The last time we saw Godzilla, he was tearing up New York City, running after Matthew Broderick. Or had you blocked Roland Emmerich’s disastrous 1998 film from your mind? Well, the good news is that the 2014 re-boot is better than that. The bad news? That’s not saying much.

Director Gareth Edwards, whose 2010 debut Monsters earned rave reviews, finally got his hands on a big ol’ bag of cash to make the thirtieth-or-so Godzilla movie. If only the movie as a whole could have kept up with the wham-tastic monster mayhem parts.

We begin in 1999 Philippines, where scientists (Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins) have been called in to make sense of a gargantuan skeleton and what appears to be a couple of two-story-tall egg sacs. Meanwhile in Japan, scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) are kissing their young son goodbye before getting ready for another day of work at the local nuclear plant. There have been some strange goings-on, though, and before the morning is out the plant will lay in ruin, the body count will pile up, and no one will know exactly why.

Fast-forward fifteen years, and their now-grown son (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) gets a call from Japan. His eccentric (read “kooky”) dad has been arrested for returning to the now-quarantined zone where the power plant used to be. Dad is convinced that someone is covering something up, and that whatever destroyed the plant all those years ago is getting ready to happen again.

Before too long, we’re introduced to a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) that looks like a giant cockroach. (We don’t finally see Godzilla until almost an hour in.) Within moments, cities from the Far East to Las Vegas to Hawaii and being decimated by big, big things.

First things first—the monsters themselves are stunning. The digital effects are as brilliantly executed as anything to hit theaters in a long time, and they’re as night-and-day to the good ol’ days of claymation as Pixar is to the original Steamboat Willie shorts. It’s just too bad that the people parts of Godzilla aren’t nearly as effective or interesting as the big, fake monsters.

Johnson is as wooden in his performance as the original King Kong was back in 1933 (if not more so), and screenwriters Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham seemingly went out of their way to make every female (from Binoche to Hawkins to Elizabeth Olsen as Johnson’s wife) as ridiculously superfluous as possible.

As for that script, the melodrama is ramped up to, well, Godzillan proportions (there was a theater full of audible giggles when Watanabe first mentions our reptile hero’s name). Plot holes abound, and absurd coincidences will have you wishing that you could just sit and watch two hours of big beasts kicking the world’s ass, instead of having to wade through the muck of the human element.

3/5 stars