Godzilla appears in the movie named after him about an hour into the proceedings—one of several bold moves in British film-maker Gareth Edwards’ reboot of a franchise that originated in Japan in 1954 with Ishirô Honda’s Gojira and has rampaged across the screen to diminishing effect ever since.

Roland Emmerich’s tiresome 1998 version, Godzilla, wasted little time in unleashing the prehistoric underwater monster awakened by nuclear radiation on to New York City. Edwards shuffles his deck more intelligently. He waves about several cards before producing his ace—a move that could bore genre fans of creature features but will be deeply satisfying for viewers exhausted by the spectacle of American cities being destroyed by malevolent forces over and over and over again.

Edwards’ Godzilla has been made with the full knowledge that film-goers have their heads stuffed with images of mutant insects, monsters, dinosaurs and aliens stumbling about their backyards and laying waste to their orderly lives. It’s also imbued with the wisdom that audiences around the world are tired of watching the American way of life under massive attack. Honolulu and San Francisco are targets, but a fluttering American flag and high-fives exchanged by doughty American soldiers are strikingly absent. The movie has its share of mutants—not one but three—but it focuses as much on their tendency to rip apart all manner of urban infrastructure as on creating an escalating sense of dread.

Edwards pays tribute to the spirit of the Japanese original but adds his own touches. He tunes down the concerns over nuclear energy, dispenses with campiness, and plays with scale and perspective—one of his favourite tricks is to frame humans at the bottom of the screen against the looming beast. The monsters are seen in part and then in the whole; they duck behind mountains and buildings, vanish into shadows and fog and reappear with Hitchcockian timing. Set to a suitably menacing score by Alexandre Desplat, the sharply edited movie piles on the carnage gradually. A set piece in Honolulu is magnificently done, as are a tense stand-off on a railway bridge, an airdrop shot in red and brown hues, and the elongated climax in which Godzilla finally takes charge of the situation and the movie. Somewhere below on the ground, families separated by the chaos are trying to get back together, but the hand-wringing and furrowed brows inserted into the story to give it an emotional undertow are unwelcome distractions and slow down the proceedings.

Godzilla releases on Friday in the 2D, 3D and Imax formats.

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