Considering the last time he crashed into American movie theaters was for the spotty 1998 remake (more on that in a minute), it's with a mixture of trepidation and excitement that this new Godzilla is met. Still, where there are buildings to topple, there will be Godzilla.
This new "Godzilla" is a contemporary tale that follows a disparate group of characters, including Bryan Cranston's nuclear scientist-turned-conspiracy theorist, Aaron Taylor-Johnson's young infantryman, Elizabeth Olsen's nurse, and Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins, who work for a shady government agency, as they deal with the fallout of Godzilla's return to civilization. That's right: return.
But is this something you should rush out and see or is sitting through this movie worse than getting doused with radioactivity (or crushed to death by falling rubble)? Read on to find out.
1. It's Nothing Like the 1998 'Godzilla'
1998's "Godzilla," shepherded by the then-unstoppable team of producer Dean Devlin and director Roland Emmerich, left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. So much so that studio TriStar didn't even capitalize on the fact that it held the rights to one of the most recognized movie characters in the history of the medium. (Instead of making proper sequels, it produced a shoddily animated television series, all of which is streaming on Netflix currently.) That movie was clunky and overwrought; thankfully, this new "Godzilla" is nothing like that 1998 monstrosity. In many ways, it seems like it is deliberately addressing the earlier film and trying to retroactively fix not just the franchise but the monster (gone is that ridiculous sea iguana design). Godzilla's got a brand new bag.
2. There's Not s Lot of Godzilla in 'Godzilla'
Director Gareth Edwards's first film was called "Monsters," and it was a movie that was almost entirely free of monsters. He seems to have implemented a similar philosophy with "Godzilla," although the results are much more satisfying (truthfully, I wanted to punch someone in the face after seeing "Monsters"). Instead of withholding, Edwards is coming from the Steven Spielberg school of teasing the audience with brief flashes (a foot here, a tail there) and saving the giant monster melee that we've all paid our $16.50 for until the third act, when things get really crazy.
3. It's Actually Scary
Tying in with Edwards's philosophy is his ability to wring actual suspense and scariness from the monsters, something that the 1998 film didn't even attempt (and, really, the original series only periodically engaged with).
4. There Are Other Monsters Besides Godzilla
We can't say anything else, besides the fact that they're given the nifty acronym/codename M.U.T.O.s (which stands for massive unidentified terrestrial organism, don'tchaknow) and they are nasty buggers. One more thing: They aren't based on any preexisting Godzilla foes, although there are some design references that you might find familiar...
5. It Looks Gorgeous
The movie was shot by Seamus McGarvey, who photographed such sumptuous cinematic experiences as "The Hours," "Atonement," "We Need to Talk About Kevin" and, um, "Along Came Polly." Anyway, this is his follow-up to 2012's "Anna Karenina," one of the more beautiful movies in recent memory. Edwards and McGarvey capture the action mostly through long, fluid takes that emphasize geographic orientation over frantic action, mimicking the pacing and staging of action auteurs like John McTiernan. It's so lovely to watch, and it does a lot to bring you into the world of "Godzilla" in a full and complete way; it's really stunning.
6. The Score Is Great
When you think of Godzilla, you probably think of the piece of music written by Akira Ifukube, which was originally intended for use alongside the Japanese Self Defense force that was featured in the movie, but quickly became more closely associated with the giant radioactive monster. (It was used in subsequent films to signal the monster's arrival.) That piece of music is NOT in this "Godzilla," nor are any of the awful of-the-moment pop songs from the 1998 film's soundtrack (remember Puff Daddy's contribution?) Instead, there's an amazing score by Alexandre Desplat, a composer known for his highbrow collaborations with Jonathan Glazer, Wes Anderson, and David Fincher. Godzilla has a new theme, and it's almost as great.
7. Godzilla Junior Isn't in It
What? Like you weren't wondering that.
8. It's Actually Pretty Emotional, and in Ways You Wouldn't Expect
One of the biggest accomplishments of "Godzilla" is that, even though the story meanders and can be kind of silly, it has a clear emotional through-line. Not only is the familial drama skillfully etched, with Aaron Taylor-Johnson's military father using his deployment as a way of dodging his responsibilities to his wife and child (although, who would ever want to leave Elizabeth Olsen behind?), but also in the development of the bond that he and his father finally form, so late in life, years after tragedy ripped their family apart. But the more unexpected emotional undercurrent of the movie comes when the audience starts to root for, and then finally love, Godzilla. The less said the better, but I was not expecting to have my heart tugged by a big giant lizard.
9. IMAX 3D Is a Must With This One
This is a big, spectacular movie that should probably be seen in the biggest, most spectacular way and, like last year's monster mash "Pacific Rim," is benefitted greatly by the IMAX 3D presentation. So, yes, it's worth the extra couple of bucks for IMAX and the couple bucks on top of that for 3D. Because it really needs to be seen on a screen where you can drink in the larger-than-life details and the sound design deserves IMAX's high caliber presentation as well. Trust me.
10. 'Godzilla 2' Can't Come Quickly Enough
Considering it takes almost the whole movie to get a look at the new, beautifully redesigned Godzilla, it makes you ready for another monster mash almost immediately. Hopefully this movie is a big hit and Legendary and Warner Bros. have the good sense to retain the creative talents of Gareth Edwards and his leads Taylor-Johnson and Olsen. There are plenty of monsters left to brawl with...
"Godzilla" opens everywhere Friday, May 16.