The good news is Godzilla is back, in all his spine-rattling glory.
The bad news is he just destroyed most of San Francisco. If you're a commuter, you might want to call in before you go to work, just to make sure your building is still there.
Like they say, you can't make a reptile omelet without breaking a few reptile eggs. Or ticking off his fans. Godzilla has remained a fascination among sci-fi lovers for more than 60 years, and because of his status as perhaps the longest-tenured (and tallest) popular figure in the genre, fans want to see their star get his props on the big screen. Think about Bryan Singer trying to reboot Superman. It wasn't terrible, but you can't just make any Superman movie. It has to do the character justice, or else the crowd turns on you.
That brings us to the last time Hollywood tried doing a Godzilla film -- Roland Emmerich's 1998 version, a colossal dud that had many people questioning whether Emmerich had ever seen a Godzilla film.
Fortunately, director Gareth Edwards and writers Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham fare much, much better in the new "Godzilla." They've managed to update the story while leaving enough of the legend intact to satisfy longtime fans.
Instead of being a product of the atomic age, as in the original story, this time our hero was apparently a target of the atomic age (or were you wondering why we blew up so many nukes in the Pacific back in the 1950s?)
Bryan Cranston is appropriately frantic as a scientist on a quest to expose what caused a nuclear meltdown (a big animal) at a power plant on the other side of the Pacific during the 1990s that killed his wife (Juliette Binoche, in a role requiring about three minutes of screen time). His ensuing quest alienates him from his son (played by a buffed-up Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a Navy bomb expert who lives in San Francisco with his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son.
But the humans are the least of Godzilla's concerns. A couple of giant slimy things are on his radar -- radiation-gobbling MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms), one of which emerges from the Pacific and, as giant radiation-eating monsters with heads shaped like potato chip baggie clamps are prone to do, starts wreaking havoc in Japan.
Meanwhile, another MUTO -- which apparently was dumped years earlier in a cave near Las Vegas with other nuclear waste -- emerges, stops by the casinos for a couple quick hands of blackjack, then starts moving west (at one point, someone mentions that the beast is about to pass through Livermore, presumably for a quick bite at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory).
Meanwhile, we see bits and pieces of Godzilla, roused and for some reason racing across the Pacific to do battle with the MUTOs, who have reunited in San Francisco and are trying to raise a family, despite the pesky military's insistence on shooting at them (and what self-respecting disaster movie set on the West Coast doesn't have a school bus in peril on the Golden Gate Bridge?).
As the film engages in some serious suspense-building, we don't actually see the big guy until about halfway through the film. Good move. It makes him look even more menacing when he does appear. When he finally decides to show off his new and improved fire breath, I nearly jumped out of my chair with a fist-pump.
While the monsters are computer-generated, the destroyed landscapes come via old-school model-making. The combination makes for fantastic visuals, especially in 3-D. The experience is made even more threatening with an exceptional musical score by Alexandre Desplat ("Argo").
Lost in all the action is the question of whether Godzilla is a good guy and, if so, why. And what's his motive? But, really, who cares? As the Japanese scientist played by Ken Watanabe says, we shouldn't mess with nature. Just let the big brutes fight it out.
And fight it out it they do. This is the "Godzilla" fans have been waiting for, and any other big budget summer action flick will be hard-pressed to equal the fun.
Contact Tony Hicks at Twitter.com/insertfoot.
* * * ½
Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence)
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe
Director: Gareth Edwards
Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes