*** out of ****
This is the second try at an American, big budget Hollywood Godzilla movie. The first was in 1998, perpetrated by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, the creators of Stargate (1994) and Independence Day (1996). Their Godzilla was an oversized iguana that didn't even have atomic breath. It was like watching a Godzilla movie made by people who hate Godzilla. This new version seems to be made by people who love Godzilla, and that is why it works.
Godzilla 2014 plays like a tense race-against-time action/disaster movie. Navy lieutenant Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) realizes only too late that his seemingly crack-pot father (Bryan Cranston) is correct that something horrible is on the horizon. Two scientists (Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins) discover the existence of a creature dubbed M.U.T.O (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) which feeds on radiation. Another M.U.T.O. pops up and the two plan to breed in San Francisco, thus wiping out humanity. There is a chance, however, to destroy these creatures and it comes in the form of a radioactive reptile known as Godzilla.
Godzilla first came to the screen in Japan from Toho Studios in the movie Gojira (1954), which is a stark, serious indictment of nuclear war. The monstrous Godzilla represented nuclear terror, and the film is mostly successful, but you can't help but laugh at the cheap looking Godzilla puppet in close-ups. The man in a rubber suit destroying a detailed miniature city is actually still pretty impressive, especially in black and white. Twenty-seven Toho produced Godzilla films followed in which the atomic beast battled other monsters (except in The Return of Godzilla A.K.A. Godzilla 1985). Sometimes Big G was a meanie, and other times he was on the side of good. Here, he is the reluctant hero.
Max Borenstein's screenplay keeps the human drama afloat, and director Gareth Edwards (Monsters) has assembled a hell of a cast, which also includes Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche and David Strathairn. The three terrific actors just listed, however, don't really do that much. Olsen's character, in particular, should have been given more to do besides just being the worried wife and mother.
Having a guy in a rubber suit trashing miniatures wouldn't pass muster in this day and age, so in the new movie, as well as in the 1998 film, Godzilla is all digital. His design here is pretty cool, and unlike the 1998 feature, he looks like Godzilla.
Clearly, Edwards watched the old Toho films and replicates their pacing. Godzilla doesn't even show up for the first hour, and the monster battles are brief but well staged. You can see what's happening and it isn't just digital debris cluttering the screen. The action is fun and rousing, yet the final monster fight doesn't quite go hog wild like it should.
One thing is for sure, though, and that is that Gareth Edwards' Godzilla is an honest to goodness Godzilla movie and it's a blast.