Godzilla/Gojira was a metaphor. He was the terror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki-made monster. But his serious intent didn't last long. Soon after his first film he was fired from being a metaphor and became a groovy pro-wrestler taking on all other kaiju foes. He was friend to all children and a pro-Earth spokesmodel/anti-littering advocate who battled a "smog monster" named Hedorah. This took place as go-go dancers gyrated in the background and a lady sang a slightly psychedelic song about pollution. This was not undignified; the valiant Godzilla was merely updating his personal brand to stay in step with the times.
In this heartfelt, loving homage to all things vintage kaiju (the first word seen onscreen, incidentally, the Japanese word for monster), director Guillermo del Toro has, for whatever reason, decided to retrieve a little of that past gravity and present his monsters as loose analogs to climate change. They don't invade us from space; they come from deep within the Earth's core, the world rebelling against itself because stupid humans ruined it all. Again. These giant monsters emerge from a poisoned ocean into a world where it never stops storming and it's up to the stupid humans to fight back or else suffer their own annihilation as the kaiju rapidly mutate into bigger and badder threats. Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi are our last line of defense, and they're just as capable as anyone, right?
A giant robot program is set in motion, requiring the cooperation of all nations and, more so, the cooperation of twin pilots who operate the mecha-warriors known as Jaegers via a neural transference/think-energy called "drift." Comic relief scientists (Charlie Day, Burn Gorman) and a black market kaiju parts retailer (Ron Perlman) show up to throw around jokes and minor plot wrenches in order to remind the audience that this is also meant to be fun even when the monsters aren't stomping cities flat or fighting the Jaegers. And they have to do this because every so often the other stupid humans threaten to ground the film to a halt when their special feelings steal the spotlight away from mechas and monsters. I don't know about you, but not counting the Mothra twins or the sparkly space alien women in Destroy All Monsters -- the greatest kaiju film of all time -- I barely remember the people from any installment of what I can easily admit is my favorite genre of schlock. I remember monster battles. I remember body slams and helicopter moves. I remember Godzilla jumping up and down on other monsters' heads. That is the thrill. That is the excitement. That is why these films endure: fighting, fighting, fighting. And then more fighting.
So, about the fighting and destruction here, the only thing that really matters. It's spectacular, successfully tapping into whatever childhood happiness the old Japanese films delivered. Gone is the bad memory of the 1998 American botch-job Godzilla, with its digital cartoon lizard. These are great, detailed, realistic-looking monsters. Do we get enough city stomping after the prologue? No. Do we see the monsters in all their spiky, scaly finery? Not always. Are they presented in broad daylight for full appreciation? Not often enough. In keeping with its deeper theme, they fight in torrential downpours and at the bottom of the ocean (catch it in 2D to avoid the added darkness that 3D glasses always deliver) and, as the battles get more intense, as more robots fight more monsters at once, this results in some visual incoherence -- all the more reason to see it twice, really. And if you're like me, you'll want to do just that. It won't steal any real estate in your heart still occupied by Gamera, Ultra-Man or those weird times when Godzilla battled King Kong or his own mecha-doppelganger, but it can stand proudly next to them and belch nuclear fire all day long.