I hadn't seen this since opening night in 1998, the summer we saw New York destroyed three times on screen (see also Deep Impact and Armageddon). Surprisingly, it held up after all these years... as one of the most disappointing failures in monster movie history.
The marketing campaign for this flick in New York was nuts, in particular I remember the life-sized signs, all black, that just said HE IS AS TALL AS THIS SIGN (or that one on 42nd street that was AS LONG). It was cool. I predicted at the time that, were this movie successful, we were set to enjoy a slew of copycats and sequels, meaning the big monster movie would enjoy a resurgence in the west. Obviously my optimism was misplaced, but my prediction came true in a half-assed way. The movie sucked and bombed, and the monsters stayed home until Cloverfield a decade later.
To save time, here's a list of suck things stuffed into one big sausage of failure: The cartoonish portrayal of New Yawkers. The way Matthew Broderick walks into a giant footprint without noticing. The way they show that old man going "Gojira...Gorjira" three times. "Mayor Ebert" and his aide Gene, the movie critics spoofed with no skill because they panned Independence Day (Ebert's brilliant bitch: I can't believe you lampooned me in your monster movie and missed the opportunity to have me eaten or trampled). The thing with Jean Reno always trying to find good coffee. The bumbling, approval-seeking sergeant played by the gay guy from Melrose Place, who acts like his dad gave him the keys to the giant military operation. The way they evacuate Manhattan in half an hour, apparently all to one house in Brooklyn. The way Matthew Broderick's character has to keep correcting the way people pronounce his name. The way they faked atomic breath by having Godzilla's roar happen to explode a car on two occasions. They way they go to all the trouble to pull Matthew Broderick out of Chernobyl and then treat him like some clown for no reason. Harry Shearer's character, the colonel character, the horny head scientist lady -- heck, pretty much every single character is awful, or has a stupid shtick, or at the very least has a stupid accent. But worst of all was...
Matthew Broderick's ex-girlfriend. Boy does she suck. She sucks like nobody ever sucked a suck. This chick is like a combination of Jar Jar Binks and every bad thing anyone has ever thought about Yoko Ono. Every attempt she makes to emote is a hateful and depressing experience. The idea that anyone would pine for her makes me squint uncomfortably. Let's move on.
I remembered the opening of this movie as actually having some promise, in fact that's the main reason I decided to 'thon it. It is, and I shudder to say this, the only scene in which the monster is terrorizing the general public. Nobody had yet done this kind of thing with modern special effects. Upon viewing it again, it's actually quite gutless.
The effects were substandard at the time (the standard being Jurassic Park five whole years earlier... tsk tsk, gentlemen) and aged even worse than I predicted.
The level of disaster is goofily downplayed, in a way I can't excuse just because this is a pre-9/11 movie. Later a TV is barely heard to say "dozens" of people were killed. Dozens? This movie had the same rating as Independence Day, which offed millions of people with nary a thought. Why go total wuss now?
But worst of all, the heart of the scene is missing because the filmmakers completely misuse the "don't show the monster" technique. Trying to emulate Jaws, I suppose, Godzilla is only shown as a pair of feet, a tail, and some shoulder spikes. It's a lost moment. This is a monster rampage, there's no murky water or deep woods or badly-lit cabin for our nemesis to hide in, and no need of it.
Of the monster's offspring I must say something, and that's to note that Cloverfield used a similar device, but used it much, much better: It's a good idea to have some additional, smaller critters running around because character engagement with a humongous monster is a limited affair. But like all the good ideas Godzilla glimpses distantly in the mist and then wanders away from, the baby Godzillas are awkward, dreary second cousins to Jurassic's raptors, their menace undercut by scenes of them falling down on basketballs and a generally spaced-out attitude when faced with an opportunity to eat a main character.
The G-babies sequence is also handicapped by its dumb place in the larger dumb story, that being just after big 'Zilla is "killed" in the Hudson River by some torpedoes. Jordan and I had a joke about that, which goes something like this:
"Hey, we're going to make a Godzilla movie."
"Hey that's great. What's the premise?"
"'Great big lizard, stomps around city, terrorizing the people.'"
"Sounds great! What are you going to do with it?"
"First, take away the people."
"Then, take away the lizard."
Within this movie's tedious muckity muck there can be found a few glints of non-failure. Godzilla's design is decent, (although not notable enough to warrant the nutso level of secrecy about it at the time). It's a good idea that he is effectively invulnerable because of his agility, as opposed to the standard issue "our weapons don't affect it!" business. When missles finally do connect, they do a realistic amount of damage. And despite the gripes above, the action scenes are somewhat engaging, perhaps worth watching if you wander past on on cable.
The scenes in between are bad in the bad way, and should be treated accordingly. If you get the urge to watch one, get some pornography and watch the non-sex scenes of wooden dialogue instead. You'll be better off.