I saw it last night with a couple friends in Raleigh. I know I'm the millionth person to be saying this, but I can testify that this film is indeed awesome all-around. VERY engaging plot, a unique and original approach to a giant monster story, and wonderful characters. I really enjoyed the focus of the story angle from the viewpoint of the family. Really refreshing. It was interesting watching how the different family members act and react to the continuously-unfolding crisis they were faced with, as the scenes went from dramatic to slapstick seamlessly with no awkward mood transitions. I can't even really describe it or how the director managed to execute it so damn flawlessly, but the tone of this movie is alternating throughout from serious to lighthearted, often with the two interweaving with one another, and yet it always feels consistent.... like there's an overarching feeling to the whole thing as you're peering into the lives of these people as they happen before your eyes. The pacing moves along appropriately, some parts slower or faster than others, but it never felt to me like the film was dragging in any way. It always had that sense of moving along, every scene lasting just as long as it needed to without overstaying its welcome or appearing too brief. The movie also has a great sense of how it unfolds. It never feels documentary-like, detached, or hackneyed, it feels like you're really there watching this story play out from these characters' perspective as it's happening. It's an amazing experience.
The monster element was handled perfectly, absolutely perfectly. The creature herself was cool as hell, badass on-screen, awesome to look at, and made the perfect centerpiece to the conflict of the story. The amount of monster action is minimal (think Monster Zero) and that really works to let the film's plot take the main floor and flow on its own. And note that the monster is definitely NOT underused. While her screen time is intermittent, her presence is always felt within the atmosphere of the film, as everything the characters do is pertinent to the story, which consistently revolves around the monster and keeps its focus grounded in that. You, the viewer, will never have a chance to forget that the monster is there. And when she's on-screen, does she ever shine! The action sequences are intense, with an on-the-scene sense of reality and happening. The special effects for the creature, done entirely in CGI, are wonderful. The Orphanage pulled one hell of a job here with this beast, as she looks realistic to the eye and moves consistently fluid throughout. There were a few iffy shots, of course (mainly in the way of a gleamy or shiny texture, a common problem of CGI), but they are very few in number and far-between one another, and certainly never enough to detract from the viewing experience. With the combination of slick execution and perceptive direction, this monster makes its mark in the movie in the best way possible.
Did I mention that I loved the characters? Honestly, I had a smile stuck on my face from the ten-minute mark* to the end of the movie and they carried the film the entire way through. From the family dynamic to the humor to the moments of tension, the characters owned this movie and made it a freaking delight to watch. Hell, the whole damn film is just completely engrossing! It draws you in, immerses you in this world, attaches you to these characters, and takes you on this wild ride of a monster-centered adventure with them all the way to the end. A fantastic filmgoing experience in every way!
Quality-wise, I'd give it 4.5 out of 5 stars, easily. In terms of entertainment and sheer enjoyability, I'd give it a full solid 5, and then some! Everybody in the world should see this movie at some point in their lives. I thought it was even better-made cinematically speaking than GMK, and I'd put it about on caliber with Gamera 2. I think it's the best kaiju film since Gamera 3, definitely the best kaiju film of the 21st century so far, and certainly the single must-watch movie of the decade. I don't think this limited release is anywhere near doing this movie justice, and forget the idea of a remake. This film itself deserves a wide nationwide release... in every nation! Very, very highly recommended by me.
*I got us to the theater ten minutes late, naturally. Missed the beginning, but it was easy to pick up on as soon as we got there.