How do you hide a 200-foot, city-stomping, radiation-breathing monster like Godzilla?
More to the point, why would you want to?
Sure, there's something to be said for teasing an audience, like Steven Spielberg with his peekaboo shark in Jaws, ratcheting up anticipation of what's eventually to come. But at some juncture — much earlier than director Gareth Edwards intends — Godzilla needs to stop being an extra in his own movie.
We don't get our first good look at the big fella until nearly an hour into Edwards' misshapen take on the Toho studio legend. Godzilla doesn't have much to do until the final 20 minutes or so, in a chomp-romping creature rumble nearly worth the price of admission, if you aren't snookered into paying surcharges for 3-D and IMAX used to scarce effect.
In between, we're again shown that genuinely fine actors have no business being in a Godzilla movie, as if 1998's bloated reboot wasn't convincing. All they do is gum up the works with emotional baggage, look stricken with grief, greed or guilt, and the unluckiest survive to recite dire warnings and exposition. Oscar winner Juliette Binoche gets off easiest: Her character is dead soon after the opening credits. When another famous actor in Godzilla dies early — no spoiler here — the body bag gets zipped tight as no-doubt punctuation. Probably contractual on both counts.
The parts of Godzilla that matter to moviegoers, that Edwards and screenwriter Max Borenstein set aside when possible, are the lizard king and his foes, a pair of gigantic beetles or termites or something called Mutos, an acronym for "massive unidentified terrestrial organisms." They've been entombed for centuries, feeding off radiation from so-called nuclear tests in the 1950s that were actually attempts to kill Godzilla. Now they are communicating, planning to hook up in San Francisco to make baby Mutos. Godzilla tapped into their plans and as an alpha predator doesn't want competition.
The monsters actually collide twice before their final San Francisco showdown, but the audience doesn't get to enjoy the ruckus. The first is in Honolulu, when we finally see Godzilla emerge from the ocean, the camera panning from his size 450 feet to that scaly face. He spies his adversary, lets out a war roar and then ... Edwards cuts to somewhere half a world away, barely glimpsing the action on cable news channels. Later, in some other place where Borenstein hopscotched the plot, Edwards literally slams doors in our faces at a clashing moment, preventing us from seeing the monster mayhem this movie should be about.
Godzilla doesn't even use his radioactive breath until late in the action. Then you wonder why he should, since we've been told for two hours that Mutos thrive on radioactivity, so logically Godzilla is breathing life into his enemies. This should lead to one of his star-defining "personality moments," realizing the mistake, shaking his head in dismay before stomping to a new battle strategy. That would be more fun than anyone connected with this movie intends.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.