Gareth Edwards’ vision for a new Godzilla (B+) is a you-are-there disaster epic with undertones of family drama and a down-to-earth reality undergirding its myth and mayhem. There’s no camp or comedy in this mighty, muscular take on the classic monster legend. Gorgeous retro news reels and a globetrotting travelogue of sequences help plot out the possibilities early, even as surprises lurk behind every corner and cavern. Grounding the proceedings in its serious sphere is Aaron Taylor-Johnson as an extremely likable protagonist, balancing duties as father, husband, son and military operative against the backdrop of worldwide catastrophe. Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe provide additional heft to the proceedings in supporting roles as men who have studied conspiracies that are finally resurfacing. The monsters and their powers are wisely revealed over time during the film’s somewhat long duration, and the slow burn glimpses help build realism and suspense. The stunt work, art direction and effects are quite remarkable, presenting a modern look and feel while hearkening back to some of the iconography purists will crave. Although Edwards can’t sustain his taut atmosphere through every beat of the obligatory final showdowns in San Francisco, he certainly gives a summer movie audience its packed punch of epic thrills. There’s not gonna be a 13-year-old boy on earth who will be able to resist this action flick; and luckily for folks of all ages, it’s a pretty spectacularly well-made film for this genre if you’re going to venture to the cinema for a big screen blockbuster.
In the battle of ‘90’s volcano movies, Roger Donaldson, a craftsmanlike director who doesn’t veer too much from centrist entertainment, has made the best of the batch: Dante’s Peak (B). Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton provide enough human interest that when the blast of excitement happens, you still have some skin in the game about who survives.
Jan de Bont’s Twister (C-) is perpetually stuck in the suck zone. Cardboard characters played by Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt seem stationed in their roles to be ready when the big tornado effects come in to do their magic. It’s all a downward spiral.