Sometimes, the perfect version of a two-hour movie is its two-minute trailer. The teasers for Godzilla, the Hollywood update of a Japanese monster movie dating back to 1954, revealed just glimpses of the dinosaur’s scaly body amid a ravaged San Francisco, plus the doomsday alert of a scientist played by Bryan Cranston: “You have no idea what’s coming!”
“No idea” is right. The smart, creepy disaster movie the trailers promised somehow went missing in director Gareth Edwards’ dawdling feature film. The Big G looks imposing in his prehistoric majesty, but we rarely get a clear view of him; he should have arrived at noon, not at night.
Godzilla isn’t even the main monster; that is the M.U.T.O., a giant insect that feeds on radioactivity and is meant to scare all those who champion nuclear power as a source of energy. To push home its political point, Max Borenstein’s script invokes Hiroshima, the U.S.S. Nautilus, the ’50s H-bomb tests in Nevada and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan. See, the monsters’ attack is all mankind’s fault. Bad us.
A movie whose creatures have power but no personality needs a human element. That’s also lacking here, as the scientist’s grown son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) goes through the rote heroics of saving the world while minding a few lost children. There’s zero emotional investment in this Godzilla–an enticing package with no compelling product inside. For the real deal, watch the trailers.
This appears in the May 26, 2014 issue of TIME.