After being dormant for a decade, Godzilla is back and recharged in a $160 million pre-summer extravaganza. And although he gets top billing in “Godzilla,” he has to share screen time with the humans, who just have a knack for getting in the way.
Those humans in this movie are the usual characters plugged into the typical science-fiction roles, led by Joe Brody (Brian Cranston), the conspiracy-sniffing man, dismissed as a person so wracked with guilt and grief that he has become nothing more than a pesky looney whose frightening prognostications are inevitable.
Then we have Joe’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a U.S. Navy bomb-disarming expert who ultimately is more adept in the clutch than anybody else.
Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his able assistant Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) are the scientists whose “let nature do its thing” suggestions are ignored despite Vivienne’s graphics that illustrate pending doom if action is taken. Representing the military might, which turns out to be hopelessly over-matched by Godzilla — didn’t these guys do their homework and see that the giant reptile just swats away fighter jets and artillery like they are mosquitos? — is Adm. William Stenz (David Strathairn), looking perplexed as all the weaponry at his disposal has all the firepower of squirt guns against these monsters.
Of course there are the collateral characters like Ford’s wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and son Sam (Carson Bolde), who are put in harm’s way.
The real stars are Godzilla and the two MUTOs — Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms — that once they unfurl their gigantic and ferocious forces really ignite “Godzilla.”
The build-up story takes about an hour to unfold, and Cranston’s Joe Brody gets to holler and growl about cover-ups while trying to retrieve the old data he had accumulated that proved the tremors causing a nuclear meltdown on the coast of India in 1999 had far more ominous implications. Once that data reach Dr. Serizawa, it all is moot.
Two MUTOs, one male, one female, have risen after being dormant, and zeroing in on radiation sources from which to feed, are moving to rendezvous and make soon-to-be MUTOs. Godzilla, meanwhile, driven by some instinctive force, is zooming across the ocean toward the U.S. west coast in pursuit of the MUTOs in what Dr. Serizawa says is an effort to re-establish a balance to nature.
Also, by this time, the audience in the theater is getting itchy to see Godzilla in action.
When Godzilla is finally seen, it is worth the wait. This Godzilla is about 355 feet tall and more agile than the lumbering ’Zilla that has become so familiar via the Toho Studios’ run of films from the 1960s to 2004.
The MUTOs are pretty imposing themselves — one can fly while the other stomps around — and they look like a couple of insects that mutated when sprayed with a can of radioactive Raid.
Honolulu and Las Vegas are laid to waste before the main event commences in San Francisco, a two-on-one match that seems grossly unfair. But there is only so much abuse Godzilla will take before his scales start glowing, meaning, OK, you’ve gone too far and now I’m mad.
The battle is the highlight of the movie, but again triggers frustrations, as the action cuts away from the fight to bring us updates on the people.
Director Gareth Edwards does a good job with the extensive budget he was given. Edwards, who was first exposed to Godzilla as a child via the Hanna-Barbera cartoon, accumulated experience with digital effects while working on TV documentaries “Perfect Disasters” and BBC’s “Hiroshima.”
Edwards has said in interviews that he considers “Godzilla” to be screenwriter Max Borenstein’s movie, adding that he and Borenstein worked together for more than a year on “Godzilla.”
The result is a new Godzilla that owes a lot to its predecessors but appears quite capable of carrying on a tradition that has gone 60 years.