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You need to watch the most thrilling monster movie before it leaves HBO Max this week

“In 1954, the first time that a nuclear submarine ever reached the lower depths, it awakened something.”

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Mention Godzilla to an American audience, and you’re likely to see recognition but not reverence.

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It’s not terribly surprising, given the famed kaiju series’ history in America.

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The 1954 original was heavily edited for American audiences, removing references to the U.S. dropping atomic bombs on Japan and contaminating oceans with nuclear tests.

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Dozens of Godzilla movies have been released in Japan from the ‘50s to the present day, but they remain little known in the U.S., depriving audiences of the kaiju’s context.

Then, of course, there’s the disastrous 1998 Godzilla directed by Roland Emmerich. The infamously terrible movie tainted Godzilla’s reputation in a way that’s still hard to forget.

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Remaking Godzilla seemed like a long shot at best. So, it’s even more impressive that director Gareth Edwards’ second feature film is a revival of the beloved kaiju — and that, for the most part, it works.

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Moviegoers expecting a nonstop kaiju battle from Edwards’ Godzilla may have been surprised to see the focus so firmly placed on the puny humans in the monster’s path.

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With footage recalling the Fukushima nuclear disaster, deadly tsunamis, and 9/11, Godzilla is interested in human reactions to unfathomable disaster, rather than the 100-foot tall lizard causing it.

Putting these squishy humans at the center of the film makes it more relatable and sells the scale and awe-inspiring nature of its kaiju.

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

On the other hand, the on-the-ground plot isn’t the most original, somewhat wasting the talents of skilled actors like Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, and Bryan Cranston.

That doesn’t mean that Edwards’ Godzilla is stuffy or didactic, though.

Far from it.

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Warner Bros.

Despite being underwritten, Godzilla’s human characters make the toll of its kaiju attacks clear — which is more poignant given that human activity directly led to their awakening, as in the original film.

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Godzilla is a blockbuster through and through, packed with the heroic soldiers, plucky kids in peril, and lovingly shot explosions that define so many Hollywood hits.

Godzilla stands apart from blandly predictable action movies for the visceral terror its rampaging monsters inspire.

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Godzilla offers more than just spectacle, but what’s on display is top-notch, from earth-shaking kaiju battles to no-less-gorgeous shots of monsters and their wake seen at a distance.

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The titular titan doesn’t get a lot of screen time in Godzilla, but every frame he’s in counts.

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

Godzilla cleverly frames out or obscures the action so often it’s almost a running joke, but even that enhances the moments when kaiju take center stage.

The honor of best modern Godzilla movie still belongs to Shin Godzilla, but if you’re looking for a smarter-than-average blockbuster packed with visual majesty, you can’t go wrong with 2014’s Godzilla.

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Godzilla is streaming on HBO Max until April 15, 2022.

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