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Review: 'Godzilla' puts monster back in audience's good graces

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Godzilla, which opens with sneak previews Thursday (May 15), represents everything a summer blockbuster should be – pure escapist entertainment.

And ever since Raymond Burr (look that one up kids) served as one of American voices in the 1956 original that brought the bad ass monster to U.S. theaters, fans have had a love-hate relationship with the not-so-jolly green giant.

The love affair should return after audiences get a gander of the latest American adaptation of Japan’s favorite sci-fi cinematic son. Director Gareth Edwards produces a rollicking, piece of pop culture that brings the larger-than-life lizard to the screen courtesy of a script by Max Borenstein.

It’s good enough to make fans of the rascally reptile forget the dreadful remake from 16 years ago that starred Matthew Broderick (a film that he probably wants erased from his filmography) and was directed by Roland Emmerich, the king of hack sci-fi disaster films.

But where Emmerich showed little restraint in unleashing the beast, Edwards may be a bit too reserved. There’s little doubt as to what he’s trying to do.

He wants to balance an intriguing story with the film’s star attraction, Godzilla. In the process, however, the monster receives short shrift.

Audiences don’t see him in totality until about an hour into the movie and then, Edwards treats him like Bruce the shark from Jaws for a while, building anticipation for his grand battle. It’s a risky move.

If the battle sucks, he sinks the flick. Bad buzz ensues and he’s the next Emmerich. If he unleashes a fight of epic proportions and chances are he has a hit. Thankfully, Godzilla’s fight against a flying monster proves to be epic courtesy of state-of-the-art special effects.

However, that’s not entirely what Edwards is about. With the monster mash, comes a story of obsession and redemption. Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) portrays Joe Brody, a nuclear engineer who has to endure the meltdown of the Japanese power plant he’s working on and watch as his wife (Juliette Binoche) dies in the process leaving him a widower and his son motherless.

Fast forward 15 years. His son Sam (Carson Bolde) is grown, a Navy bomb expert and nearly estranged from Joe who is obsessed with finding out what created the power plant disaster. Of course as he plans this the government is in full-blown cover-up mode.

What they eventually find in a nuclear energy sucking monster wreaks havoc on two continents. And it takes a Japanese scientist (Ken Watanabe) to unlock the key to the monsters’ mystery.

Godzilla is one of those films that audiences should just sit back and enjoy. It’s a thrill ride, an amusement park adventure come to life.

This version distinguishes itself because of the addition of Cranston, Watanabe and veteran character actor David Strathairn. It’s likely to make a boatload of cash, but a word of advice: next time more of the big guy, please.

Movie: Godzilla
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Carson Bolde, Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn, Juliette Binoche.
Studio: Warner Bros.
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence.
Running time: 123 minutes
George’s rating: 3.5-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com

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