I was well-prepared for one of the big movie events of the summer.
No, it wasn’t the original “Godzilla” that taught me the most important thing I know about Japanese monster movies. Nor was it “The Imagination of Disaster,” the classic 1965 essay by Susan Sontag, when she was on the way to becoming the most envied (and, therefore, most histrionically disliked) public intellectual of her time.
It was the Japanese movie “Mothra” about, yes, a giant monster moth that was on the bottom half of a double bill at the long-gone Century Theater with the film version of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit.” (Don’t ask why. Have no idea.)
There was a scene in “Mothra” where some lovely Japanese girls sang a worshipful hymn to “Mothra” (pronounced, charmingly, with three syllables, as in “Moth-uh-ra”) to get the monster moth to rid the world of some even greater monsters.
I thought of “Mothra” and all manner of other mythological Japanese monster movies as I watched director Gareth Edwards’ smashing (in every sense) revival of the venerable Japanese thunder lizard as he ascends to indisputable sovereignty as the creature feature of the movie summer.
This new “Godzilla” is as much of a city-and-countryside annihilating horror as he ever was. But in the new monster mythology, he also turns out to be humankind’s best hope of saving our poor beleaguered civilization from some new monsters called Mutos that look like a cross between a skyscraper-sized version of the monsters from “Alien” but with heads reminiscent of the gargoyles atop the Chrysler building. (See the accompanying interview with Edwards to discover the Mutos’ strange inspiration.)
There are, so far, all manner of complaints about this one: There’s too much soapy drama about people, that there’s too little convincing humanity in the drama, that there is, blah-blah-blah. It’s all a little true and all crashingly irrelevant.
It’s a great monster movie. This is the one about what a civilization-wrecking monster Godzilla is – except when compared to some smaller and meaner monsters called Mutos who are, it seems, his natural enemies.
Needless to say the Godzilla vs. Muto Heavyweight Championship of 2014 Monsterland resolves itself in such a way that both the human species and the Big Fella himself have a fighting chance for a Round Two.
Don’t bother telling me that you really wanted to see Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche in this movie and that your faves didn’t make the dramatic dent you hoped for. Don’t bother telling me either that Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, as husband and wife, are not your idea of charismatic leads among the Godzilla-dodgers. Of course they’re not, but who cares?
It’s a “Godzilla” movie, not a soap about disrupted lives in the military.
What the movie lacks in human dimension, it makes up for in good filmmaking and noir atmosphere at the beginning. And when our boy and his buddies get the movie to themselves to roar, scream, blast fire and spread mammoth destruction, they do the job you came to see.
To say that, cinematically, it may be the best “Godzilla” movie ever isn’t really saying much. But then, as those Japanese ladies knew as they sang loving hymns to Godzilla’s pal Mothra, “Godzilla” really is your movie megaplex friend.
And he’s big. And loud. And ugly. And fiery. And, he’s back.
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche
Director: Gareth Edwards
Running time: 123 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence that may be hard on the little ones.
The Lowdown: The Big Guy returns from ocean-floor hiding and fights some other scary monsters.