LOS ANGELES - Godzilla - born in a post-war Japan traumatized by Hiroshima - gets eye-popping special effects in his latest Hollywood remake, combined with a reflection on the nuclear threat.
The giant reptile, the rights for whom are still owned by Japanese studio Toho, was already adapted by Hollywood in 1998, with German disaster movie director Roland Emmerich at the helm.
For the new version, which is released in North America on Friday (May 16), Hollywood giant Warner Bros put Godzilla's fate in the hands of Briton Gareth Edwards, who made independent sci-fi flick "Monsters" (2010).
A fan of the original 1954 "Godzilla" by Ishiro Honda, the director recalled in a recent round table with reporters that the film - which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year - was "plainly a metaphor for Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
"I think that's why it stood the test of time, cause it's got some meat on the bone," he added.
Since 1954, Toho has produced no fewer than 28 "Godzilla" films, mostly with modest special effects, and B-movie scripts and tone.
The Warner Bros version is vastly more ambitious. Along with cutting edge computer-generated imagery (CGI), it is "probably a lot more character-driven than normal Godzilla movies," said Edwards.
Faithful to the original, the movie opens in Japan where Joe Brody (played by "Breaking Bad" star Bryan Cranston) sees his wife Sandra (played by Juliette Binoche) die in the nuclear power plant where they work, after a serious accident.
Years later, Brody is still trying to find out what caused the catastrophe, risking his life. His son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a US soldier, tries to persuade him to let go. But the appearance of Godzilla and two other out-of-control monsters changes the course of events dramatically.
Atomic fires blazing
In the 1954 original, Godzilla embodied the monstrous consequences of the use of atomic bombs. A 1956 version, "Godzilla: King of the Monsters!" brought the story to US and other non-Japanese filmgoers.
Sixty years later, the atomic fire still blazes inside the beast, a deliberate choice in a screenplay that was being written just as the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear meltdown occurred in Fukushima in March 2011.
"It's kind of the job of these kind of movies to reflect the times and the problems. We've opened this Pandora's box of nuclear power, and you can't put it back in," said Edwards.
"When something goes wrong, it really does go wrong, and so, somehow, our monster in the movie reflects that idea," he said.
The narrative of the film is carried by Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen (his on-screen wife), who were both making their debuts in a big-budget blockbuster, after making their names in independent cinema.
"I wanted a change," Olsen said.
"I wanted to be part of something larger, and I wanted to be included in a group of young actresses that I look up to and that I think are phenomenal," such as "Hunger Games" star Jennifer Lawrence or "Divergent" actress Shaileene Woodley.
Her partner, whose credits include Oliver Stone's 2012 thriller "Savages," gained 20 pounds (10 kilograms) of muscle to play his soldier role.
"There was no brief from any of the guys like 'Dude, you have to gain shape,'" said Taylor-Johnson.
But "with more muscles, you feel like you have more power and masculinity. It's all psychological, obviously. It's a way to walk, it's the way you look," he said.
For producer Thomas Tull, a monster fan whose past work includes last year's "Pacific Rim," making a new "Godzilla" was a childhood dream come true.
"Godzilla represents a force of nature," Tull said. "Not only is he huge in size, but also he's a walking nuclear reactor, he has atomic breath, so it's tough to beat that!
"I also think that just globally, everybody knows Godzilla. They know the roar, what he looks like. He's become a cultural global icon."