First, the good things: “Godzilla” has learned from its predecessors to nail all the elements that King of All Monsters true to his origins. He’s big, he fights monsters, and yes he breathes radioactive flames. It seems Godzilla and other giant prehistoric beasts like him feed off radiation and emit electromagnetic pulses, which has the dual effect of making the monster modern and uniquely immune to modern tactics.
But this is a movie interested in going beyond Godzilla’s story to tell our own: through Hurricane Katrina, the Northeast Black Out of 2003, and the 2011 Tohoku earthquake/tsunami/Fukushima nuclear accident. Taken separately, any one of those mass horrors would be inconceivable. But now Godzilla seems comforting in comparison, a convenient scapegoat for why bad things happen to good people.
“Godzilla” humanizes the titular monster by bringing his presence down to human scale; forget his atomic breath, tidal waves wreak havoc when he steps out of the ocean. The Brody family is at the center of it all, first with atomic plant supervisor Joe (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) and then later with their adult son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), an explosive ordinance disposal officer. But we we’re watching the movie to see monsters fight, and after a long series of teases where Godzilla retreats into the massive debris clouds, we finally get some kaiju action.
Godzilla’s foe is a Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism (MUTO) that has the aforementioned appetite and powers of a monster feeding off the radiation of the Earth deep below ground. This means that any nuclear weapon a tasty snack for pregnant MUTOs (there’s a breeding pair) to consume, which makes them very interested in human affairs. What ensues is a game of nuclear football between the American military, the MUTOs, and Godzilla.
Along the way Ken Watanabe as Ishiro Sedrizawa stares cryptically into space while muttering about alpha predators and the natural world, the military fires uselessly at 300+ feet tall monsters, and two critters that look an awful lot like Cloverfield often pop up out of nowhere. There are moments where “Godzilla” stretches the bounds of the realistic terror it tries to impose -- like when an explosive ordinance disposal officer knows how to perform a HALO drop – but then we hear that Godzilla roar and all is forgiven. This is a reboot worthy of the franchise.
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