‘Godzilla’ rises above his campy cousins

05/15/2014 1:00 PM

05/15/2014 2:47 PM

It’s fitting that a film about a 355-foot reptile knows how to think big. “Godzilla” fully embraces its blockbuster stature, using high production values, cavernous sets and convincing special effects to create a monstrously entertaining experience. No creature feature has ever felt this huge. The movie is everything last year’s disappointing “Pacific Rim” tried to be. Sixty years after the original “Gojira” was released in Japan and went on to become an often-imitated cultural touchstone, the latest version balances homage with innovation. This isn’t a movie played for throwback laughs. But to call it “serious” doesn’t quite capture the spirit, either. It’s more a gloriously effective piece of disposable fun. Hard not to get caught up in the moment when you’re seemingly in the path of a yacht-sized foot. After a montage of black-and-white nuclear test footage plays under film credits made to look like redacted documents, we’re introduced to engineer Joe Brody (an edgy Bryan Cranston). Devastated by a deadly 1999 accident at his plant in the Philippines, Joe becomes obsessed with proving the real cause is even more dangerous than the reported fallout. “You’re not fooling anybody when you say that what happened was a ‘natural disaster,’ ” he raves to the corporate team assigned damage control. Joe gets arrested for trespassing in a restricted area, so son Ford (a buff Aaron Taylor-Johnson) arrives to bail him out. As an explosive ordinance disposal officer with the Navy, Ford is more of a straight arrow than Dad. But even he begins seeing patterns in Joe’s research to warn of long-dormant forces that could “send us back to the Stone Age.” Gareth Edwards — who directed the 2010 sci-fi parable “Monsters” — treats the dubious source material with respect. And patience. He inserts quiet, deliberate conversations between rampages. “Breaking Bad” star Cranston is particularly effective in a supporting role rife with monologues. And Elizabeth Olsen, while saddled with the pining damsel archetype, brings some compassion as Ford’s concerned wife. (Amusing that she and Taylor-Johnson are cast as brother and sister in next year’s “Avengers” sequel.) These scenes unto themselves are not particularly thrilling, but they collectively grant the movie some humanity. (It’s certainly a better approach than splicing Raymond Burr into the action, as the American distributor did to the 1954 Japanese original.) While scale is crucial to Edwards’ vision, so is perspective. None of “Godzilla” is seen from the monsters’ view. Instead, the filmmaker often frames these gigantic intruders through windows, vehicles, helmet visors — anything to give a manmade context to how enormous they are. It also bolsters the 3-D presentation by always placing something in the foreground. The film’s showstopping sequence finds Ford and a military unit parachuting into the flaming ruins of downtown San Francisco. The jump itself is already harrowing, but adding to the mix are skies obscured by black smoke and a battle between Godzilla and enemy MUTOs (massive unidentified terrestrial organisms). What a sight. The MUTOs look like a horrifying hybrid between a praying mantis, a brown recluse and a staple remover. Godzilla isn’t fully revealed until an hour into the flick, and when he appears he’s beefier and angrier than ever. (“With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound,” as Blue Oyster Cult accurately expressed in its 1977 song “Godzilla.”) More fins. More tail. More attitude. This “Godzilla” represents quite an upgrade from a dude in a rubber suit stomping across a miniature Tokyo.

‘GODZILLA’

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Rated PG-13 | Time: 2:03

GODZILLA THEN AND NOW

1954 original 2014 reboot
The monster Actor Haruo Nakajima in a latex suit A digital creation
Height 164 feet 355 feet
Making the roar Resin-covered leather glove dragged along the strings of a double bass Sound designers created a metallic shriek, followed by a wail and a bellowing finish.
Damaged cities Tokyo Tokyo, Honolulu, Las Vegas, San Francisco

3-D OR NOT 3-D?

The process avoids the eye-poking excesses of typical 3-D monster movies. Instead, it is mainly used to accentuate distance and scale.

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