22 May 2014

Godzilla understands the importance of restraint

There has been a lot of criticism aimed at the new Godzilla film regarding the use of the titular character. Everyone from film critics to Facebook friends have slated it thanks to the limited screen time Godzilla actually gets. I disagree, and to understand why we are going to have to talk about the over exposure of destruction and the concept of action fatigue in modern films.

Man of Steel is a great example of a film that suffers from action fatigue. About halfway through, Zod and his group find Superman in Smallvile and proceed to level the town in a pretty good action scene. It lasts a decent amount of time and has innovative action beats, with characters being suitably strong and cool to watch. Later, we have a much longer action scene focusing around Zod and Superman, battling in a destroyed Metropolis. What should have been the most interesting fight scene in the movie ended up being a mostly forgettable mess - partly because of the characterisation issues the film has, but also because we have been over exposed to Superman and Zods power. We've been watching them fight for so long that we have lost our frame of reference, and end up tired of the fight and lose interest in the story. Action fatigue is an issue that a lot of films fail to address, and I'm sure that Gareth Edwards knows this on some level, giving us Godzilla as the counter.

This film teases you for the best part of two hours, and it does it masterfully. There are some incredibly well shot scenes whereby Godzilla appears in some of the best and most memorable entrances a giant monster could have - a foot lands in front of a screaming crowd, silencing them, or he is slowly lit up by flares fired from a rooftop - and then it cuts away, leaving you desperately wanting to see more. There are at least 3 of these jaw dropping entrances before we even get to see him fight, and it means that when we do finally get to see him in action it feels all the more bad ass. The fights between Godzilla and the MUTO's are short and quick, mostly seen from an up close human perspective or incredibly far away, so we can see these giants battle it out amongst sky scrapers. This choice means that we never lose that sense of scale or size that makes this film so visually impressive. Action fatigue fails to set in because of the restraint the film shows, and it ends leaving you desperately wanting more in the best possible way.

Godzilla is like the anti-Pacific Rim. Pacific Rim shows off the Kaiju and the Jaegers very early on in the film, and there is a new fight every 25 minutes or so, which means that action fatigue sets in quickly. Ignoring the plot holes and lack of connection to characters, Pacific Rim over exposes the action as well as the monsters and robots, and because of how frequently we see the Jaegers and Kaiju fight we lose interest in the film. Godzilla knows this, and plays on audience anticipation to leave you needing more. 

However, if you can't get behind the build up, you aren't going to get a lot from this film. Bryan Cranston doesn't get the screen time he deserves, despite playing the most fleshed out character and being the best actor in the cast by a long margin. The main human characters, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen are pretty forgettable, but they are serviceable as the emotional hook of the film and work well enough with the suitably simplistic story for it not to matter a great deal. The film moves at a good enough pace to keep things fresh, with the teases of Godzilla mentioned earlier keeping you interested enough in the story for it to matter when the finale rolls around.

This film is by no means a master class in story telling or even a good lesson in writing characters, but it was never meant to be. This is a film that is all about spectacle, scope and a surprising amount of restraint, and it achieves this in an age of cinema where audiences are expected to get bored if 10 minutes pass without a fight. This film treats you like an adult, with enough patience to sit still and shut up and allow the film to tease you - and if you are willing to let it do that, you will not be disappointed.

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