He’s a monster so powerful that even a thousand remakes can’t hurt him. When Ishirō Honda’s haunting 1954 original hit USA theaters—two years later, bearing the excitable title Godzilla: King of the Monsters!—it was already a different beast, significantly shortened and recut with a Raymond Burr storyline to provide English-language commentary and a character with whom white Americans could identify. The iconic creature’s starred in two dozen adaptations since, morphing from unstoppable horror to scaly defender of the people, meaning modern interpretations can pretty much take their pick.
And Godzilla does, right from the opening credits, which tip the hat to atomic testing, government secrets and a familiar silhouette rising from the seabed. The plot intertwines several Godzilla tropes with varying success and suffers from an enthusiastic, breathless bloat that often swallows its cast; women in particular vanish. Director Gareth Edwards mimics the original in playing coy with the title monster—and mimics its Americanized forebear by shifting much of the action and heroism stateside. But for those with a high tolerance for action-movie bingo and CGI carnage, Godzilla’s reverence for the King of the Monsters oozes from every track mark, snapping cable and thundering footstep.
Because here, Godzilla’s most important character is the radioactive sea-dweller. The lumbering legend’s rendered in painstaking detail, from jagged spikes to melancholy mien. It’s a microcosm of the movie’s visual thoughtfulness; Edwards has a knack for the frame within the frame—rearview mirrors reflecting eerie abandoned streets, windows offering incomplete glimpses—to heighten both the atmosphere of dread and in-the-moment tension, so that the final standoff captures some real thrill. It might not be enough to clean up all the loose ends, but for monster-movie fans, Godzilla offers a loving look at the old guy back on the big screen.