Godzilla (2014)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 5/18/14
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, David Strathairn

An honest attempt to update the King Of Monsters without re-inventing him like the 1998 version did. For better or worse, director Gareth Edwards gives us everything a Godzilla fan would want and expect: giant monsters, massive urban destruction, ineffective military intervention, ecological warnings, and overly contrived human drama. Hidden deep within the Earth are the remains of prehistoric creatures that feed off of radiation. A mining operation accidentally uncovers one of these critters and a long dormant baby hatches. It grows quickly and destroys a nearby nuclear power plant in Japan to feed itself. Fifteen years later, the baby creature morphs into its adult form, which is a hideous six-legged flying monstrosity that can generate powerful EMP bursts. The advent of this monster awakens Godzilla, who Ken Watanabe believes is a guardian of Mother Earth and serves as "the great equalizer." (similar to the role that Gamera played in the 1990s) To make matters worse, a third monster appears in Nevada, and all three of them decide to meet in San Francisco for a massive monster smackdown. Amidst all this chaos is a young army man (unrecognizable Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his adorable wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and son. Their involvement is utterly pointless and merely serves to add human drama to the horrors of global destruction.

As you would expect, the visual effects are extremely good and the wholesale destruction of big cities is quite impressive. Seeing San Francisco and the Las Vegas Strip leveled is particularly entertaining. Director Edwards knows what the audience wants to see and gives it to them. Unfortunately, the human elements are formulaic and dumb, but delivered with sincerity and frankness. While the characters are superfluous and uninteresting, they at least act like reasonable human beings instead of offensively goofy caricatures, and their reactions to the events around them are solid and convincing. The acting is quite good for a film of this genre, and the actors hit all of the right emotional notes to instill an intense feeling of dread and urgency. The film is refreshingly humorless and takes itself very seriously, which is what makes it work. Godzilla himself is modeled after the original Toho creature, but appears overly thick and rubbery, as if they were trying to make him look like a man in a suit. It certainly has its failings and lapses in logic, but if you're looking for classic city stomping kaiju action, it's definitely worth checking out.