Combustible Celluloid
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With: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Juliette Binoche, CJ Adams, Carson Bolde, Richard T. Jones, Victor Rasuk, Patrick Sabongui
Written by: Max Borenstein, based on a story by Dave Callaham
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence
Running Time: 123
Date: 05/15/2014

Godzilla (2014)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Built to Scales

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The new Godzilla seems like an apology for Roland Emerich's much-despised 1998 film of the same name. The new film, directed by Gareth Edwards, seems directly inspired by the original 1954 Gojira -- that's the uncut, 98-minute original, not the cheesy shortened, dubbed, Americanized version with Raymond Burr.

The current Godzilla is mostly serious and aware of the original movie's message -- complete with a key reference to Hiroshima -- but also true to the movie's homemade monster effects. Whereas the 1998 film seemed like the result of test marketing, making the monster faster, bigger, louder, and -- overall -- more, this movie respects the monsters, and is in awe of them.

The movie begins in flashback when a nuclear physicist (Bryan Cranston) discovers a weird pattern to some recent tremors in Tokyo and a nuclear power plant is destroyed. Fifteen years later, his son grows up to be U.S. Navy Lieutenant Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, from Kick-Ass).

The tremors have begun anew, and this time, three monsters emerge. Worse, they seem to be headed to the Bay Area, where Ford's wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son live. Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins play scientists that have been secretly studying the monsters.

For once Hollywood has chosen a director wisely. British director Edwards last made the low-budget giant monster movie Monsters (2010), which focused mainly on mismatched characters on the road. In Godzilla, Edwards pays equal attention to everything. He wrings emotional energy from his characters with the separation of several families, not just young Ford from his father, and older Ford from his wife and child, but also a family of tourists in an airport.

Even the monsters themselves are not immune. Two of them, referred to as "Mutos," are bent on breeding and spawning an army of creatures; Edwards shows their anguish when these plans are interrupted.

But the movie roars to life during the monster battles. Godzilla moves slowly, rhythmically, and his battle cry is classically familiar. An enormous amount of property is destroyed; often the tip of a tail will brush carelessly against a skyscraper, smashing several stories into rubble.

Godzilla employs the series' old theme, man's excessive meddling in nature, and reminds us why this beloved monster has endured for sixty years, in more than 30 movies, plus TV shows, cartoons, comic books, etc. However, by focusing on nuclear energy instead of more pressing environmental concerns, it feels slightly out of time. It's well made, but could have been a bit more pointed, or a bit more fun -- like Godzilla himself.

Warner Home Video released a two-disc set containing a Blu-ray, a DVD and a digital copy. The Blu-ray quality is of the highest order, even if the movie has a general grayish-brownish look from all the dust and carnage. Extras are a bit disappointing. There are three "fake" featurettes about the monsters, as well as several "real" ones about the behind-the-scenes of the movie.

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