Godzilla (2014) (PG-13)

I don't think that I would be spoiling anything if I said that there is a giant monster-like creature in "Godzilla". In case you weren't paying attention to one of the most enduring franchises in film history, 'Godzilla' has become synonymous with cheesy and stupid remakes. Imagine everyone's surprise when the series got a reboot; but I think that this was a smart move. It introduces the character to a whole new generation too young to remember the puppets of the previous decades; and it also gives the writers a chance to re-indoctrinate us in the art of nuclear obsession.
The movie opens in 1999 and follows the original movie. See the 2014 "Godzilla" as a sequel to the 1954 film. To really get into the mindset of the movie, you have to remember when the original was made. It was one of the first commercial successes to come out of a nuclear crippled Japan and its implications are far from subtle. Nuclear war, literally, awakened a monster.
Anyway, it's right before the turn of the century and Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) has journeyed to the Philippines with his assistant Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) to investigate the mysterious radiation leakage from underneath a mine collapse. The ground fell through, revealing a huge cavern that houses a mammoth skeleton and what appears to be an egg, hanging from the ceiling, menacingly preserved. There appears to be another egg, but this one has already hatched....dum dum dum.
Near the same time a man named Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is going to work at a nuclear power plant on his birthday. He seems to have forgotten about his special day; but his wife (Juliette Binoche) reminds him with a shower of affection.
At work, the seismic activity is showing large tremors that are thought be leftover from the Philippines "earthquake". Yet the tremors seem remarkably steady and predictable, soon they are overtaking the power plant. Radiation levels reach critical levels in a matter of seconds and the plant is breached. They shut it down, mirroring an incident that happened in Japan not too long ago (I wonder if that was intentional or not).
Fifteen years later, Joe's son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, riding what I hope is the last wave of his "Kick Ass" fame) is in the army now. He's returning home to San Francisco and he finds his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) waiting for him with their son. It's doesn't take long before Ford gets a call telling him that his father has been arrested for crossing into the containment zone in Japan. So it's a long plane flight and grumpy local police to deal with before Ford can talk to his father again, who in the decade plus from when we've last seen him, has become obsessed.
Joe is certain that the earthquake was no earthquake and that now Japanese (and American) officials are covering something up...but what could that be? Joe's discoveries will lead us on a merry and quite unexpected chase.
There's not a whole lot you can do with "Godzilla"; but screenwriter Max Borenstein, a virtual newcomer, and Dave Callaham bring many surprises to the table and this monster movie becomes actually unpredictable....and I love that.
Yet director Gareth Edwards is never too pretentious to think himself smarter than his audience. He gives us just enough nuclear commentary to appease the die-hard original fans and just the right amount of monster action to appease everyone else.
To be certain, the film you can liken "Godzilla" to the most is last year's "Pacific Rim" which I really didn't care for. "Godzilla" is not only smarter than "Pacific Rim"—dabbling in the ideas of man's futility—it's also more entertaining. You know why? Because we actually get to see the giant dinosaurs, unlike "Pacific Rim" which shot everything up close, personal, and with great application of the shaky cam.
The weakest link of the movie is Taylor-Johnson, who operates best when he's pretending to sleep or be unconscious. Elizabeth Olsen is a talent denied here. The man who holds it all together is Ken Watanabe who is the only character who uses the word "Gojira" which is one of the easter eggs hiding in "Godzilla".
There is nothing spectacular here in the form of characters, interactions, drama, or acting...but who cares? For the visuals alone and Alexadre Desplat's percussive score "Godzilla" is worth seeing.
The graphics are applied with just the right amount of restraint and the suspense is surprisingly real. "Godzilla" is a monster success, it roars out with triumph.
Simply put, it's a butt-load of fun.

Score: ★★★½

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