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"GODZILLA (2014)"
(2014) (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen) (PG-13)

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Sci-Fi: Various humans must deal with radioactive behemoths that have reemerged from their subterranean lairs and do battle on a massive scale.
It's 1999 and Joe Brody (BRYAN CRANSTON) is a nuclear power plant engineer living in Japan with his wife, Sandra (JULIETTE BINOCHE), and young son, Ford (CJ ADAMS). Joe is concerned about an increasing number of peculiar seismic events, particularly as they relate to the power plant. But disaster and tragedy strike when massive tremors strike, with Joe having to seal off part of the plant to prevent a radioactive cloud from escaping, resulting in the deaths of Sandra and others.

Fifteen years later, Joe is arrested trying to enter the long-quarantined city, an act that doesn't surprise but still disappoints Ford (AARON TAYLOR-JOHNSON). He's now a lieutenant in the U.S. military and on leave back in San Francisco to see his doctor wife, Elle (ELIZABETH OLSEN), and their young son, Sam (CARSON BOLDE). Ford ends up traveling overseas to get his dad out of jail, but eventually discovers that his father was correct about a massive cover-up at the old plant.

There, Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (KEN WATANABE), his assistant, Vivienne Graham (SALLY HAWKINS), and their team are working on the discovery of a Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism (MUTO). When seismic activity similar to the earlier event strikes, the radioactive-feeding monster is unleashed and wrecks havoc on the facility before escaping. To make matters worse, it's learned that another MUTO -- this one a much larger female desirous of mating with the smaller male -- is now also on the loose, as is a massive monster known as Godzilla.

With all three creatures headed toward San Francisco, Admiral William Stenz (DAVID STRATHAIRN) decides they must take action to stop the beasts, and that such action should involve the use of a nuclear bomb to kill all of them. With Ford volunteering to arm the nuke the old-fashioned way -- since the MUTOs occasionally emit electromagnetic pulses that render all electronics useless -- it's a race against time to stop the monsters before they lay waste to the city during their likely epic scale battle.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
I'm not sure what film initially made me fall in love with movies, but I'd guess it was something I saw on TV in the late 1960s or early '70s. I can say with clarity, however, that the first film I begged to see in the theaters was "Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster." That would have been 1971 or 1972 and my poor father accompanied me to see a guy in a rubber suit stomping around a cheap-looking set while battling the other title monster.

I have no idea what spurred on my interest for that film (although it likely was my fascination with dinosaurs and belief at that time that Godzilla must have been some type of one) and I certainly don't recall seeing any trailer or TV or newspaper ad for the flick. While I'm fairly certain I wouldn't gush over seeing it today, it was spot-on for my seven or eight-year-old mind at that time.

The same will likely hold true for some future middle-aged person looking back on their childhood and remembering seeing the 2014 update of "Godzilla." Granted, this new version -- a reboot following Roland Emmerich's 1998 offering that made decent bucks at the box office but wasn't well-received by critics or fans of the old rubber suit monster -- is decidedly more photo-realistic than my first exposure. And it's clearly more violent and intense during its two hours where bursts of mayhem result in lots of deaths and city damage and destruction that would make superhero movies green with envy.

I will say that I was really looking forward to this release based on the tremendous initial trailer that made the pending film look like a decidedly different and adult take on the old monster movie genre. With barely a view of the big guy but a foreboding aura that permeated the footage (accompanied by a score seemingly lifted or newly made for some intense horror flick), the preview was simply awe-inspiring.

Alas, I can't say the same about the film. To be fair -- not to mention accurate -- what's offered isn't horrible by any means, but it's definitely not as good as the trailer teased and promised. Perhaps my expectations were too high or my love-affair with Godzilla too deep (I'm sure my plastic model of him from the '70s is still in some box somewhere in the basement). Whatever the case, and aside from a smattering of cool moments here and there, my overall reaction to the spectacle isn't much more than a muted "meh."

Part of the problem stems from the inevitable inclusion of human characters into such stories. Okay, they are actually necessary as most viewers would tires of only watching the beasties beat the pulp out of each other while smashing and crashing through various buildings. But the way in which screenwriter Max Borenstein has fashioned most of the little people (in comparison to their behemoth counterparts) and filled their mouths with mostly banal dialogue leaves a lot to be desired. It might not be quite as bad as some of Jerry Bruckheimer's blockbuster offerings, but few of the characters are drawn with enough depth to hold our interest.

The exception to that is the one played by the great Bryan Cranston who appears in both the 1999 set prologue and then, briefly, in the contemporary setting. He plays a nuclear engineer who's seemingly delved into madness following an incident 15 years earlier in Japan that left his coworker wife dead (somewhat by his own hands) and the city in which they lived quarantined ever since.

Unfortunately, Cranston's character departs the story and is replaced by his far less interesting and decidedly more rote military son played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. After learning his father wasn't the whack-job as he long believed, Ford now finds himself immersed in the efforts to protect the world, and specifically San Francisco, not only from Godzilla, but also two monsters known as MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms). While his doctor wife (Elizabeth Olsen) tends to the wounded and worries about her spouse, he's out traveling parts of the world assisting a Navy commander (David Strathairn) who oddly keeps consulting a Japanese scientist (a wasted Ken Watanabe) who really doesn't have much useful info to share.

The other glaring problem is that director Gareth Edwards obviously watched too many Steven Spielberg movies before making this one. From the aerial shot showing the title character swimming beneath a ship (to showcase his enormous size, something also done in "Jaws") to the government cover-up ("Close Encounters") and far too many moments lifted from "Jurassic Park" (even including the head-down deafening roar of the T-Rex that G-zilla seems to be imitating here), there are too many moments that will likely remind savvy viewers (or even those simply with good memories) of those far better pics.

The monster on monster battle sequences are decently handled from a special effects perspective (although they're somewhat akin to a larger scale version of the city building destruction that occurs in flicks like "The Avengers" and the recent "Superman" movie). By the time they go into full action mode, however, all of the boring human action has ended up draining much of the fun and excitement from the offering.

If it's not going to deliver on the trailer's promise of being something profound and awe-inspiring, at least it should have fun (camp or not) like the old flicks. Better than the 1998 version but nowhere as good as I was hoping and expecting, this latest take on "Godzilla" rates as just a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed May 12, 2014 / Posted May 16, 2014

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