The story, for what it's worth, is true to the 1954 Japanese original: nuclear testing creates a mutant, 200-foot high lizard which rampages on a city - then, Tokyo; here, New York. Broderick is the scientist (a nuclear whizz kid dragged away from Chernobyl), Reno the mysterious Frenchman (secret service) and Pitillo the have-a-go journalist (a la Tea Leoni in Deep Impact). As for the rest of the human interest, they're mostly incompetents (Michael Lerner's mayor; Harry Shearer's vain anchorman)
Big. Expensive. Over-hyped. It was the event picture to out-event all previous event pictures. Right from that first trailer, Godzilla was big news. Its reputation preceded it like a German holidaymaker putting his towel on a deckchair a year in advance. In the 1970s TV ad for Chewitts, Godzilla ate everything in his path. This time out, that included his own advance publicity.
To the credit of director Emmerich - who co-writes with producer Dean Devlin - the carried over build-up within the film is expertly handled: radars blip; ships sink; an attack survivor mouths the word "Gojira" (respectfully enough, Godzilla's original Japanese name, misheard then as here); Broderick stands in a footprint, and a fisherman on a jetty says "I think I gotta bite". As with Emmerich and Devlin's Independence Day, the sense of foreboding is enormous, like the first rumblings of a really bad stomach upset. Although no monster movie will ever top Jaws for its cocktail of tension and tease, Godzilla's marketing hype mixes with the mounting onscreen malarkey, and - unlike Manhattan's inhabitants - we're ready for our first sighting.
Brilliantly, it's feet-first, then there's a shapely bit of leg, climaxing with a breathtaking pan up through the lens of news cameraman Hank Azaria. From there on in, it's the full monster - and you've got to hand it to those CGI Johnnies. Godzilla is dark (the whole film takes place at night), loud, malevolent and, most importantly, agile. He even swims like the creatures in Alien Resurrection.
So far, so jaw-dropping. But like Independence Day after the Capitol building, it can only go downhill from here. And 200 feet is a long way. Arguably Godzilla's money shot (a gaping hole through the old Pan-Am building) is also its turning point, after which the narrative focuses on Godzilla's eggs, which Broderick and co. discover hatching in Madison Square Garden, soon over-run with Godzookis. This glaring attempt to replicate Spielberg's velociraptors is let down - incredibly enough - by design and technology. These beasts lack elegance and precision, and the resulting siege is simply unengaging and samey, even resorting to misjudged slapstick.
Mercifully, there follows a proper, terrifying climax, in which the tragic spirit of King Kong is finally evoked, and any warm-blooded viewer will already be siding with the reptile (victim) over the mammals (idiots).
Casting aside the forgettable ragbag of a cast, tiptoeing round the leaden script, and avoiding the story's many pot-holes (how come he only breathes fire twice?), Godzilla does provide plenty to look at. But that, for fear of sounding ungrateful, is all.