GODZILLA (PG-13) When the teaser trailer for the latest incarnation of the mighty King of the Monsters came out late last year, the footage was visually impressive and far removed from the wretched 1998 Hollywood version directed by Roland “Mr. Excessive” Emmerich. The trailer looked strange, intense and oddly poetic—it surprisingly and effectively utilized a musical excerpt from classical composer György Ligeti’s “Requiem.” Even if this new Godzilla didn’t quite turn out to be entirely successful, you just knew if the trailer was even halfway accurate, the movie wasn’t going to be the failure that Emmerich’s was.
Great news for giant monster fans is that this new attempt by Hollywood to deliver the Godzilla goods is mostly great fun. A credits sequence shows us grainy film footage of nuclear testing in the Pacific in the 1950s and our first glimpse of the creature. It feels like a genuine monster movie and faithful in spirit to the original Toho movie, Gojira (1954), and many of the subsequent entries in the long-running series. It’s 1999 and an American nuclear plant supervisor living in Japan, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), is concerned about increasing seismic activity underneath the power plant. A disaster occurs at the plant, and Brody’s wife (played by Juliette Binoche) and her team are killed while checking on the damage caused by the earthquake. Jump ahead 15 years, and Brody is obsessed with uncovering the truth behind the accident. His Navy officer son, Ford (dully played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson), thinks his father is crazy. But when kaiju havoc finally does erupt, and Godzilla and two massive winged creatures (that feed on radiation) use our cities as their personal playpens, Ford is propelled into this new strange reality.
When Godzilla focuses on Cranston and a team of scientists (played by Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins), the movie is gripping, lively and tense. There’s a real sense of wonder to the whole thing. But when director Gareth Edwards (who helmed the technically accomplished, low-budget feature Monsters a few years back) and screenwriter Max Borenstein stay with Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olson (who plays Ford’s wife), Godzilla flatlines. Ultimately, this is the Big G’s show, and the monster sequences are spectacular and ingeniously orchestrated. Edwards and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey contextualize these scenes from human vantage points, and the apocalyptic fights are beautiful, haunting and powerful. Godzilla frustrates only because all of the elements are there to elevate it from the average lunk-headed summer blockbuster. Nevertheless, it’s still a good reinterpretation of the Godzilla mythos for American audiences. Here’s hoping Taylor-Johnson and his daddy issues will be permanently excised from the sequels.
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