2014 marks the 60th anniversary of Ishirô Hondo’s original Gojira, the Japanese monster-movie classic which spawned 27 sequels, countless imitators and knock-offs, and a still-loathed 1998 American remake directed by Independence Day‘s Roland Emmerich. The latest Hollywood rendering of everyone’s favorite giant death-lizard, Godzilla opens May 16th and is directed by Gareth Edwards, who makes a wholesale jump from the acclaimed low-budget indie Monsters to a big-budget reboot with an impressive ensemble cast.

Godzilla is one of the titles we’ve been looking forward to for some time, with a series of strong trailers and preview clips gradually revealing more and more of the titular beast and the additional “MUTOS” that menace our human cast, which includes Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Ken Watanabe (Inception), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass 2) and Elizabeth Olsen (Oldboy).

Some early audience reactions suggested that the film takes its time in revealing the big attraction, but were overall mostly positive. We now have an early batch of critics’ reviews, and the overall consensus is decidedly mixed.

The following spoiler-free excerpt perhaps sums up the majority of the criticisms – slam-bang action and destruction, with the human drama falling short (click the links for the full reviews):

Film.com

The best thing about this new ‘Godzilla’ is that it spares no expense or effort to deliver big, burly IMAX-ified action. Godzilla and diverse other radioactive giant creatures feud, flail at and fight each other and lay waste to huge cities as part of their combat here, and it’s all amazingly shot. The worst thing about this new ‘Godzilla’ is how that’s the best thing about it.

To be fair, no one should walk into a movie called Godzilla expecting a Downton Abbey-level chamber drama, but several reviews emphasize how the film struggles to balance the human characters with the destruction on display.

For instance:

Variety

Edwards seems to have miscalculated our investment in his cast […] simultaneously underestimating how satisfying some good old-fashioned monster-on-MUTO action can be.

The Wrap

Director Gareth Edwards (Monsters) gets the money shots right, but neither he nor screenwriter Max Borenstein (working from a story by David Callaham) make the human characters interesting enough to get us through two mostly Godzilla-free acts.

So far, only one early Godzilla review is an outright pan of the movie, and the critic finds nothing redeeming about the experience:

Time

We have an iconic monster, but what’s he to do? And: How can we get audiences to care about the humans fleeing from him? The final film doesn’t answer those questions, doesn’t fill the two-hour running time. It’s a concept lacking a magnetic story, a package without a product.

On the other end of the spectrum, several other reviews praise Edwards for lifting Godzilla past that terrible Emmerich remake and delivering on the level of scale and spectacle the monster-movie crowd is expecting, with even some subtext thrown in:

Hitfix

For better or for worse, depending on how you like the end result, Edwards has made a film that stands apart from how pretty much anyone else would have handled this, and I like that he remembered how important “awe” is to something that hopes to be “awesome.”

The Telegraph

‘Godzilla’ 2014 embodies a roughly equivalent present-day fear: that the planet, exhausted by its ill-treatment at humankind’s hands, is about to start wiping the slate clean. Tsunamis, earthquakes, rising tides, nuclear meltdowns: these are the very recognizable threats posed by this new monster. The result is a summer blockbuster that’s not just thrilling, but that orchestrates its thrills with such rare diligence, you want to yelp with glee.

Cinema Blend

‘Godzilla’ is everything you want out of a summer movie. It’s got a world and story so big that it demands to be seen on the biggest screen.

Still, even when an overall positive review notes the technical mastery on display, the attempt by screenwriter Max Borenstein (with a story credit to Dave Callaham and additional work from David S. Goyer and Frank Darabont) to connect the apocalyptic destruction on display with the human characters on the front line was unsatisfying:

THR

Superbly made but burdened by some dull human characters enacted by an interesting international cast who can’t do much with them, this new ‘Godzilla’ is smart, self-aware, eye-popping and arguably in need of a double shot of cheeky wit.

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Taylor-Johnson in ‘Godzilla’ (2014).

The most recent popcorn movie standard we have to measure Godzilla against is last summer’s Pacific Rim, which earned similarly mixed reviews (read ours here), and for many of the same reasons. Gareth Edwards’ film is very similar on the surface, but has that brand name and decidedly darker tone going for it. Many of these critics agree that box office success is almost a given, but the main problem persists: if an audience cannot connect with a human cast, will they care about all the monster fights, no matter how expertly executed?

Are you disappointed by the early critical response to Godzilla? Still looking forward to it or didn’t care in the first place? Sound off in the comments below (and watch for Screen Rant’s official review when the film opens in U.S. theaters)!

Godzilla roars its way into theaters on May 16, 2014.

Source: See the links above.