Now that’s how you do this kind of thing.
In the past few years, the movies have begun to feel less like magic shows and more like auto expos. In place of sleight of hand and deft showmanship all in service of making us believe the impossible, they have begun to lift up the hood and show us everything they’ve got inside that makes them tick. It allows you to see more, putting those hulking robots and monsters on a giant, well-lit revolving pedestal for us all to gawk at, but it removes something elemental from the movie-going experience. When anything is possible, then nothing seems wonderful.
You get that, Godzilla. Instead of ripping the curtain off of the runners and forcing us to stare unimpeded at the creatures and situations you created, you involve us in a subtle dance of expectation, anticipation, and payoff.
Your story is ancillary to the existence of your monster, but then again there would be no story without the monster. A decade and a half ago something destroyed a nuclear power plant in Japan, leaving a father and son to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) joined the Navy and began a family with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), while his father (Bryan Cranston) dove into deep paranoia and conspiracy mongering, haunted by the subtle warning signs he was unable to decipher in time to avert disaster. The mystery of what happened that day drives father and son to break into the quarantine zone, an act which will set them on a path towards a literally earth-shaking discovery.
Given the convoluted plots most blockbusters feel obligated to work into their mindless spectacle, there is something refreshing about the basic, human motives at the bottom of your tale. Even when the world begins to get an inkling of the ancient horrors about to be unleashed, on a human level the story stays relatable and real – get home, find your loved ones, survive. It’s not deep, it’s not complex, there are no insane twists, but there also isn’t anything hamfisted or insulting about it. When tragedy strikes, motivations become simpler, not more labyrinthine. Objective reality is made all he clearer, and in the case of a movie like you, that is what the audience wants and needs. Effortlessly working these human plot strands into the more vertiginous and thrilling aspects of your story is a small miracle, and it works to give us an unobtrusive through-line that keeps us close to the real action when it comes.
Thankfully we have a director like Gareth Edwards (Monsters) to anchor our visual access to this world, and who understands the pacing and framing necessary to truly wring the most out of this premise. Unlike his contemporaries who see this kind of movie as a reason to launch a full-frontal assault on the senses, Edwards believes in it as a chance for seduction, a careful waltz during which allusion and revelation are more important than delivery and force. The movements of the camera recontextualize small things into bigger things, constantly forcing the viewer to realize that the very mechanisms by which we see and interpret the world need to be recalibrated upwards in order for us to truly comprehend what we are about to see.
The camera is almost always at ground level, gazing upwards, through the canyons of buildings or the tops of trees, or down from the cockpits of planes and helicopters. Anchored from various human perspectives these moments grant us entry into what this newly contextualized world would feel like. When it does eventually break off into an omnipresent, god’s-eye view, the shift feels earned, and even more importantly it feels desired and yearned for.
It’s a strange thing, having to praise a movie for exercising restraint and engaging in some honest to God filmmaking rather than just blasting out a series of bright sights and sounds in the hopes of making our reptilian brains cry out in reactive shock which masquerades as joy. It’s even stranger that I’ve somehow managed to force myself to be analytical and thoughtful about a movie that had me smiling like a fool and actually clapping and cheering in the theater. You are praiseworthy, but it took me close to four days for my praise to evolve beyond happy sighs and boisterous cheers.
Believe me, I look forward to getting back into a theater with you so I can regress right back to that special, primal place that only movies can take us, and which you know the way to so expertly, and so effortlessly.
Hail to the king,
Brian J. Roan