This 2014 version, directed by Gareth Edwards, is inspired by the original 1954 “Gojira,” the uncut, 98-minute Japanese original (not the cheesy shortened, dubbed, Americanized “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!” with Raymond Burr in 1956).
The current “Godzilla” is mostly serious and aware of the original movie’s message — complete with a key reference to Hiroshima — but also true to its homemade monster effects.
And while the 1998 “Godzilla” appeared to be the result of test marketing, with a bigger, faster, louder monster, this new film respects the monsters, and is in awe of them.
It begins in flashback when a nuclear physicist (Bryan Cranston) discovers a weird pattern to tremors in Tokyo and a nuclear power plant is destroyed. Fifteen years later, his son grows up to be U.S. Navy Lt. Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, from “Kick-Ass”).
The tremors have begun anew, and this time, three monsters emerge. Worse, they seem to be headed to the Bay Area, where Ford’s wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son live.
Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins play scientists who secretly have been studying the monsters.
For once, Hollywood has chosen a director wisely. British filmmaker Edwards — who made 2010’s low-budget “Monsters” — pays equal attention to action and storytelling.
He wrings emotional energy from the characters by separating several families — not just young Ford from his father, and older Ford from his wife and child, but also a family of tourists in an airport.
Even the monsters are not immune. Two of them, called “Mutos,” are bent on breeding and spawning an army of creatures; Edwards shows their anguish when these plans are interrupted.
The movie roars to life during the monster battles. Godzilla moves slowly, rhythmically, and his battle cry is classically familiar. An enormous amount of property is destroyed; often the tip of a tail will brush carelessly against a skyscraper, smashing several stories into rubble.
“Godzilla” employs the series’ old theme, man’s excessive meddling in nature, and reminds us why the beloved monster has endured for 60 years in more than 30 movies, plus TV shows, cartoons, comic books, etc.
Yet by focusing on nuclear issues rather than contemporary environmental concerns, it feels slightly out of time. It’s well-made, but could have been a bit more pointed, or a bit more fun — like Godzilla himself.
Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston
Written by Max Borenstein
Directed by Gareth Edwards
Running time 2 hours, 3 minutes