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Monster battles monsters in latest remake

May. 15, 2014
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Godzilla has seldom been just a random monster. He’s a destructive anxiety walking on two massive legs. The Japanese originators had the example of Hiroshima at hand in 1954, and they borrowed the idea of a prehistoric reptile come-to-life from exposure to radiation from an excellent American B-movie, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.


The atomic motif has been a through-line in the story’s many iterations, including the new 3-D Godzilla. As in some of the campiest Japanese flicks, the great reptile becomes humanity’s benefactor when worse monsters arise from the depths. In the new movie, Godzilla’s opponents are called Mutos, and are identified as “parasites.” The spindly, slimy winged things are the visual descendants of the truly scary monster from Alien (and a hundred others since). By contrast, Godzilla’s snarling visage seems almost cuddly.


The plot strains for significance with its international conspiracy to conceal the existence of the Mutos from the public; naturally, the ugly things begin to stir, first at a Japanese nuclear plant inside a quarantine zone where a meltdown had occurred years earlier, and then inside the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository where the U.S. stores its mate. Yes, that’s right, boy Muto, girl Muto, and they are itching to hook up (after millions of years of enforced abstinence) and produce little Mutos. The creatures have the power to shut down electricity, an interesting twist the screenplay fails to deploy consistently, and—are you ready?—they eat nuclear energy. It’s the food of monsters.


That revelation doesn’t prevent the U.S. military under Admiral Stenz (David Straithairn) to work up an elaborate plan to nuke the beasts. The admiral has no apparent civilian oversight and is surrounded by serious-faced men in camouflage who bark, “It is imperative that we find the creature,” and lines of that sort. A subtler Oriental mind perceives the truth. Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) knows that only Godzilla, also on Stenz’s checklist for destruction, can defeat the Mutos. Not that Godzilla is a gentle soul—a careless wave of his tail can topple a skyscraper; it has to do with balancing the universe or something.


The ready for Toys R Us action figure, Lieutenant Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is on hand for the destruction of Tokyo and Honolulu as well as the climactic battle for San Francisco, though no weapon in the American arsenal makes any impression on the thick-skinned beasts. The thinly-written cast is given many opportunities to run for their lives steps ahead of rolling doom, including a radiation cloud, a tsunami and the inevitable fireball (delivered by a flaming locomotive pulling an atom bomb). Dr. Ishiro is allowed to state the moral of the story: Nature, not man, in in control. It’s an anxiety from the atomic age that has gained new force in an era of climate change.


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