Movie review: “Godzilla” a roaring start to summer

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From the May 15, 2014 edition

“Hollywood summer” starts before “actual summer.” The first big-budget, big-bang blockbuster-bait generally hits in early May now, and we know the drill.

This year, it was “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” kicking things off, and over the next three months or so, you’ll be seeing billions of dollars projected on movie screens. (Look for a roundup of what’s to come this summer next week.)

So is it premature to already declare “Godzilla” the best blockbuster of the summer? I’d say yes, were it not for the fact that it’s the best classic blockbuster in years. Is it formulaic? Yes, but finally someone is following the right formulas. Think Steven Spielberg in his prime.

So who is this next Spielberg, you ask? Young British director Gareth Edwards (who presumably grew up on a diet of Spielberg). Oh, and this is only his second feature film ever.

In taking on the beloved Japanese monster series — and hopefully erasing memories of the first time an American studio co-opted Godzilla, Roland Emmerich’s forgettable 1998 attempt — Edwards pays respect. The result is maybe the most exhilarating summer movie since “Jurassic Park.”

So what does Edwards get right (from the playbook of Spielberg and others)? For starters, he builds a sense of mystery around his central creature. The shark in “Jaws” was an unseen entity for the entire first half of the movie. The dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park” were rolled out in waves, with the big reveals like the T-rex held back until you were already in awe.

And when things really hit, it’s the sort of jaw-dropping experience that’s become all too rare in this type of movie.

The excellent cast (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston and more) do a great job with a script that sets up a human aspect to the monster toll. And the special effects make that toll amazingly destructive.

But director Edwards — who played with some of the same themes in his far-smaller-budget debut “Monsters” — shows he gets what made the great blockbusters work. And it looks like he’s made the next one.