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Godzilla Tramples Emotional Connection
Despite thin character development, this latest iteration of the unstoppable monster is a visual marvel.

It seems odd to use words like ‘restraint’ and ‘moderation’ on a movie whose budget for craft services probably equals my yearly earnings five times over. But Gareth Edwards has done just that with Godzilla, making a movie so effective at generating awe in the presence of its skyscraper-toppling monsters that it manages to overcome a near-terminal dearth of personality from its lead performer. Modern blockbuster film making and its preponderance of computer-generated imagery is rightly lauded for its ability to ‘show us anything,’ but most of the films that populate the megaplexes during the summer months seem content to rest on their laurels for that very same reason. When you’re capable of showing us anything, thanks to the technical expertise of the major FX studios, there isn’t a lot of incentive to think cinematically, instead settling for sweeping panoramas that while technically impressive, have the emotional sweep of a video game-cut scene.

What Gareth Edwards does so impressively in Godzilla is give us a sure sense of scale when dealing with such epic imagery. His camera strains to take in these creatures throughout the early stages of the picture, often situated from the POV of its characters, allowing us only fleeting glimpses of a tail or foot (in one impressive occasion, a debris-shrouded silhouette). Only by films end, when Godzilla has reached the shores of San Francisco on a direct collision with the Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism (MUTO) that we humans unknowingly incubated, do we finally broaden the frame and allow us to take in the majestic scope of their knock-down, drag-out. In an era of escalating action scenes, it’s astonishing that a film would take its time and build anticipation for its main conflict. So much so, in fact, that I wonder how audiences trained to receive action beats with the dependability of a train schedule will react to a slow burn with such a long fuse.

Edwards smartly populated the fringes of his picture with celebrated performers capable of keying an emotional investment from the audience with even the thinnest of motivations and some liberally sprinkled generic dialogue. Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche as a married couple, in particular, set the table here. A tragedy at the nuclear facility they work for is the inciting action for which the rest of the film follows. This makes it even more of a shame that lead actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson comes across so flat through the picture as the military brat son of Cranston and Binoche. Taylor-Johnson’s work previously on film suggests an actor capable of a wide array of emotions (Kick-Ass and Anna Karenina are both good examples of this) so the fact that he suffers from Hunnamitis (or early stage Chris O’Donnell Syndrome) here should be chalked up to the material and not the actor. Elizabeth Olsen, another talented performer, is given nearly nothing to work with as his wife, suggesting a movie working in the proud Toho tradition of making you care more deeply about the monsters than the people.

So while that human element is lacking, what Edwards has managed in an era of wanton cinematic stimulation with this new Godzilla is well worth celebrating all the way through from measured beginning to triumphant end. What struck me most as the end credits rolled, was just how much true-to-its-source material this Godzilla hews, an old-school kaiju film that prizes the connection of a giant tail to an insectoid abdomen over that between two characters, albeit one with a mega-budget and a spectacular eye for composition.  This is old school crowd-pleasing entertainment that has much more in common with Jaws than Transformers, an achievement as awe-inspiring as the titular character himself.


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