“Because the movie’s called Godzilla!”

That’s what I’ve heard a number of times already from some audience members and critics who carp that, despite the monster movie reboot’s clearly wicked-awesome visual effects and unique visions of urban carnage, they felt shortchanged by the amount of screen time given to the indomitable Gojira.

Director Gareth Edwards’ previous shoestring Monsters apparently impressed the right people, but the lessons of that film are also imprinted on this new film. Or, rather, the lessons of Steven Spielberg, who when stymied by technical problems on the set of Jaws was somewhat forced (so legend now has it) to minimize the role his mechanical beast “Bruce” played in the final cut.

As anyone can tell you, the result of that production obstruction may have very well been the key to the movie’s success. The longer the audience was made to wait to actually see the great white shark, the more they agonized over the suspense of when he would actually arrive. Given the advent of computer-assisted VFX and Warner Brothers’ above-midrange $160 million budget, there’s no practical reason why Godzilla would have to follow in Jaws‘ footsteps. Few if any other movies in the game do anymore. And maybe they should.

Godzilla starts 15 years ago in Japan, as married nuclear physicists played by Juliette Binoche and Bryan Cranston investigate what’s causing a series of subterranean shock waves. They’re too regular and round to be earthquakes. Just as soon as they start to realize the pattern, a new series of jolts sends the cooling towers toppling. One of the married scientists makes it out; the other does not.

Flash forward to the present and the seemingly seismic activity, which had been dormant since the nuclear disaster, seems to be ramping up once again. Once again, the earth opens up, but a power plant doesn’t go down. Rather, something else comes up.

And (potential spoiler alert) it’s not Godzilla! The film, which has already taken its sweet time getting dressed up for a night at the kaiju revue, now chooses to keep its headliner backstage! It’s an audacious move, and one I think pays off, if maybe only in response to the state of the summer blockbuster as it currently stands. Post-Transformers (and, I regret to inform, pre-the-next-installment-of-Transformers, which comes out June 27), audiences have been programmed to expect fast, steady, constant action satisfaction, like Barney Gumble reacting to his lifetime supply of Duff Beer: “Just hook it to my veins!”

Godzilla holds back nobly, ensuring that once the big G finally does arrive, it’s an unmistakable event. The last 30 minutes of the film stand up with practically any other potentially world-ending clash of the titans, and Edwards depicts the grudge match with some of the most oddly poetic renditions of skyscraper destruction you’re apt to see. So ignore the calls of the impatient, Godzilla. You go ahead and arrive fashionably late, I say.


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