信じられないほどのゴジラがモンスターを攻撃 SPOILERS !
Caveats. First off, I've never been a huge fan of the original Godzilla movies. I've only seen a couple of them and they may well have been the worst of the series, but I'm honestly not convinced that the man-in-a-suit monster knocking over cardboard models and kicking other man-in-a-suit monsters in the knackers was enough to sustain a whole feature film, let alone a whole decades-spanning series. Maybe I'm wrong: maybe I missed the charm, and the importance of the character as a Japanese icon, but I've never really felt the need to go back and watch them. Secondly, I don't believe the Roland Emmerich film of 1998 was any kind of atrocity. As a Godzilla film it may well miss the point entirely (in the same way that Stallone's Judge Dredd may well miss the point of that character), but as a big dumb generic monster movie it was enjoyable enough.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, I'm not a huge fan of Gareth Edwards' Monsters, which kept its titular monsters very much in the background of a mumbly indie romance between two people I wasn't interested in. If you're calling it Monsters, show me the damned monsters, and don't give me any of that business about humanity are the real monsters, like the real monster in Alien is the Weyland-Yutani corporation or the real monster in Jaws is incompetent Mayor Larry Vaughn. Happily, however, when Edwards' Godzilla reboot eventually fulfils on the tease and reveals its monsters, it does puts them front and centre and is happy to sit back and watch them stomp all over the city and beat the crap out of one another.
Crucially, it doesn't cast Godzilla as a city-stomping monster just randomly destroying things until the military or the science bods figure out a way to stop it. Godzilla's job is to beat up other monsters: in this case two creatures nicknamed MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms, nothing to do with the mutated radiation victims in Genesis Of The Daleks) which feed on radioactivity and have lain dormant for centuries. In 1999 one of them attacks a Japanese nuclear power plant, and manager Bryan Cranston spends the next fifteen years trying to find out what happened and what's being kept hidden in the wreckage. Meanwhile Cranston's son Aaron Taylor-Johnson has grown up to be a US Navy bomb disposal expert; called out to Japan to bail his dad out of trouble yet again just as something is about to break out of the rubble....
It would surely have been very tempting to put Godzilla and the Mutos on screen in blazing sunlight after about ten minutes and then just have them fight and knock down buildings for the next two hours, but wisely our glimpses of the creatures are strictly rationed. As with last year's Pacific Rim, we see them mostly in the dark or in the rain: not to hide dodgy special effects (the CGI is magnificent, but so they damn well should be given the $160 million budget and the leaps in FX technology since Jurassic Park) but, at a guess, because it's going to look more impressive that way and it's far more engaging than, say, the relentless destructoporn of Man Of Steel or the Transformers films. I saw it in 2D and was perfectly happy with the visuals, but I can't help wondering whether the 3D light-loss would render some sequences indiscernible.
The main human characters don't really register against the King Of The Monsters: Taylor-Johnson is a blank, Elizabeth Olsen is criminally underused as his wife, and scientists Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins aren't given enough to do either. Frankly it's not that much of a problem: these films are conceived and sold - and consumed - on spectacle and action, not the cardboard people in them. Pacific Rim was great, and that didn't have fully rounded characters either. And given the unstoppable success of every superhero movie ever made, multidimensional and multifaceted characters are clearly not high on audience wishlists anyway.
Godzilla is pretty much exactly what I want a summer popcorn blockbuster to be: smart, spectacular and intelligent, without pandering to the dumbest hick in the room a la Michael Bay, without mercilessly targeting the clueless teen demographic. More importantly, it understands what Godzilla is - not just a giant lizard mindlessly punching skyscrapers, but a force of nature who exists to maintain a balance. It's not short of its inevitable city-smashing sequences (nice to see they're not trashing New York yet again), but it's terrifically well handled, the effects and Alexandre Desplat score are top, and even though it's a scratch over two hours long I didn't really want it to end. A hugely impressive start to the summer behemoth season.