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The 1998 version of Godzilla with Matthew Broderick has excoriated by many since its release. Rita Kempley of The Washington Post sums the sentiment. The film “neither draws upon our fears nor revels in the original’s camp charms. The picture really isn’t about anything, while size vanquishes both substance and subtlety in the overhyped, half-cocked and humorless resurrection of dear old Godzilla Movies… Sorry Rita, I disagree.
The problem you have begins with dear old Godzilla and the camp charms. There was nothing dear, campy or thought provoking about the 1954 version of the high pitched lizard. (The same does not go for the uncut Japanese version, though) So this film takes the silly premise, refuses to take itself overly seriously and runs with it for a good old ride on the popcorn machine.
After Godzilla capsizes a Japanese fishing vessel, we’re quickly readjusted and get a sense of the lightheartedness upon our introduction to Nick Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick). Belting a chorus of out singing the rain between the oversized droplets, he happily tends to his subjects – radiation immersed earthworms who’ve grown 17% larger in the understory of Chernobyl.
Then abruptly and inexplicably unearthed from his safe little endeavor, Nick is airlifted to a French Polynesian island under the unapologetic direction of the American military who have little regard for his bewilderment or qualifications.
“I’m a biologist. I study radioactive samples,” he wines as they direct him to a 10×15 foot pit among the chaos of the situation.
“Here’s your radioactive sample. Study it,” the commanding officer doesn’t hide disdain.
“What sample,” Nick pleads.
You’re standing in them,” the general seethes. The camera pulling away, the comedic undertone is reinforced along with the footprint and you realize Godzilla Movies can make you laugh without being campy.
Welcome to New York
We are then introduced to the love story that admittedly borders on schlock. Audrey, the love of Nick’s youth chose the prospects of NYC journalism over him, but fortunately, the action and comedy minimize the fallout.
Harry Shearer and Hank Azaria lend a big assist in that regard as Audrey’s sleazy boss and go-getter stringer, respectively. NYC attitude provides comedy relief as well.
Desperate for a story beyond the rain that dominates the soundtrack, Shearer’s obliviousness to Godzilla wreaking havoc right outside his office plays perfectly as the self-centered New Yorker, which leaves his assistant enough room to offhandedly redirect his search for a headline. “It just walked by your window,” she deadpans New York’s straight to the point pessimism.
Insurance Agent to the Rescue
Finally, there’s Jean Reno who plays…an insurance agent? At least that’s his cover.
As a no nonsense French intelligence officer who’s on the case to discretely clean up the mess created by French nuclear fission testing in the 1950s, Reno anchors an omnipotent quality that reassures that Godzilla is on a short leash.
Meeting in Manhattan again after the initial investigation, Nick plays along. “Hey, you’re that insurance guy,” Broderick defers the cover.
The naiveté exhibited in the comment plays into an innocent wonder that Nick harbors, which seems to engender mutual respect between the two giants. Broderick’s disposable flash camera catching Godzilla’s eyes, the two come face to face – with the monster looking him over as to say, “I’m not quite ready to throw down with you.”
Godzilla’s gamesmanship and the inquisitiveness he faces ultimately dooms him without feeling like B-movies lore. “He’s not an enemy you’re pursuing, he’s an animal trying to survive,” Nick instructs the commander. “You just have to draw him out.”
The bait taken without a New York City Subway map, it doesn’t work out at first. Godzilla’s cold blood leaves NYC at the mercy of heat seeking missiles and some pretty substantial negative impacts. “That wasn’t a negative impact,” scolds the mayor. “That was the Chrysler building.”
Undeterred, Nick disagrees that the initial confrontation didn’t accomplish anything. “Well, we fed him,” he begins gesticulating that Godzilla is pregnant and reproduces asexually. “Where’s the fun in that?” Audrey puts the humor above the daunting prospects.
But the military deferring on the pregnancy theory, Nick, Audrey, Azaria and Reno find a nest ready to hatch inside Madison Square Garden. The task now to contact the military and destroy the building, the quartet is put on the run by the baby boys, but wonder and humor once again puts the lizards at the disadvantage.
Chased through the corridors and narrowly escaping into the elevator, Nick’s flight from the propagating fury is wittily encapsulated as the elevator opens in the face of two hungry dinosaurs. “Wrong floor,” Broderick wills the closing of the doors.
Of course, 200 lizards born pregnant would displace the human race, so we know their fate. That only leaves a final confrontation between the best both species have to offer. Possibly an over dramatization, but Godzilla’s not so pretentious that you can’t give this Godzilla movie and its pursuers their due.