The Films of Gareth Edwards
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Godzilla (May 26/14)
Godzilla returns in an installment that's certainly better than Roland Emmerich's disastrous 1998 effort, with the movie's relatively subdued vibe ensuring that the film, at the outset, stands in sharp contrast to most contemporary blockbusters (which are, with few exceptions, overblown and oppressively frenetic). There's little doubt, then, that Godzilla fares best in its opening stretch, as filmmaker Gareth Edwards, working from Max Borenstein's script, does a superb job of immediately luring the viewer into the deliberately-paced proceedings - with the watchable atmosphere heightened by an unexpectedly enthralling early sequence involving a nuclear meltdown at a Japan-based facility. (It doesn't hurt, of course, that this interlude features superb performances from Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche.) The movie does, however, begin to lose its grip on the viewer almost immediately after that stellar first act, as Edwards proves hopelessly unable to offer up a single interesting or compelling character - with the proceedings suffused with figures of an impossibly bland nature. (This is especially true of Aaron Taylor-Johnson's flat turn as the film's one-dimensional protagonist, although reliable performers like Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, and Sally Hawkens are also left with exceedingly little to do.) It's worth noting, too, that Edwards' less-is-more sensibilities result in a handful of frustratingly unrealized sequences, with the most obvious example of this the title creature's attack on Las Vegas (ie the viewer is primed for an exciting Sin City-based attack and rewarded with a few snippets and a shot of the post-rampage destruction). Godzilla's saving grace are a few last-minute battles that fare surprisingly well, particularly when compared to the usual CGI-infused moments that pop up in films of this ilk (ie even though it's like watching a video game, here it is, at least, like watching an exciting video game) - which, when coupled with Edwards' almost incongruously low-key directorial style, manages to just barely push the movie above its flashy, ADHD-inspired brethren.
The Star Wars expanded universe kicks off with this entertaining yet far from flawless prequel to A New Hope, with the narrative following a ragtag group of rebels as they conspire to steal the Empire's plans for their deadly superweapon, the Death Star. Rogue One, which eschews the expected opening crawl, boasts an opening half hour that effectively establishes the gritty and literally-and-figuratively dark atmosphere in which the characters toil, although it's just as apparent that the movie suffers from an almost total lack of wholeheartedly compelling protagonists - with scripters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy unable to infuse the film's myriad of heroes with compelling, memorable attributes (ie there isn't a single figure here with the charisma of, for example, a Han Solo or a Poe Dameron). There's little doubt, as well, that the deliberateness at which the story unfolds is problematic, with the film's pervasive lack of momentum especially noticeable during its thoroughly erratic midsection (which contains a number of overlong and flat-out needless interludes). Having said that, Rogue One, which is certainly never boring, benefits substantially from an ongoing emphasis on expectedly larger-than-life action sequences - with, especially, a late-in-the-game appearance by a franchise favorite infusing the proceedings with a much-needed jolt of energy. The end result is a decent spinoff that rarely approaches the high points of the original saga, although, admittedly, there's little doubt that Rogue One nicely fills in the gaps between Episodes III and IV (and effectively explains one of A New Hope's biggest, most notorious plot holes).