The King of the Monsters makes a rompin’, stompin’ comeback
Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Cranston and Elisabeth Olson
Directed by Gareth Edwards
PG-13, 123 min.
At an age when some folks are thinking about retirement, the world’s most famous mega-monster is enjoying a roaring comeback.
First introduced in a 1954 Japanese flick as a metaphor for the nuclear weapons that had leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, Godzilla went on to become a worldwide pop-cultural phenomenon—and sometimes a parody. The gigantic lumbering lizard appeared in nearly 30 other movies, squared off against everyone from King Kong to Bambi, inspired a song by Blue Oyster Cult, shilled shoes for Nike, and received an MTV Lifetime Achievement Award.
If it sounds like show-business super-saturation turned the King of the Monsters—a title he’s held since the 1950s—into a softy and a sell-out, the latest movie returns him to his rockin’, rompin’, stompin’ roots.
While this Godzilla has an all-new, modern setting and story, it still connects back to the tale’s 1950s Atomic Age roots. Opening in 1999 when a nuclear physicist (Brian Cranston) detects a seismic anomaly in the Philippines that turns out to be something much more ominous, it quickly jumps ahead to present-day San Francisco, the scientist’s now-grown son (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and another Pacific rumble signaling something big and bad once again about to blow…
Godzilla fans may be somewhat disappointed that they have to wait an hour for the main attraction to appear. But director Gareth Edwards deftly plays out the build-up to the big guy. He develops his characters (although Elizabeth Olson, as the wife of Taylor-Johnson’s character, and Ken Wantanabe, a fine, pedigreed Japanese actor, are all but lost in the shuffle). We meet a couple of other creatures, the huge, gargoyle-like Mutos, and delve into a subplot of government conspiracy and cover-up.
So when Godzilla finally does show, we’re ready for the rumble. As monster-movie fans know, Big G’s not really a bad guy; in fact, he usually appears when some other monster gets seriously out of bounds. And when two—or more—mega-monsters are tussling, well, you can just expect some things—Tokyo, Las Vegas, San Francisco—to get a bit trampled in the process.
Godzilla is also an environmentalist, of sorts. As Wantanabe’s character explains, “Nature has an order, a power to restore balance. He is that power.”
Edwards, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, and the special effects team do a great job of integrating digital dazzle and live action, and several scenes have an almost trippy, hypnotic aura of amazement and awe, as soldiers parachute through battling behemoths into the wrecked cityscape below, or children on a school bus watch Godzilla rage alongside the Golden Gate Bridge.
Other monsters come and go. But a prehistoric creature that still has the atomic oomph to strut out of the ocean depths, make a 400-foot-tall, megaton statement, and set the world straight, well, there’s only one that comes to mind.
Godzilla is still da bomb.
—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine