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Godzilla (2014) Movie Review

Godzilla: Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet combo pack cover art
Godzilla is now available on home video. Read our review of the Blu-ray + DVD combo.

Godzilla (2014) movie poster Godzilla

Theatrical Release: May 16, 2014 / Running Time: 123 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Gareth Edwards / Writers: David Callaham (story), Max Borenstein (screenplay)

Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ford Brody), CJ Adams (Young Ford Brody), Ken Watanabe (Dr. Ishiro Serizawa), Bryan Cranston (Joe Brody), Elizabeth Olsen (Elle Brody), Carson Bolde (Sam Brody), Sally Hawkins (Vivienne Graham), Juliette Binoche (Sandra Brody), David Strathairn (Admiral William Stenz), Richard T. Jones (Captain Russell Hampton), Victor Rasuk (Sergeant Tre Morales), Patrick Sabongui (Lieutenant Commander Marcus Waltz)

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In Japan, Godzilla is an institution. Introduced in 1954, the giant fire-breathing monster has been a staple of that nation's cinema and the cornerstone of Toho Company,
the studio that has featured it in 28 films, most recently in 2004.

In the United States, Godzilla is one of many pieces of Japanese pop culture that only catches on briefly if at all with the American public. The very first Toho production was adapted for US moviegoers to a good deal of success in 1956. Subsequent films didn't make as much effort. The biggest attempt to bring Godzilla to Hollywood came in 1998 and that US production from the makers of Independence Day is still infamously regarded as a failure of epic proportions. Though it grossed nearly $400 million worldwide, it barely earned its production budget back domestically in the face of toxic reviews and word-of-mouth.

The American film industry has allowed sixteen years to pass, letting the negativity surrounding that Matthew Broderick tentpole die down, before trying again to make the giant monster a marquee attraction. To some, it might seem like an impossible task, making a 60-year-old Japanese B-movie concept palpable for audiences who have witnessed all sorts of spectacular destruction and mayhem convincingly brought to life on the big screen with the best technology around. At the same time, you can appreciate a revival of a franchise that can be considered an ancestor to some of the biggest blockbusters of our time, from Armageddon to Transformers.

In spite of that legacy and the weight the title still commands, 2014's Godzilla still seems like a pretty huge gamble, especially for Legendary Pictures, the production company footing 75% of the film's $160 million budget (the rest being covered by distributor Warner Bros. Pictures). Elevating the risk is the fact that this movie comes from unknown and largely untested filmmakers. British director Gareth Edwards, a former visual effects man, has just a few television documentaries and the 2010 thriller Monsters (which played in a grand total of 25 North American theaters) to his name. David Callaham, the American credited with story, has a filmography that starts with the 2005 flop Doom and stops with The Expendables. Prior to this, screenwriter Max Borenstein has only penned a 2003 student film as an English major at Yale.

You could easily assume that this all bodes poorly, but perhaps new blood unjaded by experience is just what this reboot needed. This Godzilla seems to benefit from having fresh eyes at the helm. Though mostly unproven, the eyes belong to those who seem to know what makes a good disaster film work.

Godzilla returns in 2014's "Godzilla."

We open in 1999, with scientists marveling at and speculating over what appears to be a site of epic ruins. On his birthday, the nuclear workplace of Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), an American scientist in Japan, undergoes a meltdown disaster, resulting in deaths of numerous colleagues, including his wife (Juliette Binoche). Fifteen years later, the scientist remains obsessed with discovering the truth about the incident, which his personal research has revealed to be quite different from the official account of a deadly typhoon. The scientist is arrested for trespassing at his family's long-quarantined home. Son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who has grown up into an army lieutenant and a father himself, helps secure Brody's release but wishes his father would move on past conspiracy theories and crackpot research.

Father and son make another trip to their former home, where they discover the air is in fact perfectly breathable in spite of the radiation that should still exist. They also learn that Dad isn't completely out of his mind, as giant bug-like creatures were involved in the past disturbance and are again threatening to wreak more havoc on major ocean coasts. The U.S. military (led by David Strathairn) prepares a missile plan to eradicate the creatures, but Japan's leading scientific authority (Ken Watanabe) hopes mankind might instead summon another giant creature to fight the others and defend the planet: Godzilla.

Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) returns to his family's quarantined former home looking for answers. Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Admiral William Stenz (David Strathairn) do not agree on how to confront Earth's Muto problem.

Despite the title, Godzilla maintains a supporting presence here. In screentime, he trails not only a host of human characters, but also those "Mutos" of similar scale and impact.
Still, as evidenced by the crowd applause that met his overdue first appearance and a few subsequent highlights, the movie belongs to Godzilla, a larger than life figure who provokes strong reactions and power from what little we know about him.

There's no denying that a movie about one giant thing battling another giant thing is an open invitation to stupidity. This Godzilla does a pretty impressive job of minimizing that stupidity as much as it can. Yes, this is a film best enjoyed by fans of ambitious visual effects and spectacle. But it doesn't require the mentality of a geek, a fanboy, or a mindless action junkie to stay entertained. There is surprisingly little to insult your intelligence here. The cast includes some accomplished talents in actors like Binoche, Watanabe, and Sally Hawkins, although only Cranston gets to make much dramatic impact.

It almost goes without saying that the visuals are outstanding. Effects have come a long way from obvious miniatures and human actors in Godzilla costumes. A number of sequences dazzle in scope alone and while nothing about the 3D or Dolby Atmos of my screening really stood out, there's no denying that this will go down as one of the year's most dynamic uses of picture and sound.

Lieutenant Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) finds himself in the middle of the climactic action. Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) provide our scientific perspective to the Mutos and Godzilla.

Adding to the global appeal that big genre movies always possess, the movie concludes with a minimum of dialogue in its final half-hour or so. There are layers to the action, some of them human, and we're not left to merely watch and sort out the giant creatures doing battle. But those entering the movie wanting nothing more should still come away satisfied on that front.

Destined to earn good but not quite great reviews, Godzilla is in position to perform better than the infamous 1998 version, but it still remains to be seen how it will fare in comparison to the stiff big budget competition it will face almost immediately this summer movie season.

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Sally Hawkins: Blue Jasmine All Is Bright Happy-Go-Lucky | Juliette Binoche: Dan in Real Life
Elizabeth Olsen: Kill Your Darlings | CJ Adams: The Odd Life of Timothy Green

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Reviewed May 16, 2014.

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