As a film, Godzilla is perfectly adequate. But that’s the nicest thing I can say about it. It’s always disappointing when a breakthrough director like Gareth Edwards catches the eye of a big studio only to be hired for rote product. Big blockbusters like this tend to swallow filmmakers whole and render them more or less anonymous (see also: J.J. Abrams‘s Star Trek, Guillermo Del Toro‘s Pacific Rim). Edwards’s Monsters was a distinctive movie with real characters and story. His Godzilla is more expensive, but less of a movie. There’s nothing in it we haven’t seen a million times before.

Godzilla isn’t as dim-witted as Pacific Rim, so there’s that, but there’s no real humanity in it. The main character is a heroic cipher played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who is capable of playing a character with a personality but isn’t given one. His parents are played by Juliette Binoche and Bryan Cranston, but they exist only to motivate the bland hero’s quest. Ditto Elizabeth Olsen as his wife, yet another action movie wife whose only purpose is to fret, cry, dote over their child, and wait for her man to do his hero-ing. Researchers played by Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins are just receptacles of sciencey exposition. Why cast actors of this caliber and not write real roles for them?

Godzilla and two other monsters eventually meet and clash for dubious biological reasons, in a major metropolitan area of course (San Francisco, giving New York a break for a change), and surely tens of thousands have died in the end, but the screenplay doesn’t care, treating the minor and background characters like disposable video game NPCs. They’re just fodder for the monster — not the giant lizard, the movie.