The new "Godzilla" offers a respectable Hollywood treatment of the iconic monster, far removed from Roland Emmerich's cornball 1998 effort. Director Gareth Edwards, working from a screenplay by Max Borenstein, treats Godzilla as he should be treated: a cautionary figure representing the nuclear age's horrific consequences.
The movie opens with a sequence anchored by Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche, as scientists dealing with a nuclear meltdown at a Japanese facility, that is among the most heartrending imaginable in an enormous blockbuster summer entertainment. It's the sort of scene that promises that rare, special kind of harmony where spectacle and emotion meld together to produce a movie with both a big budget and a relentless emphasis on character.
It also establishes a standard that can't be met by what becomes a cumbersome movie, especially when it jumps forward in time and begins to focus on the son of the scientists, Aaron Taylor-Johnson's Ford Brody. After some elaborate exposition, Ford finds himself heavily involved as the U.S. military tracks Godzilla and two other monsters across the Pacific Ocean.
Edwards employs the "Jaws" tactic of keeping the monster hidden until relatively late in the picture, and the movie's best moments are centered on the portent of doom, the sense that an ominous and inexplicable force threatens the planet. It plays like a conspiracy thriller mixed with a survival story.
Then Godzilla and his rival beasts take over, in scenes filled with impressive CGI but an utter lack of human interest. The picture becomes a grimier, humorless version of last summer's "Pacific Rim" at that point, when the roaring, stomping and clashing beasts at skyscraper heights demolish the people on the ground in both a literal and a figurative sense.
Directed by Gareth Edwards
Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston