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Reeling it in: 'Godzilla' back with a vengeance

Posted: May 21, 2014 - 4:01pm  |  Updated: May 22, 2014 - 8:42am
This film image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows a scene from "Godzilla." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)  AP
AP
This film image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows a scene from "Godzilla." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Godzilla”

Warner Bros.

2 hours, 3 minutes

 

Godzilla, as a character, has been around a long time. The original Japanese film, “Gojira” was first released in 1954 and since then there have been more than 60 different iterations.

I remember the original “Godzilla” mostly from a series of library books that chronicled old monster movies. These short synopsis were padded mostly with black and white photos, leaving room for a scant amount of actual text. Naturally, these were some of the most popular volumes to choose at book report time. “The Wolf Man,” “Dracula, “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” all were big hits, but I always returned to “Godzilla.” I liked that he wasn’t really bad, just misunderstood. He was a force of nature, which made him cooler somehow than the typical screen villains.

In 1984, there was a new big-screen Godzilla movie, but by then I was over it. It all seemed so fake and silly. When, in 1998, Roland Emmerich attempted to reboot the big green lizard, I was completely sold. After all, this was the guy who made “Independence Day,” a movie I loved, and the trailers promised a cooler, somehow more realistic look at this legendary monster. The movie came out and I, like most people not really versed in classic kaiju cinema (these are the giant monster/robot movies of Japan in the 50s and 60s) thought it was a lot of fun. Not great, but fun.

But the more I read, and the more I watched, and the more vintage film I digested, I could see that the 1998 “Godzilla” was completely off as far as tone. Goofy, overly complicated, and with a central monster who looked too much like a real lizard, Emmerich and crew had missed the point.

Jump ahead sixteen years and now we have a new “Godzilla,” this time directed by Gareth Edwards, the man who gave us the understated, low-budget, high concept creature feature “Monsters” a few years ago. Edwards smartly retains the big budget feel, but jettisons the goofy and creates a creature-feature unlike any we’ve seen in quite a while. “Godzilla” is smart, funny, chilling, and most of all, a crackerjack edge-of-your-seat action thriller that nicely balances the human stories with the CGI ones.

With the opening credits, we are rocketed through the 50s where we learn, via archival footage and old newspaper clippings, that the hydrogen bomb tests in the Pacific were actually attempts to destroy a giant pre-historic creature that may or may not have stomped Tokyo at one point. Jumping ahead several decades, we land at Japanese Nuclear power plant where Bryan Cranston, as an American engineer working for the plant, has raised alarms about anomalous readings he’s noticed. (There’s always anomalous readings in these movies. It’s great foreshadowing.)

It’s not long before the plant is coming down around his ears and the plot shifts into high gear. From here the action takes us to the present, and to the U.S., where we follow Ford Brody, son of the aforementioned engineer, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Brody and his father are estranged, so when he has to return to Japan to collect the old man, arrested for trespassing in the quarantine zone that used to be the power plant, our hero is not particularly thrilled.

He’s less thrilled with the discovery of a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), a huge flying monster whose species has existed since before the time of the dinosaurs and who eats radiation. A shadowy scientific organization headed by an oddly morose Ken Watanabe has been studying the creature, but now it’s loose.

Not to worry, however. There just happens to be another ancient beast, one with a distinctively spiky back and a penchant for breathing fire who really doesn’t like the MUTO. I think you can see where this is going.

“Godzilla” is, in a word, a blast. What’s remarkable is that Edwards has created a near perfect balance of the real and unreal. Godzilla doesn’t look nearly as much like an actual animal as he did in the 1998 version, but that’s the problem. Godzilla is a character and the old man-in-suit style allowed that character to come through. This current version of the monster is a CGI creation, not an actor in a rubber costume, but the personality is still there and, though a little fakey and silly at times, the effect is a lot of fun.

The weak link in this film are the humans, none of whom really rise to their absolute potential, but it’s a small complaint. None of the actors does a poor job either, and they keep the plot rolling without a problem.

One complaint I’ve been hearing is that you never get to see the monsters, but I didn’t feel that at all. Edwards doesn’t linger on Godzilla, in particular, in the first half of the film, but by the end you get all the monster action you could want, especially during a climactic battle that had members of my audience whooping and clapping. Gareth Edwards has given us a “Godzilla” for all true Godzilla fans, and a movie that will create a whole generation of new ones.

Grade: A

“Godzilla” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence.

 

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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