Godzilla (2014)

(On Cable TV, February 2015) The American 1998 Godzilla film may be nearly two decades old, it’s still enough of a cautionary tale to lower expectations about the 2014 version.  Fortunately, this latest iteration of the character doesn’t need lowered expectations:  Ably helmed by director Gareth Edwards (making the jump to multi-million moviemaking right from the clever low-budget Monsters), Godzilla is an imperfect but satisfying take on the classic character, updated to the latest expectations but old-fashioned in its willingness to deliver the basics of a monster movie.  One of the best demonstrations of this film’s understanding of the Godzilla mythos is its explicit willingness to treat Godzilla as a force of nature, an anti-hero to be used against bigger threats rather than a threat in itself.  Relatively daring is the decision to keep Godzilla half-seen until late in the film, occasional glimpses of his bulk being enough to keep us satisfied until the climax.  Coming in late in the monster-movie game, Godzilla can also afford to skip over the expected parts, showing us the resulting destruction as a highlight news reel rather than the main sequence itself.  The way the mythology is explained is quite successful, instantly raising the credibility of the film with some entertaining confabulations.  The Japanese origins of the character are treated with respect (who better than Ken Watanabe to be the voice of reason?), and there are a number of small mythos winks (from 1954 to Mothra) to keep even casual fans entertained.  Where the film doesn’t do as well is with its human characters: While Aaron Taylor-Johnson isn’t bad as the protagonist (showing a far more respectable image than in the Kick-Ass films or Anna Karenina), he’s a bit underwritten, and that also goes for the other characters.  The fast-moving nature of the film offers few opportunities for credible character involvement, and some of the plot tricks get far-fetched after a while.  Still, let’s not be overly critical: This Godzilla is a pretty good treatment of the character, and it offers a steady succession of small thrills along the way.  Not bad at all.

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