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Director Gareth Edwards' resurrection of Godzilla owes its success not just to spectacular set pieces but also to a human story that blends seamlessly with the monster carnage.
The film starts with a tragedy as Bryan Cranston's nuclear technician witnesses the destruction of his Japanese plant and death of his wife. Plagued by guilt, Cranston's Joe Brody spends 15 years trying to disprove the government cover story that it was caused by a natural disaster.
In doing so he distances himself from his son Ford (Aaron Taylor Johnson), who in those 15 years has joined the army and started a family with Elle (Elizabeth Olsen). Discovering his father has been arrested for entering the quarantine zone where the plant and nearby city has been closed off, Ford jets off to Japan.
Soon the pair enters the quarantine zone and their former family home, but are caught and taken to the base of operations where the plant once stood. There stands a giant alien-looking cocoon from which Muto (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object) predictably spawns. The Muto design is modern, sleeker and alien by design - a nice offset to Godzilla's more old-school look.
This early portion of the film works well in setting up the tone and threat while still laying down the groundwork for Godzilla's eventual arrival. This is a series born out of Japan's post-Hiroshima fear of nuclear power and Edwards' tale - particularly in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster - stays faithful to such concerns, even though he tinkers with Godzilla's origins.
Even so, most of the credit should go to Cranston, who draws the audience in, making his character and his son the film's emotional hook.
Characters established, the monster action comes frustratingly late to the party, despite the full reveals of both Muto and Godzilla early on. Scraps between the two in Hawaii are shown only briefly, but such teases do make the final full-screen showdowns all the better.
These sequences are exciting and well-directed but let down by some ham-fisted exposition in between from Ken Watanabe's Dr Ichiro Serizawa, Sally Hawkins' Vivienne Graham and David Strathairn's Admiral William Stenz. Hawkins' character in particular only seems to be there to ease Watanabe's load.
These scenes, coupled with the action jumping quickly from devastated locale to devastated locale make for a muddled central portion that does little but explain the plot as the monsters head towards their final showdown. Some of the momentum from those early scenes is lost, but as we head towards the final act, Edwards pulls his socks up and gets back on track.
With everything eventually set up the film hurtles towards a climactic monster showdown, with the humans doing their best to survive. Thankfully this western Godzilla doesn't boil down to humans v monsters. Instead each species has its own concerns – chiefly to survive.
So, that final act. All the pieces of the puzzle have convened in San Francisco and after a final teased clash, Ford performs the Halo jump that features in the film's first trailer. From that jump onwards Edwards directs to the best of his ability, with the camera often moving from a clash of titans down to what's going on with the people caught up in it and then back again seamlessly.
Despite some concerns earlier on that the action might be obscured by buildings or dust, the final clashes are clear and make for excellent, riveting cinema. Edwards' direction keeps you mesmerised.
All the while the human stars still don't feel superficial or a hindrance. Olsen and Taylor-Johnson make for likeable leads, even though the former is underserved by a script that gives her little to do. Johnson is given more, much more, and carries the film well – certainly better than Watanabe.
It may be melodramatic and hammy at times but given the subject matter that's forgivable. This is a well made B-movie that delivers an incredible, satisfying finale.
Watch the trailer for Godzilla, below.