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Film Review: 'Godzilla'

★★★★☆
It's been sixty years since the release of Ishirō Honda's monster movie classic Godzilla (1954), and the fearsome reptile has gone on to become an icon of pop culture spawning no fewer than 28 iterations, the last of which is widely regarded as a failure. Only the sophomore effort from Gareth Edwards, the Monsters (2010) director was far from the obvious choice to bring the legendary beast to life once more, but thankfully the 29th iteration marks a triumphant return for the titular kaiju. It's a while before we see him though, as the film begins by focusing on Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), a nuclear technician whose wife died when the Japanese plant they worked at suffered a meltdown in 1999.

Unconvinced of the 'natural disaster' cover up by the government, he's been searching for answers on what really caused the meltdown in the 15 years since. Now a military bomb-disposal expert, his estranged son Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) tries desperately to convince his dad to move on, but when signs point to history repeating itself and a mysterious monster reawakens the senior Brody is proved right. Much like the original 1954 incarnation, there are a number of interesting themes that this version of Godzilla wrestles with, though the film does lack a strong through-line. The recurring suggestion that Godzilla is nature's way of restoring balance is reduced to several bits of ominous dialogue, most often delivered by Ken Watanabe's flustered scientist Dr. Ichiro Serizawa.

In addition, there initially looks to be a strong emphasis on family, but while you do care for the human characters the fight to reunite with one another isn't as involving as it should be. These flaws are most evident in a baggy middle act that nullifies the film's early momentum. For most of the run time Edwards deliberately keeps his monster fights tantalisingly out of reach. It's a frustrating gambit particularly as the build-up to these sequences are so well-executed, from Godzilla's awe-inspiring entrance to a cleverly directed HALO jump that only gets better as the jumpers descend. When Edwards finally plays his trump card, however, the result is nothing short of epic, and the climactic battle delivers satisfying spectacle in spades. The attention to detail is astonishing too, and in an era where visual movie magic is so prevalent, Godzilla is easily one of, if not the most technically accomplished. It helps that the vast majority of the money shots (and there are a few of them) have been left out of trailers too.

As for the human cast, it's very much a mixed bag. Cranston is predictably superb as Brody Sr., and the vast majority of emotional power generated from the film's opening act can be attributed to him. Conversely, Taylor-Johnson seems to be operating on a different energy level to everyone else for a significant chunk of the film. He and Elizabeth Olsen (underused here) display great chemistry in some early scene, but Taylor-Johnson is far more adept at portraying a military man than he is at emoting. Elsewhere, Watanabe does his best to make Dr. Serizawa relatable but is sadly saddled with the bulk of the exposition. The human drama isn't always as compelling as it wants to be, but at its best Godzilla is a hugely entertaining blockbuster that starts strongly before roaring towards its finale. The 'King of the Monsters' has returned - and it looks like he's here to stay.

Amon Warmann

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