godzilla-2014-WThe world’s favorite city crushing monster is back, in an exciting re-boot, or should I say re-stomp? Director Gareth Edwards is the man behind the latest iteration of “Godzilla”, and the lizard in the rubber suit has had a pretty spectacular makeover, with enough thrills and chills to cool the summer heat.

By my count, there have been 28 Godzilla movies since the radioactive monster made its debut in 1954, unless you count the dreadful 1998 “re-imagining” directed by Roland Emmerich. I don’t. I like to re-imagine it was never made.

The original was a low budget Japanese kaiju*sci-fi feature, called “Gorzira”, about a giant lizard, mutated by nuclear radiation, who ravages Japan and brings back the horrors of World War II’s nuclear devastation. The black-and-white 1954 film was so successful, that in 1956, it was released in America as “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!” The American version featured much of the original film, splicing in some American-made scenes with actor Raymond Burr basically explaining the story. Although dismissed by critics, the film was a box office success, grossing up to $2 million (it was 1956!) in the United States alone, and in the intervening years the film has become a classic, and Godzilla has become a beloved monster. Did I mention that, despite the city-ravaging part, Godzilla is the good guy?

This time around, we’re back in Japan, and as the first film reminded us of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we’re now reminded of 2011’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. After seeing his young son, Ford off to school, Nuclear power plant manager Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) begins to suspect that some suspiciously patterned seismic activity may be something more sinister than shifting tectonic plates. When the plant goes into meltdown mode, Brody’s wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche), who works in the reactor, gets caught on the wrong side of the containment door, and a massive cover-up ensues.

15-years-later, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson “Kick-Ass”) has become a bomb-disposal expert in the U.S. military. He’s just returned home to his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and their son Sam (Carson Bolde) when he gets word that Joe been arrested in Japan. Long estranged from his father, who he wrote off as a conspiracy theorist for his failed efforts to prove the Japanese government was attempting to hide something in the disaster, Ford nevertheless ventures to Japan to get him out of jail, and reluctantly agrees to join him in venturing to their old home in the still-quarantined zone.

Before you can say, “Mosura ya!” the pair end up in the very plant where Joe used to work, and where scientists Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) are studying a massive cocoon-like structure that appears to feed on radiation. The situation turns critical when the events of the present begin to mirror the events of the past, and a terrifying winged-creature dubbed a “MUTO” is unleashed.

As the military attempts to devise a plan to destroy the beast, signals indicate that it had been calling out to something before it broke free, and the scientists learn that it has awoken a towering, godlike leviathan that has lied dormant for centuries, and may be mankind’s only hope for restoring the balance of nature. Who you gonna call? Godzilla!

Edwards has chosen to have his actors play it straight – no campiness, no sly winks to the camera – and it all works. The ensemble is solid, including the always dependable Cranston, and a “kick-ass” performance from Aaron Taylor-Johnson. But, let’s face it, we don’t go to a “Godzilla” movie to see the actors.

Movie special effects have come a long way since a guy in Japan donned a rubber suit to stomp on tiny models of Tokyo, and hundreds of special effects and CG wizards have combined to create a dazzling world of atmospheric images. Am I the only one who gets a big thrill watching monsters wrecking major cities? Let’s just say I’ll probably never look at the Golden Gate Bridge the same way again.

“Godzilla” is great fun, and should be viewed on the biggest screen possible. Catch it at IMAX if you can.

The Bottom Line: “Godzilla” is a terrific way to usher in the summer blockbuster season, and the cartoon violence should be fine for most audience members over 13. Just for fun, rent the first American version. The kids will get a kick out of seeing how far special effects have come. This monster should easily stomp the competition at the box office.

MPAA Rating: (PG-13) for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence. 2 hr. 3 min.

*Kaiju films usually showcase monsters of any form, usually attacking a major Japanese city or engaging another (or multiple) monster(s) in battle.

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