up to worm expert Nick Tatapoulous (Matthew Broderick), French patriot Philippe Roache (Jean Reno), and TV reporters Victor "Animal" Palotti (Hank Azaria) and Audrey Timmons (Maria Pittilla), to save the day before Godzilla and its progeny succeed in overthrowing man.
The movie starts out nicely; showing only glimpses of the power of the monster. When we finally get to see its full height and breadth, it is shown to be cunning and intelligent. Unfortunately it is put out of action while the characters get their time in the lime light. When Godzilla comes back, it is a changed animal angered at seeing its entire brood destroyed.
Not too surprisingly, the effects are also reminiscent of Jurassic Park. Even though most of the action takes place in the middle of Manhattan, some of the chase scenes are very similar to a T-Rex breathing down on a racing vehicle or Velociraptors cavorting in a kitchen. But the one thing going for Godzilla is the size of the aberration, and as the catch phrase for this movie goes: size does matter.
The effects are great and represent the sole reason to see this movie. While they are not any significant advancement, they are more in-your-face and more convincing; in other words, bigger and better. Some of the movie (particularly scenes involving people) is done in a B-movie style, perhaps paying homage to the original Japanese Godzilla series. There is some decent humour, particularly from the characters played by Azaria and Reno. The self-effacing quality to the movie which rounds it off nicely falters only in the very end when the monster is beaten and the audience is expected to rejoice at the military might of the fighter plane squadron (shades of Star Wars) vs. a single lizard, while feeling sympathy for it at the same time.
Godzilla, who first showed up in 1954, was a metaphor for the American threat to the Japanese, particularly the US government testing nuclear weapons in the pacific (in the beginning of this movie it is Godzilla, not nuclear fallout that destroys a Japanese boat). It's ironic that the 1998 incarnation of Godzilla lays waste to New York City, perhaps a metaphor for the Japanese threat to US economic interests (although the part where the responsibility for its creation is placed upon the French is a bit incongruous).
A shameless opening is left for a sequel, à la Species. I can't wait to see what they come up with. In the meantime, I'm sure audiences won't be walking out of this film with their thumbs down. Godzilla is definitely worth plonking down seven dollars.