It’s been 60 years since Godzilla first appeared on screen, emerging from the ocean to wreak havoc on the city of Tokyo. Since then, we’ve seen the big guy transition from antagonist to hero and back again, with the bulk of his cinematic adventures featuring battles against other gargantuan monsters. But the creature was always at his best when he was portrayed as neither hero nor villain, but a terrifying, unstoppable force of nature, which is precisely what director Gareth Edwards seeks to emulate in this highly anticipated reimagining.
The film opens in 1999, with nuclear physicist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) researching a strange pattern of seismic activity that could threaten the stability of the power plant where he and his wife (Juliette Binoche) are employed. While officials dismiss the readings as aftershocks from an earthquake in the Philippines, Joe suspects otherwise, but a tragic accident levels the entire facility, splintering the Brody family and leaving Joe unable to complete his research.
Fifteen years later, the area surrounding the plant is still under quarantine, and Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is summoned to Japan to retrieve his father, who was arrested while trying to sneak into the family’s old home. Joe has become obsessed with discovering the source of the accident, and his current research indicates that the same incident that destroyed his life is on the verge of happening again. Ford reluctantly agrees to help out his old man, and before long the duo find themselves back at the site of the accident, where the Japanese government is hiding something big. Something very big.
Godzilla refuses to follow the pattern of other tentpole releases, which would no doubt have major action beats about every 10 minutes. Instead, Edwards pulls inspiration from the Jurassic Park formula, slowly ratcheting up the tension and doling out the big reveals in smaller doses. He also wisely showcases nearly every bit of action from eye- level, giving us a uniquely human perspective on the breathtaking scope of the destruction and keeping the audience invested in the plight of the regular-sized characters.
The film has a few minor issues, most notably a slew of immensely talented actors being reduced to one-note performances in supporting roles, and a somewhat silly explanation of the big guy’s origin, but in the grand scheme of things none of this really matters. What does matter is that fans have finally been given the Godzilla film they’ve been dreaming of, one that honors the memory of the original while erasing the painful memory of Roland Emmerich’s 1999 attempt. Edwards has created a tense, thrilling tale generously sprinkled with jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring moments, a film that takes itself and its history very seriously, and gets just about everything right.
8 out of 10 stars