‘Godzilla’ excels as a stomping, roaring summer blockbuster

Movie: Godzilla; Director: Gareth Edwards; Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures; Rating: PG-13; My finding: 3 and a half out of five stars.

This most recent Godzilla is a grand return to form and a show that Hollywood still knows how to churn out a summer action blockbuster with gravity and heart, even when the titular star is a roaring, fire-breathing “alphapredator” from millions and millions of years ago.

That’s because director Gareth Edwards opts for a slow-burn approach and doesn’t allow Godzilla’s might to be seen in full form until characters have been realized, history is set and context is there. It’s a dangerous approach in an era of immediate payoff and shrieking action sequences, but it pays off.

The first scene is reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 adaptation of Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park.”

The year is about the same and a very corporate-looking white helicopter is soaring over forested mountains in the Philippines headed to a far-flung mining operation where the mining floor has collapsed and has revealed what appear to be gigantic, prehistoric glowing eggs.

Cut then to a nuclear power plant in Japan where plant administrator Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston of television’s “Breaking Bad” fame) is about to have a very bad birthday. He loses a loved one in a nuclear meltdown that appears to be caused by seismic activity, although the seismographs reveal an overly organized quake reading that doesn’t appear to be natural.

The incidents are obviously related, and 15 years later Brody, still living in Japan albeit in a tiny conspiracy theorist’s apartment, has driven himself to the brink of insanity in a desperate attempt to figure out what really happened the

day his life changed.

His now-grown son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, bulked up from his dorky days in 2010’s “Kick-Ass”), is a Navy lieutenant who just arrived back from deployment and is eager to see his wife and children in San Francisco. The scene is set. Just like his father before him we see him on his birthday and his young son and wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen, of 2011’s excellent “Martha Marcy May Marlene”) have baked him a cake. Elle’s about to give him another, special birthday present when he gets a call that his father has been arrested “again” in Japan for trespassing in the protected zone after the nuclear disaster.

We come to know the characters in ways you don’t expect in modern action films and it’s actually completely refreshing. Godzilla is still the star of the show, but he’s not the first giant monster we see.

Instead, Joe was right and there is something under the power plant. But it’s not Godzilla. It’s been feeding on radiation from, first, the earth’s core and then the power plant and now it’s reached maturity.

And it’s ready to mate.

The action sequences after alphapredator Godzilla awakens all hungry are showstoppers but intelligible. They’re actually fighting and destroying particular buildings in cities, rather than jumpcuts and moving frames and shrieking metal (“Transformer” series, ugh) – and it’s a joy.

Edwards makes mostly the right moves in this revival. Of the nearly 30 Godzilla films released since the dawn of films, the last was Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version, which left a bad taste and derailed the franchise by being too “Hollywood.” The cultural cues and marks are here and there’s enough tension buildup from the opening credit sequence of docked government materials to the final frames that makes you feel there’s something more that we have to learn, just beneath the surface.

If Edwards returns for another to show some more, you can count me in.

(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews appear in Thursday’s Arts & Entertainment section.)