Directed By: Gareth Edwards

Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, and Bryan Cranston

"The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control... and not the other way around.  Let them fight."
-Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe)

It's sometimes amazing to watch how cinema has evolved with technology, and I'm not talking about elaborate, expensive special effects.  What I'm talking about is how our technological progress can often influence the finer details of a film, even in the most fantastical storylines.  Take Superman II and Man of Steel for instance.  There's a big difference between a General Zod who comes to Earth for a simple taste of revenge against the son of his jailer and one who comes to honor his people by terraforming and recolonizing.  You could make this case for countless films, but it once again becomes crystal clear this weekend with the first 21st century film about the King of the Monsters.  The days of the oxygen destroyer are over, and the days of natural order are just beginning with this weekend's Godzilla.

It's 1999.  Working for an organization known as Monarch, scientists Ichiro Serizawa and Vivienne Graham (Watanabe and Sally Hawkins) discover a skeleton at a quarry in the Philippines.  Elsewhere around the globe, what appears to be an earthquake at the Janjira Nuclear Plant claims many lives including Sandy Brody (Juliette Binoche), the wife of nuclear technician Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston).  Because of the massive damage and the toxic waste that leaked at the plant, Janjira is deemed unsafe and quarantined.  Strangely enough, the shocks from the earthquake that destroyed so much seemed to occur in patterns whereas any natural earthquake is far more random because of shifting tectonic plates.  Devastated by the loss of his wife, Joe becomes two things — pissed off and curious.

Fifteen years later in the present day, Joe's son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) returns home to San Francisco from active duty with the US Navy as a bomb disposal technician.  He gets to spend just one lovely night with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and his son Sam (Carlson Bolde) until he has to hit the road again courtesy of his father.  Joe's been locked up in Japan for trespassing at the quarantined site that once was Janjira.  He's trying to prove that the earthquake some fifteen years ago was not a natural disaster and that they were trying to hide something, a living thing that will send them all back to the Stone Age.  When Ford bails him out of jail, Joe goes right back to Janjira, this time with his skeptical, reluctant son.  Once again, Joe gets caught.  This time, he and Ford are captured and taken to a scientific facility nearby where Operation Monarch scientists Serizawa and Graham are studying the gargantuan chrysalis they found at the quarry.  Soon, Joe is proven right in the most nightmarish of ways.  The Brody family, the Operation Monarch team, and Rear Admiral William Stenz (David Strathairn) of the US Navy now have real-life monsters on their hands.

Godzilla!  Godzilla!  Godzilla!  The 2014 summer movie season has kicked into high gear, and the King of the Monsters is viciously and voraciously leading the pack.  This godlike being has got a taste for MUTOs, and watching him hunt is one entertaining cinematic ride.  For the first time in ages, the humans don't get on my nerves in a movie of this grand scale.  The spectacle, the intensity, and the detail all make Gareth Edwards's re-imagining of this classic character one immense film.  Simultaneously, the passionate performances from his cast help make the human storyline far more interesting than your typical entry in the genre.  If you’re an aficionado of monster movies, you’ll instantly fall in love with Godzilla.

It's undeniable that Edwards's remake is larger-than-life in scale and scope.  He creates an immense landscape for these even larger monsters to decimate in every way.  After all, locations are most important in a blockbuster when they're being toppled by disasters, natural and unnatural alike.  Hitting Tokyo, Honolulu, Las Vegas, and San Francisco, Edwards sets the stage with some great locales.  What makes these locations so great is that they all add a unique element to the mysterious, suspenseful tone Edwards sets throughout the movie.  Tokyo adds the nostalgia that harkens back to the 1954 original Gojira and the overarching themes of nuclear power in the wake of Hiroshima.  Honolulu provides a mysterious setting befitting some thrilling monster battles.  Las Vegas and my beloved Strip purely provide comic relief by mixing monsters and gambling.  With the Golden Gate Bridge, the bay, and its beautiful skyline, San Francisco provides the grand backdrop perfect for a climactic final battle.

As for the monsters themselves, Edwards gives us some imposing creatures that are menacing in every way.  Paying homage to the original blackish-greenish Godzilla plopping around in a rubber suit in the original, Edwards puts a 2014 spin on the King of the Monsters and makes him one intense beast.  As tall as a skyscraper and as powerful as ever, Godzilla is finally everything moviegoers could have ever imagined since arriving on the big screen some 60 years ago.  Godzilla's nemeses, the MUTOs, are equally monstrous.  The only things to which I can equate these Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms are the alien vessels that held captured humans in Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds.  They're just creepy and huge.  Letting them fight Godzilla is certainly no mistake on Edwards's part.

From a filmmaking standpoint, Edwards excels as well.  He builds a thrilling spectacle in great detail.  Setting the stage for this epic tale requires more than just big monsters and great locales ripe for destruction.  It requires a believable tale in this day in age to explain how it all comes to pass.  Using nature, radioactivity, and a little divinity, Edwards delivers exactly this.  It also requires deftly crafted thrills time and time again.  Whether tremors masked as earthquakes, planes dropping out of the sky like flies, or birds flying like bats out of hell, Edwards delivers exactly this.  It requires employing all kinds of cinematic techniques to fuel the fire and build intrigue.  Whether the thunderous sound of Godzilla's roar, dark visuals marked by gritty cinematography, or rapid camerawork to convey the chaos of it all, Edwards delivers exactly this.

I know I've heaped a lot of praise on Gareth Edwards, but Godzilla is not a one-man show.  I’ve got to show some love for his cast as well.  They all deliver the goods.  As our main character Ford Brody, Aaron Taylor-Johnson gives a kick-ass performance (pun intended) where he proves he can do more than play a vigilante in a mask.  Elizabeth Olsen, Taylor-Johnson's emotional on-screen wife and future super-powered sister in The Avengers: Age of Ultron next year, does quite well as the film's leading lady.  As Rear Admiral William Stenz, David Strathairn gives a stalwart performance in the face of utter mayhem.  While those three give solid performances, the standouts in Godzilla are Ken Watanabe and Bryan Cranston.  For his part as Ichiro Serizawa, Watanabe offers one eerie, spooked scientist and quite a few of the movie's money quotes.  The same can be said for Bryan Cranston in his role as Joe Brody.  The only difference is that he channels his inner Walter White in a fierce, intense way.

Mark May 16, 2014 on your calendars because Gareth Edwards has righted the wrongs of the past and made the first great American take on the King of the Monsters.  On this 60th anniversary of his arrival from the waters of the Pacific to terrorize Japan, Edwards shows us that Godzilla still has it.  With a stunning monster film on the grandest of scales and a talented cast that fuels a strong human storyline, Godzilla is everybody's kind of movie.  Edwards's remake gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.