Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Movie Review: ‘Godzilla’

***** out of 5
123 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘Godzilla’ (2014) on Blogcritics.

It’s hard not being biased walking into the Godzilla reboot. To say this is my most anticipated film of the year is an understatement. Growing up recording the old Toho films off cable on VHS and editing out commercials by hand, I have an unabashed love for the big green monster. Aside from my wishy-washy feelings toward Roland Emmerich’s 1998 film, the original is still the best of the Toho productions.

Now, Legendary Pictures (the same team behind last year’s kaiju-filled Pacific Rim) has unleashed the big screen epic we’ve been waiting for. Director Gareth Edwards showed how much he could do with a miniscule budget on his first feature (Monsters), and now he proves he has what it takes to tackle something monstrously bigger and Godzilla does not disappoint.

Godzilla, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Gareth EdwardsBeginning in the Philippines in 1999, Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his assistant Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), discover an ancient skeletal remain they were hoping belonged to Godzilla. Along with the remains, they find two pods, one of which has hatched. Meanwhile, in Janjira, Japan, scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) has been keeping tabs on seismic tremors happening beneath the island’s nuclear power plant. The plant malfunctions and Joe’s wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) doesn’t make it out alive.

Fifteen years later, Joe is still mourning Sandra’s death and has been arrested trying to get back to his quarantined home to retrieve his data from the first incident when the tremors begin again. Now, Joe’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) returns to Japan where he soon realizes that maybe his father isn’t as crazy as he thought after the giant M.U.T.O. (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) is unleashed and only Godzilla can stop it.

While Godzilla may not feature the razzle dazzle of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, this is a different kind of creature feature. Screenwriter Max Borenstein (with story credited to Dave Callaham) treats Godzilla as a globe-trotting natural disaster film. An appreciable slow-burn keeps the monsters at bay, but once they’re on screen, Edwards isn’t scared to bring on the money shots. When Godzilla finally makes his appearance, make sure the theater you’re in is as big and loud as possible — his roar just may blow your hair back.

Featuring a surprising number of nods to Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Jurassic Park, and War of the Worlds), Edwards keeps the ball moving, making sure the two-hour runtime is never padded. The cast manages to stay grounded, with Cranston never coming across as too Doc Brown-ish, while Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen make a husband/wife team you can actually care about as the destruction rains down around them. Yes, Godzilla is still “King of the Monsters” and, I can’t wait to see where the franchise heads next.

Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

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