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Here there be monsters Godzilla'

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Hollywood attempts once more to reboot iconic creature

In the mid-1950s, the Japanese film studio Toho Films essentially invented the 'giant monster' genre when they introduced the world to Godzilla. This radioactive reptilian a reaction to both the burgeoning atomic age in general and Japan's own then-recent dealings with the destructive potential of nuclear energy became a mainstay on Japan's movie screens, with nearly 30 films starring the monster appearing over the past six decades.

Alas, in this country, we have a well-documented history of never leaving well enough alone. Studios on this side of the Atlantic have made numerous attempts to appropriate the King of the Monsters for their own purposes and with varying degrees of success. Roland Emmerich's 1998 'Godzilla' is widely viewed as the worst of the bunch, a universally-panned attempt at starting a franchise that completely subverted everything that makes Godzilla great in the first place.

Now, 15 years later, Hollywood has tried again.

Our introduction into this world begins right from the opening credits; a mixture of archival and fictional footage illustrates a world in which gigantic radioactive monsters from prehistory exist, though they aren't known to the general public. A secretive organization called Monarch is responsible for monitoring any and all developments on the monster front.

In 1999, a mining company makes a mysterious discovery at one of their facilities in the Philippines. This results in a call to Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe, 'Inception'), the current head researcher for Monarch. Dr. Serizawa discovers the remains of some massive spores generated by ancient parasitic organisms one of which appears to have hatched.

Meanwhile, in Japan, Dr. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston, TV's 'Breaking Bad') and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche, 'Words and Pictures') are working at a nuclear facility when something goes terribly wrong. The reactor collapses, resulting in many casualties and a quarantine but Dr. Brody believes that the incident wasn't caused by any natural disaster.

We move to the present day. Joe and Sandra's son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, 'Kick-Ass 2') has grown up to become a military officer specializing in bomb disposal. He has just returned home from a tour of duty, reuniting with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olson, 'Oldboy') and son in San Francisco. But just as he returns, he gets word that his dad is in custody in Japan for violating the quarantine zone.

But when Ford goes to help his father, the two of them soon discover that there is much about their world that they don't understand there are big problems coming. Monstrous problems, one might say problems that no one has any real idea how to solve.

Cue the destruction. Lots and lots of destruction.

It's tempting to dismiss Godzilla as just an excuse to knock over buildings and generally mess up the place, but the metaphor at the creature's core is an important one. And while one might see the creature as some sort of mindless primal force see the aforementioned 1998 debacle the truth is a little more complicated than that. What this version of the film does that works is using the monster's status as an apex predator to turn it into mankind's protector after a fashion, anyway.

That's not to say there aren't flaws. There are some holes in the narrative that don't make much sense. The human characters who hold the focus a little longer than they probably should to begin with are mostly forgettable. There's sizeable talent here Cranston, Binoche, Watanabe, David Straithairn but no one is given much to do. And Taylor-Johnson and Olson are whitebread-bland, just boring as boring can be. It's hard to care about the human element of a monster movie when all you want is to see the monsters. And they're (mostly) worth the wait; the slow build proves worth it when the climactic battle comes along, though I could have used a bit more monster-on-monster action.

Godzilla movies have always been at their best when they can strike the balance between allegory and wanton destruction. This 'Godzilla' seems to more or less understand that. As the wise troubadours of Blue Oyster Cult once told us, history shows again and again how nature points out the folly of men.

Go go Godzilla.

[3.5 out of 5]

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