'Godzilla' is a great movie, and the perfect reason to go to the movie theatre this weekend other than Xmen: Days of Future Past.
This Godzilla blasts away the memory of the 1998 reboot starring Matthew Broderick. It's much closer to the original, Japanese film of 1954, which re-released as 'Godzilla: King of the monsters!' in '56 with additional scenes starring Canadian actor Raymond Burr. The laughable toy trains and helicopters of the original have been replaced with much more realistic-looking smash-ables thanks to CGI. Godzilla also looks significantly less like a man in a lizard suit--and bears minimal resemblance to the grinning lizard of Broderick's version--which are both good things.
Watch the trailer for 'Godzilla'
This Godzilla--and his nemesis, a creature called a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism)--are toned-down, even simplistic in design. They lack all the bells-and-whistles of Pacific Rim's kaiju (Japanese: 'monsters'). Both films were intended to be tributes to the classic kaiju film genre. Del Toro's imagination may have actually interfered (a rare occurrence) with this goal; and in the simplicity of its monsters and plot, 'Godzilla' represents the more successful back-to-basics tribute.
Now, what elevates Godzilla above those earlier films and into the realm of pure movie magic is the camerawork. There's lots of shadows, mist, and monster limbs in this movie. In fact, less than 1/3 of the movie consists of full-on shots of the monsters. Why is this good? Anyone who watches these kinds of movies knows that the suggestion of something--the massive tentacle reaching around a building or through the mist--is always more terrifying and compelling--than the thing itself, which always falls short of what we imagine it could be. For examples of the skillful use of 'the monster suggestion,' look no further than Frank Darabont's "The Mist" and "Cloverfield," whose monster terrified until we saw what all those claws and tentacles were attached to (as it turns out, a veritable walking parody of the genre).
This is where Godzilla's simplicity of design shines. We know what the massive bull-dozing tail is attached to--which is a giant, realistically-rendered prehistoric alpha lizard named 'Godzilla' (its pronunciation early in the film harkens back to the Japanese original while lending it an exotic mystique that seems to translate to 'NOT Broderick's Godzilla!'). The MUTO is a bit harder to pin down--with more potential for disappointment when fully-revealed--but it's still a far cry from Pacific Rim's walking masses of animal parts.
'Godzilla' also deserves kudos for its ability to, like the original, play on our fear of the unknown and blur the lines between monster and force of nature. The movie keeps you guessing as to what's behind all the destruction and milks that fear of the unknown (Edmund Burke called it 'the Sublime') for as long as it can. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, and the lovely Elizabeth Olsen provide adequate performances as a family dealing with unstoppable forces of nature. 'Godzilla' isn't really about trying to contend with these forces; it's about surrendering in awe to that which is beyond our control and letting nature take its course. After watching several rounds of missiles pelt off of the monsters like flies, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) proclaims it's time to "Let them fight." What follows is popcorn heaven.
See/Rent/Skip: Recently, the bones of a dinosaur the size of a basketball court and as tall as the Great Sphinx were discovered in Argentina. 'Godzilla' may be the closest you get to seeing what scientists are calling the Titanosaur. See it in a theatre, which it was made for, and bow down before the King of Monsters!