In 1953, nuclear testing unleashed a prehistoric monster to wreak havoc on the modern world—in movie theatres, anyway. That monster was called The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, inspired by Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Fog Horn,” about a dinosaur that mistook a lighthouse’s warning horn for a mating call. The movie was a smash and Toho Studios in Japan quickly produced their own version, the tale of a similarly reawakened prehistoric monster, originally described as “half whale, half gorilla,” whose name was a combination of the Japanese words for the two animals: "Gojira." This name was Americanized into… Godzilla.

Toho Studios produced 28 Godzilla movies, where the “King of the Monsters” fought the citizens of Tokyo, space aliens, dinosaurs, mutants, robots, King Kong… and by 1994 Toho decided to put the big guy on hiatus, save for an officially licensed (and totally forgettable) American production in 1998. And now, on the 60th anniversary of his debut, we have another American version of Godzilla.


The new film is not so much a retelling as it is a condensation of all Godzilla lore since the first film. It largely succeeds, in addition to making the monster “relevant” to the present. If originally Godzilla was a metaphor for the perils of the atomic bomb, his new incarnation represents everything from bad environmental policy and government cover-ups to (of course) 9/11.


In 1999, the manager at a Japanese nuclear power plant notices unexplained reading coming from deep underground. What the government later says is an earthquake damages the plant and forces a shutdown, leaving the town surrounding it a radioactive wasteland. But the manager does not believe the official story and fifteen years later, he has proof of a cover-up. The real cause of the disaster is a gigantic creature that seems to be calling out to another of its kind… And they are both being hunted by…


To fill in all the blanks would include too many spoilers, and that, for all its plusses, is the biggest minus in Godzilla. While the science here is better than its 1998 predecessor (where the king of monsters turns out to be/turns into a queen), this still ain’t Neil deGrasse Tyson-approved. Too many major plot points are resolved by pithy statements, dramatically and questioned by no one, as if to say, “Well, that explains it!” There are false dramatic buildups, like when search teams opens a door to reveal nothing behind it—and in the immediate background we can see helicopters who already know what the deal is, yet the 'copter crews never radio the search teams to say, “Hey, guys, you might wanna kinda watch your step…” And the do this particular reveal twice, exactly the same.


Despite this and a couple of other frowny-face moments, Godzilla is entertaining but not nearly as much “fun” as last year’s Pacific Rim, perhaps because the movie wants us to the G-man seriously. But maybe that’s the price you pay: While it may be good to be the king, nobody said it was easy.

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