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Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, C J Adams, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Carson Bolde, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn, Richard J. Jones, Victor Rasuk
Director: Gareth Edwards
The monstrous star of some 28 movies was born in Japan in 1954, the same year that saw the birth of such cinema celebrities as Jackie Chan, John Travolta, James Cameron, Denzel Washington and Kathleen Turner, as well as a constellation of briefly flickering then forgotten screen fodder.
Then, like so many movie stars (Spangler Arlington Brough became Robert Taylor and Maurice Micklewhite was reborn as Michael Caine) Gojira changed his name to Godzilla and found international fame by taking on other monsters, King Kong, Mothra, King Ghidora and Mecha-Godzilla among them.
Now he’s back and bigger than ever, trampling memories of Roland Emmerich’s 1997 misfire into the ground, thanks to its mega-million dollar budget well spent on super special effects that make Godzilla and his would-be monster nemesis the giant metallic-looking praying mantis style creature known as ‘M.U.T.O. aka Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism” scarily realistic and rather more convincing than the human actors who decorate the story.
Gareth Edwards, who had a surprise hit of the minimal (to say the least) budget success Monsters, justifies his choice as director of this epic, employing movie magic to major effect, moving the story (scripted by Max Borenstein from a story by David Callaham) fast and furiously.
What Godzilla most needed was action and spectacle seasoned with suspense and Edwards delivers these in spades.
The story also involves humans, of course, kicking off with a nifty blend of newsreel footage and staged sequences to establish Godzilla’s background as a product of nuclear war. We then segue to the Philippines where scientists Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins investigate unexpected radiation and something monstrous “Something came out of it” underground. Fast-forward to Tokyo and scientist Bryan Cranston - in an unbecoming wig - who works in a nuclear plant, believes something sinister is happening when tremors start occurring and then loses his wife Juliette Binoche (“This wasn’t just a reactor meltdown!”) in a disastrous accident that destroys the plant. Fast-forward again and Cranston and Binoche’s son Aaron Taylor-Johnson is all grown up, married to Elizabeth Olsen and, as an army bomb disposal expert, ready to fight Godzilla when the occasion arises..
Which it does, often, noisily (there’s enough of Alexandre Desplat’s loud score to populate several sequels) and excitingly as Honolulu falls victim to monstrous mayhem and, most memorably (erasing memories of Ray Harryhousan’s legendary six-armed – the budget couldn’t rise to the normal eight – octopus that brought down the Golden Gate Bridge in 1955’s It Came From the Beneath the Sea) giving the Golden Gate Bridge a memorably destructive kicking.
Godzilla’s climactic battle against M.U.T.O. is the highlight of a genre movie that hits all the right places without sagging under the weight of its budget and expectations.
And praise, too, is due to Seamus McGarvey's superb 3D cinematography and Bob Ducsay's editing which ensures the film will still work very well indeed in 2D.
The mere human actors don’t disgrace themselves. But they’re simply non-special effects-generated characters designed to drive the story which firmly belongs to the beasts.
USA/Japan 2014. UK Distributor: Warner. Colour.
123 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.
Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.
Review date: 13 May 2014