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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Godzilla Movie Review

Unlike "Spider-Man", the "Godzilla" franchise was in dire need of a reboot. After degenerating into man-in-a-suit camp and then being ignobly blockbusted in the 1998 Roland Emmerich/Matthew Broderick dud, the King of the Monsters seemed headed back to the ocean depths - or at least the bottom of a studio script pile. Now, celebrating 60 years of Tokyo-stomping action, the scaly one is ready for his close-up once again.  The latest "Godzilla" is an ambitious and reverent reboot that ironically may satisfy neither purists nor modern moviegoing audiences.

After a clever, "redacted" title sequence, we pick up in The Philippines in 1999, where something big has caused a cave-in and left tracks leading to the sea. The trail leads to a nuclear power plant in Japan which has been suffering from a series of earthquakes. Only Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston, sporting a distracting hair-do) suspects the worst. Fifteen years later, similar tremors begin to appear and again, Brody - now with an estranged son (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, a blank slate) - is the only one who gets it.

The first half of the script, by relative-newcomer Max Borenstein, is spent explaining the above events. And that's all before it gets to the main event: the reveal of the titular creature. There are hints at ripped-from-the-headlines commentary (Fukushima, climate change, even fracking) but only hints. Most of the running time is spent cramming exposition in between sweeping shots of destruction. The second half of the script is spent tracking the monster to his final battleground while the human characters make either poor decisions or none at all.

As you'd expect, the special effects do not disappoint. Director Gareth Edwards, who memorably did a lot with a little in the indie "Monsters", seems to make a conscious choice to avoid showing Godzilla's fight scenes. Instead, like he did in "Monsters", he spends his time low-to-the-ground. He builds up to the moment of destruction and then cuts away to the aftermath. It's clever the first time, but then it begins to feel like you're being short-changed. Say what you want about "Pacific Rim" (and many have) but at least it delivered the machine-on-monster goods. Instead, Mr. Edwards saves it all up for an extended climactic sequence in the rubble of San Francisco which is both visually stunning and, somehow, dull.

It could be that there are very few humans to root for. Or that "Godzilla", isn't about its human characters like, say, "Cloverfield" or "Super 8". "Godzilla" is about seeing a giant lizard stomping a city while fighting other giant creatures. Sure, there are scenes to like here - particularly seeing the woefully underused Ken Watanabe pronouncing the monster's name correctly. But in the end, you'll get out of "Godzilla" what you bring to it. It's not likely to inspire the wonder that the original man-in-a-suit films did, nor will it likely develop a cult following among new moviegoers. Happily, it also won't be considered a dud like the 1998 version. This "Godzilla" will just roar through theaters before lumbering off to the ocean again.

If you do check out the film in theaters, spend a little extra for a premium viewing. I saw the film in IMAX 3D and BPBS co-founder Chris Boylan saw it in a Regal RPX 3D theater featuring Dolby Atmos.  In both cases, the larger screen, immersive 3D effects and dynamic surround sound intensified the viewing experience. If nothing else, "Godzilla" is certainly a spectacle and an IMAX or Dolby Atmos-equipped theater will make it that much more spectacular.

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