Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for intense violence and scenes off destruction
Running time: 123 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers
“Godzilla” made its debut in 1954 when the mythical, man-eating monster, inadvertently created by an atomic blast, emerged from the Pacific Ocean to carve a path of death and destruction across Japan, much to the chagrin of the country’s overmatched military. A couple of years later, Raymond Burr narrated a documentary-style, English-language remake which was basically a dubbed version of the original with his lines spliced in.
Despite relying for decades on terribly-stilted scripts and a guy in a rubber suit towering over a scale model of a toy-sized Tokyo, the B-movie franchise has remained popular enough to spawn thirty-something sequels and counting. This relatively-upscale reboot of the series, however, abandons the campy dialogue and cheesy trick photography in favor of an emotionally-engaging plot as well as state-of-the-art special f/x.
Furthermore, while the 2014 edition “Godzilla” still looks like a fire-breathing, mutated iguana, he behaves more like a benign, anthropomorphic ally of humanity than its evil adversary. The villains, here, are a couple of nuclear waste-ingesting MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) that are not only threatening to level San Francisco but are poised to unleash a litter of their equally-hostile offspring.
In case you’re wondering, there’s plenty of precedent for Godzilla’s squaring-off against fellow behemoths. Consider such classic showdowns as King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) and Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973), to name a few.
Although, this one’s finale is well worth the wait, it sure takes its sweet time getting around to that spectacular battle royal. In fact, we don’t even get a peek at Godzilla during the film’s first hour, which is instead devoted to developing characters and filling in the back story.
The picture was directed by Gareth Edwards (Monsters) who assembled a surprisingly-sophisticated ensemble for an action-oriented, summer blockbuster. The cast includes Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, Academy Award-winner Juliette Binoche (for The English Patient), and nominees David Strathairn (for Good Night, and Good Luck), Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) and Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai).
The adventure revolves around the Brody family whose plight provides the audience with the incentive to invest emotionally in the outcome. Widowed patriarch Joe (Cranston) is driven to learn the truth behind the catastrophe at a Japanese nuclear power plant that claimed his late wife’s (Binoche) life 15 years earlier. Their son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a Navy explosives disposal expert, agrees to accompany his dad to the Orient, leaving behind a worried wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son (Carson Bolde) behind in San Francisco.
Of course, all hell eventually breaks loose back home when anthropomorphic Godzilla selflessly rises to the occasion in defense of the city. Will the MUTOs meet their match? Will the separated Brodys manage to survive the apocalyptic mayhem for a tearful reunion?
A surprisingly haunting and panoramic picture exploring universal themes like loss and yearning, yet with all the fixins for first-rate action entertainment. Hey, why didn’t they make monster movies like this when I was a kid?