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The uncertain, but potentially bright McLemore/Stauskas future

EDIT: YEAH, THAT SHIT SURE WORKD OUT

Earlier this season, rumor had it that Nik Stauskas was on the trading block so the Kings could pick up a better back up PF or C. Now, while I know the Kings absolutely need someone to complement Cousins and Thompson in their respective rotations, I always thought using the rookie SG to do it was a bad move for many reasons. Rookies are usually bad, and on a bad team the idea of them shining is kind of ludicrous, with guys like Lebron and Andrew Wiggins being exceptions.I also don’t like giving up on a player so early, because what if he turns out to be a contributor to other teams’ playoff successes or shine elsewhere, like Robin Lopez and Isiah Thomas.

However, the biggest reason I had was my optimism, which uncharacteristic of me when I think about the Kings. I thought, and still think, Stauskas and McLemore can be really goddamn good for the Kings.

Both are raw, inconsistent works-in-progress that have suffered through some dumb drama players shouldn’t have to. Both are also very talented, accomplished college players that need to get a better handle on the NBA game and some real, honest-to-Peja mentoring.

On the whole, Stauskas’ rookie stats are trash. His three point shooting is 29%, which I find simultaneously terrifying and hilarious, considering he was a shooting specialist in college, where he was evil with the 3 ball at 47%. Yeah, it’s not the a 1-1 ratio, but damn.

However, let’s isolate the last 10 games. According to Espn.com he’s shooting 49% and averaging 8.1 PPG, which tells me two things: he’s got the talent, but he doesn’t have the opportunity. Since he’s such a raw rookie, I won’t argue for the game to be placed in his hands, especially since they’re not that comfortable with the ball, yet, but I’d like to see more shots made for him. Grant Napear talked about how Mike Malone was trying to do that before he got fired during broadcasts early in the season, but of course that didn’t last.

McLemore provides a possible glimpse into the future for Stauskas. Like Nik, he was also abhorrent his rookie year. He shot 37% and by all accounts looked lost in the NBA. But this season, something changed. we’ve seen his true athleticism on display. The guy can move like few others, he just needs to learn more and get better at harnessing his game. See a pattern here?

I don’t think the comparisons end there, either. Both shooting guards have been playing pretty similarly this year. While Nik is and never will be as athletic as Ben, he still has shown an ability to get to the basket and make some tough shots. He gets the crap blocked out of him a lot, but hey, growing pains. Just yesterday, during the Clippers game, he drove and made a step-back fadeaway. That’s not the first time he’s created his own shot and it won’t be the last. Ben’s forte is arguably getting closer to the rim, with his aforementioned crazy athleticism. He has already shown he can adjust midair and make some tough shots, too. Both players have the kernel of a good to great slasher.

As for that 1-2 punch, I see Ben starting and Nik coming in to spell him. Nik can and needs to be that 3-point shooter. That’s what he was drafted to be. That’s where he will truly thrive, because once he starts knocking those down at a consistent rate, the drive lanes open up. Then the pass lanes open up. I see Ben’s game going the opposite way; once defenders learn they have to give him cushion to account for his speed, he’ll be able to knock down his own long shots.

Imagine both of these guys at their peaks. Imagine the defensive problems they could create for other teams. The hallmark of every great team is depth, and these two with their potential fulfilled could make as strong a shooting guard combo in the NBA.

I understand this kind of reeks of idealism, but I don’t think it’s crazy to think these guys have a future with the Kings. For goodness’ sake, Stauskas won Big 10 Player of the Year last year. I don’t care if it’s “just college,” players without serious talent don’t win that award. The way that talent doesn’t go to waste is to get coaches who know how to use it. Same goes for McLemore. Same goes for almost any player, really.

Also, you know who else sucked his rookie year? Peja Stojakovic. The God. So, let’s not can a player based on his first season.

And you don’t break up this happy couple, do you?

Taking Back Control as Adam Jensen

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At the beginning of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the player meets Adam Jensen at what might be the most emotionally turbulent time of his life; he has just experienced heartbreak, he has been physically brutalized, he just failed to protect the lives entrusted to him, he has lost control over his own body, and, to top it all off, he has been stripped of his own autonomy and anatomy. Mechanical limbs and neural “enhancements” ensure that he will never be the same person again, nor will he ever be perceived the same way again. He didn’t ask for this. But he’s now given a new lease on life and a goal to uncover the truth behind the attacks on his employer, Sarif Industries. However, a more important goal that runs parallel to that task also exists: Adam’s goal to regain his own autonomy as a human being.

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THE MECHANICS OF CHANGE

Choice defines the role-playing game: character customization, world interaction and, in some cases, story outcome are expected from the genre. Human Revolution uses the RPG structure to tell Adam’s story of reclamation on both narrative and mechanical levels.

This design works in two ways: first, it plays into the traditional RPG mold by using Adam’s situation as the mechanism driving player customization, and second, it makes those choices reflect Adam’s quest to become his own man again. For example: picking the social enhancer upgrade opens up diplomatic solutions to character interactions, thus steering Adam down a more empathetic and less overall violent narrative path. By using stealth and non-lethal takedowns, Adam becomes a man who seemingly prefers not to become a mass killer. Furthermore, combining the social enhancer upgrade with a “shoot first, ask questions later” combat strategy allows for an interpretation of Adam that is…complicated.

While the power fantasy is still the most common and lucrative design philosophy in mainstream gaming, Human Revolution manages to do something more with it. While HR undoubtedly conforms to the power fantasy philosophy at times, this makes sense if one’s reading of the story is indeed of Jensen regaining his own independence. It offers a different, narratively-motivated context for the power fantasy. It uses its own version of the power fantasy structure, the building of a character into a powerful figure, to develop its themes of self-control.

This is not a typical fantasy wherein the main character dominates everything around him through violence. Human revolution is different from Gears of War. Adam Jensen is not a tank, even with all those Dermal Armor upgrades. Power in Human Revolution must first come with autonomy. So, Adam must first become autonomous again from David Sarif, his boss and the man who saved his life with a ton of mechanical augmentations. After having no choice in the decision to augment him with Sarif’s technology, he now at least has the choice of what mechanical augmentations to further saddle himself with. Furthermore, he has the choice of what to do with those augments. This is what’s called “playing with the cards you’re dealt.” As we eventually learn, Adam has been playing a fixed game his entire life.

One of the most effective explorations of this idea comes relatively early in Adam’s journey. After getting a heads-up from Pritchard about some security issues, Adam goes to Sarif’s office to confront him about it. The problem: the back door into the company’s security system that got them compromised might have been created by Sarif a couple of years before the attacks, when Adam was first hired. This presents Adam an opportunity to directly confront the man who has permanently changed his body and his place in the world. He can finally push back against one of the external forces pulling his strings.

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The argument is like a maze, full of misdirection and dead-ends if he goes the wrong way. Sarif is a slippery bastard and his slyness challenges Adam to stay on point. If he plays it right, Adam will get Sarif to show him the documents that he was sending through that back door. More importantly, he has won a battle against one of the people controlling him.

This is one of the first and largest steps Adam takes in regaining control of himself. Even better, the information Sarif was withholding regards information about Adam’s childhood.

Since the beginning of his life, Adam Jensen has been lied to. As omnipresent newscaster Eliza Cassan says, “everybody lies.” David Sarif, Adam Jensen’s parents, and Meagan Reed all confirm that. His knowledge of himself has been subverted his entire life; his parents, David Sarif, and Meagan Reed have all lied to him.

Now that Adam has begun to push back against the world and learned to control his body, he must continue his two journeys. He will gain further physical independence from Sarif with more self-inflicted changes to his body via the typical RPG upgrade system, but his next endeavor is much more challenging.

CONTROLLING THE NARRATIVE

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Even before the beginning of the game, Adam is given directives from higher up. He goes from taking orders as a cop to taking orders as corporate security and is just a pawn in a greater conspiracy. One of the ways he regains control is how he makes the decisions in the field. The one aspect of Adam’s life that he has unmitigated control over is how he conducts himself in matters of combat and diplomacy.

Adam can kill every enemy he meets or let all of them live. He can also just kill and spare where he sees fit. His actions can come across as contradictory if there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to his killing, but human beings are contradictory creatures.

Beyond his combat decisions, Adam can affect how people perceive him in the world. A violent Adam, who disregards the safety of others, can get people killed. He can also try to talk his way in and out of situations. This will open or close off certain tangible benefits to him, like weapon upgrades or discounts, But it also closes off people, sometimes literally. Greg Thorpe won’t give him shit if he didn’t save his wife from the terrorist Zeke Sanders; Tong, the head of the local gang of Triads, will not willingly give Adam information if he can’t verbally convince him.These interactions are the consequences of Adam’s chosen actions, and thus the consequences of how he utilized his freedom. Positive or negative, Adam exerts his personal sovereignty in their radius and the consequences reflect that.

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As Jensen regains control over himself, the Illuminati seek to gain control over everything. And this is why which ending him choose is so important. There is a way to side with the Illuminati which signifies that him fell under their control, in a way. It doesn’t mean anything Adam did before doesn’t matter; it just means that Adam is still fighting for his human sovereignty until the credits roll.

A core aspect of power is the ability to control the narrative. Those in power can spin the events of the day to make themselves look better and line their pockets. Adam’s main enemy in Human Revolution represents the apex of power: the Illuminati. He fights against his boss, against mercenaries, and against a giant corporation. But a nearly omnipotent group based on a real-world conspiracy theory is his greatest adversary. In Human Revolution’s world, the Illuminati is a real thing that individuals must stand up to, which Adam does. He fights their grasping of power. He fights for power over himself and over the events and situations under which he has been placed and which the Illuminati seek to influence

To me, there are two choices that complete Adam’s arc and two that betray it. The two that betray it are given to you by Bill Taggart (a noted piece of shit) and David Sarif. Taggart, an Illuminati member and aforementioned P.O.S. asks you to blame anti-rejection drugs on the bloodfest that has just occured at Panchea, an ocean-based installation and the final level of the game. As Jensen regains control over himself, the Illuminati seek to gain control over everything. And this is why which ending you choose is so important.. So, choosing to side with the Illuminati signifies that you fell under their control, in a way. Sarif asks you to blame anti-augmentation extremists. Both of these men have been trying to influence the world and him since before the beginning of the game. Acquiescing to either of them sounds contradictory to Adam’s arc and goal.

However, Hugh Darrow’s request does line up with Adam’s initial goal. He wants Adam to simply broadcast the truth to the world and reveal the Illuminati.Sounds kosher, right?

“However,” says Eliza Cassan, “there is another option.”

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Adam could destroy Panchea and kill everybody onboard. “That’s an option?” he asks, outraged.  With this decision, Adam Jensen hasn’t just taken control of his destiny, but thousands more. He has ended their lives and taken their voices. While nobody can now “spin the story,” nobody can make their voices heard because of Adam’s decision. Arguably a monstrous move, but it’s also a move that puts the future of humanity back into the hands of the masses. He takes away a few voices to give more room for the billions of others, who now don’t have these powerful people taking up so much space. After making his choice, Adam reflects on his actions and asks “does this mean I have the right to choose for everyone?”

It’s the ultimate middle finger to the men who so desperately want to control the world and influence its future. It’s also the culmination of Adam Jensen’s journey towards true independence. He disobeys orders from Sarif, Taggart, and the game’s father of augmentations, Hugh Darrow, to make his own bold, definitive choice and solidifies his autonomy. With his journey complete, he returns the favor and brings freedom of choice back to the masses and gives them their own freedom to choose.

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A frustrated, confused Kings fan and a lost season

Yesterday morning, Sacramento Kings General Manager Pete D’Alessandro appeared on local radio station KHTK to speak about the turmoil the team finds itself. The stated purpose was to answer some of the most pressing questions that fans had. What happened was Jed York-level question-dodging. If KHTK callers and hosts are any indication, Kings fans are more confused than they were before, myself included.

Nobody should argue that Vivek Ranadive wasn’t the right person at the right time. He has gotten the team and the city a new arena under construction in downtown. Vivek is exactly the man that we needed in 2013. But that doesn’t mean he is the right guy right now.

Now, it’s depressing to be a Kings fan again. In a complete 180, Kings fans feel dejected and baffled after such optimism in the early goings of the season. Questions and issues aren’t being answered or changed. The team looks actively angry and uninvolved on court. The chemistry that elevated them to a 9-6 start against one of the toughest NBA schedules has evaporated. Now…

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And D’Alessandro’s appearance did nothing to assuage my fears. In fact, he did more to confuse and frustrate me. Here are some pressing questions on every Kings fans mind:

1. If it’s about wins and losses as Vivek stated, then why did they fire the man who had led them to their best start in YEARS? They were 9-6 against the toughest schedule in the NBA?

2. Why, as D’Alessandro said, is Ty Corbin the coach for the rest of the year even though he is 3-7, losing against absolute garbage teams like the Celtics, the Pistons, and the Magic? By the way, two of those wins were nail-biters against two of the NBA’s worst teams: the Timberwolves and the Knicks.

3. Why are you so infatuated with a faster pace? Here are some of the fastest teams in the NBA:

  • Boston
  • Philadelphia
  • Denver
  • Minnesota
  • Lakers

You know what those teams have in common besides pace? They suck. Unequivocally. Yet Memphis, one of the best teams in the NBA, is 27th. The Warriors are first. Sounds more like pace doesn’t factor into a team’s quality much.

4. Why are you obsessed with pace when your two best players are DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay? These guys  thrive in the half-court. Cousins dominates everybody in the low block and draws double and triple-teams to him. Then, he can kick it out to somebody who would be left wide open. Rudy Gay is at his absolute worst when he has to take more than three dribbles with the ball. But he plays like an all-star when he posts up and relies on a quick move or two to get a close jumper.

5. As asked on Carmichael Dave’s show yesterday, why not sign Corbin to a longer contract for stability? D’Alessandro said that Corbin was their guy, yet balked at this question. “Why would we?” he replied.

What the hell is going on?

I’ve been used to the Kings sucking, but this lost season feels all the more painful because of how good they played at the beginning of the year. And management doesn’t seem to care about being forthright with the fanbase or its players since DeMarcus Cousins keeps finding out about major coaching changes through Twitter.

This season leaves me with two painful possible truths: either the Kings management doesn’t know how to right the ship, or it doesn’t care and this is all political. I don’t know what’s worse.

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On Two of the Less Appreciated Films of 2014

You probably never heard of these two

It was a great year for movies. For all the doom saying and fear mongering about the franchising of cinema and the creative gloom it’s supposed to bring, 2014 yielded one of the strongest years in the millennium. I’ve seen 17 of the theatrical releases from this year and I only disliked one of them (Mockingjay Part 1, which is boring and suffers greatly from being a Part 1). Movies I’m not huge on, like Godzilla, I still find redemptive aspects in. And I’ve loved many movies from this year, like Gone Girl, Nightcrawler, and of course Marvel’s two offerings that step high and above other films of their ilk.

But I’m not here to praise films that you saw and/or read a hundred articles about. I’m not even here to talk about my favorite movie of the year, which was Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. As much as I love those films , I don’t feel compelled to add my two cents to the conversations surrounding them. These two films on the other hand, I want to talk about because they seem to have been lost in the shuffle.

Calvary

Bleak barely begins to describe Calvary. It’s depressing, grim, pessimistic, and unflinching. With Brenden Gleeson providing an incredible central performance, the film takes you through a week in the life of an Irish-Catholic priest who has been marked for death by a member of his flock. His flock, however, resents him. It’s not clear why, though. The priest is never anything but a standup guy, a priest who doesn’t force religion upon anyone as well as a man who respects and listens to what people tell him, even when they tell him how much they hate him. He comes off as saintly, almost.

The film then takes you on a journey with this man as he bears the brunt of a community’s cynicism while he tries to make things right with them and his daughter. A film of nuance and grace, Calvary makes you understand everybody involved. Director John Michael McDonagh’s bleak subject material matches his photography senses. He captures the cloudy skies and lonely mountains of the Irish countryside like it’s a natural force surrounding and closing in on its main character. And Gleeson, one of our most unappreciated actors, puts the film on his back like the priest puts his town and his daughter on his. It’s a truly amazing film.

Locke

Tom Hardy sits in a car for 90 minutes and talks to various people via blutooth. It sounds like a high-concept thriller, but in reality Locke is just an examination of real world, down to earth ethics and what it really means to do the right thing. This film is more nerve-wracking than a lot of so-called thrillers that studios crank out with abandon, and it’s got Tom Hardy’s mesmerizing performance to thank. You’ve seen him play larger-than-life figures like Bane and Charles Bronson (in Bronson, look it up), now watch him just play a man with a crisis of conscience.

Ivan Locke is stuck in the middle of a desperate situation that he created for himself. He knows he has no one else to blame and takes it upon himself to try to make it right. Along the way, he learns how far this car ride will resonate with his family and coworkers and how much it will unravel his life.

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When Marvel announced it, Guardians of the Galaxy seemed like the riskiest endeavor for the company, yet. It’s based on an obscure comic of a D-list antiheroes, which include a talking tree and a gun-toting raccoon, and even hardcore Marvel fans barely knew about it. We didn’t really know anything about the source material or the movie and I wondered if this would be their first critical and/or financial flop.

Then, Marvel hired James Gunn to direct it. And he has made possibly Marvel’s best movie.

No Marvel movie feels like this one, which is sure to please people who felt that the movies were getting too homogenized in look or tone. Guardians is unique in both aspects. It’s irreverent, self-aware, and vibrant. It’s the most cinematic movie of the bunch, with Gunn painting a sweeping space opera canvas as well as an intimate study of damaged characters. He surrounds them with evocative spaceship designs and frames them in fantastically colorful space backdrops. From the cinematography, to the production design, and an army of computer animators, Guardians of the Galaxy looks excellent.

And it is excellent. As director and writer working from a previous script by Nicole Perlman, Gunn manages to properly do what most filmmakers fail at. He and his cast and crew pull off a tricky balance between humor and pathos. The opening switches from a touching scene between young Peter Quill and his cancer-stricken mother to adult Quill, dancing his way through an abandoned planet. That kind of transition could make for some real whiplash, but both scenes are handled with skill and sincerity. Gunn isn’t distancing you from Quill, but attaching you to him. He’s asking us to empathize. And he and Chris Pratt pull it off. Gunn shoots the cancer ward scene with restraint and sensitivity while Pratt carries the next scene with more charm than 17 Aaron Taylor-Johnsons.

It’s also hysterical. Filled with whip-smart one-liners and consistently funny back and forth dialogue, Guardians also manages to be cinematically funny. Gunn uses the camera to elicit laughs better than most “comedy” directors. Frequently dark, but never cruel, Gunn still imbues the movie with heart and soul.

And a lot more charm and soul come from the cast. Pratt gives a great performance here. He brings the same kind of sincerity from Parks and Recreation and mixes it with roguish charm and boatloads of charisma to create a character you would believe people would trust, despite his reputation as a thief.

Other cast members perform admirably as well. The most exciting surprise is Dave Bautista as Drax. Playing a character who takes everything 100% literally, he performs ridiculous, Shakespearean lines with concise, deadpan wit. Consequently, he gets some of the biggest laughs in the movie.

Bradley Cooper whips out a New York street touch accent for Rocket, the genetically altered raccoon who is going to be every kid’s new favorite toy. And Vin Diesel is Groot, Rocket’s big talking tree buddy. The movie gets a lot of emotional and comedic mileage out of Groot with some outstanding animation work that makes a Vin Diesel’s tree character more emotive than Vin Diesel himself. Within a short span, Groot gets a darkly humorous action scene and then a genuine, character-derived emotional moment.

Unfortunately, there is one weak link, and it’s baffling: Zoe Saldana. A veteran of sci-fi cinema and a terrific actress to boot, she never feels right as Gamora. She doesn’t convey the danger that a lifelong assassin should convey, nor does she strike a balance between danger and empathy that an assassin with a newly-found conscious should have. What she does convey is vulnerability, a trait that I don’t think quite works for a character who is supposed to be withdrawn and distrustful.

Those emotional moments do come as a surprise, given how flip the movie can be at times. But they work because those moments come characters who have been economically established and developed. They all have psychological scars. All of them are wounded. And they’re all emotionally distant at the beginning of the film, happy to resort to fights and insults.

That economy does come at the expense of an organic feel. The first act suffers from a rush to establish these five characters, the world, the Macguffin that drives the plot, and the villains, who once again, are not interesting. Lee Pace has screen presence as Ronan, the big bad, but his character has no depth. He’s just a dick. Same goes for Karen Gillan’s Nebula.

Even though Guardians fails on these levels, it succeeds where it counts the most: characters. They’re three dimensional assholes who bounce off each other in ways that feel loyal to their characterizations and form a plausible, unconventional family unit. A family unit you can go get shit-faced with.

Guardians of the Galaxy stood as the biggest question in Marvel’s slate six months ago. Now, it’s one of its best films; a genuine crowd-pleaser, a booster for all involved, and an unabashedly fun time at the movies. Just like the best of the Marvel offerings.

Edwards talking on-set with Bryan Cranston

Today, Lucasfilm and Disney announced that Gary Whitta will write the first spin-off of the new Star Wars trilogy and that Gareth Edwards will direct.

Edwards is coming off of his Godzilla reboot, which had a killer opening weekend and mostly positive reviews. The quality aspects of that film undoubtedly belong to Edwards and his cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. The film is gorgeously shot and has some of the best tension-building sequences in a blockbuster in several years. Edwards proves that he knows how to handle big effects showcases.

What he also proved was that he couldn’t direct actors very well and Godzilla‘s script is mediocre. Edwards’ direction makes it pop. And the screenwriter for this new film, Whitta, hasn’t exactly scored a slam dunk yet.  His two feature scripts are the ok-at-best Denzel Washington vehicle, The Book of Eli, and the Will Smith-nepotism project After Earth. Critics hung up that film by its toes and beat it with a nailed bat last year, but I’m willing to bet that the problems with that film come more from the director, M. Night Shyamalan, and the Smiths.

Whitta has found the most acclaim as a writer for Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead, so maybe he’s a lot better than his feature film record indicate. Likely, actually. But under the umbrella of Star Wars, he probably won’t get to flex those muscles. I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. I’d love to get a good Star Wars movie and with the astonishingly-mediocre J.J. Abrams at the wheel of Episode VII, it’s almost a guarantee that this spin-off will at least look better. Edwards is a gifted director who desperately needs a great script and good leading actors if he’s going to make a truly great film.

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Audience expectations are a dangerous thing, not just for the audience but for the film presented. If the audience expects something that the movie doesn’t present, can it really judge the movie fairly? If I have it in my head that Godzilla is going to be a grim, brooding, $150 million horror film retrofitting the classic monster as a force of nature and a prominent figure in its own film, is it my fault if I don’t get that? And is it my fault if I don’t like what I get that much?

I say this because Godzilla was advertised as a completely different movie than the one currently in theaters. The good news is that the movie in theaters isn’t bad, and at times it’s excellent. The bad news is that the movie in trailers and commercials looks so much better than this film. Instead of Bryan Cranston as the main character, we get Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Instead of a compelling mystery story, we get a trite “nuclear-family is in danger” story. Instead of a genuinely unnerving and nerve-wrecking horror vibe, we get a slightly darker Pacific Rim vibe.

Cranston, in limited screen time, proves he can be a compelling presence without Walter White’s baggage. He knows what notes to hit for a character that could be much more boring thanks to the average screenplay he works with. Despite his age, he probably has a long career as a movie star ahead of him. Cranston plays Joe Brody, a man obsessed with finding the real cause of a 1999 meltdown at the Japanese nuclear plant he used to run. He drags his son Ford, played by Johnson, into the Quarantine Zone caused by the meltdown to search for proof. Johnson, so good as the titular character in Kick-Ass, is painfully dull here. He has the same vacant expression for when his dad asks him to go to the Quarantine Zone as he does when a giant monster wreaks havoc in that zone about 10 minutes later.

With no Bryan Cranston and less of a focus on these two characters, the movie becomes far less engaging since the real story is Ford trying to get from Japan to San Francisco to meet up with his boring wife, played by Elizabeth Olsen, and their son. Because of Johnson’s bland performance, he fails to engage the audience with his character on any significant level. He acts as a blank slate. He has no range of emotion or vocalization. He flatlines as a performer. All Olsen can do is cry for her husband. Juliette Binoche dies in the first 10 minutes of the movie. Once again, the female gender gets sidelined. Ken Watanabe is playing the movie’s Godzilla expert. He and his partner, played by Sally Hawkins, play the exposition people, telling us Godzilla’s history and function as nature’s balancing force. According to Watanabe’s Dr. Serizawa, Godzilla exists to bring nature back into balance. And that’s why he’s looking for the MUTOs.

And those MUTOs strangely enough take precedence over Godzilla in the story and the screen. In fact, he doesn’t show up for about an hour, and only then in glimpses.  The  giant Cloverfield-looking MUTOs move the plot along. Godzilla only exists in this movie to fight them.

Slowly building to the reveal instead of just showing him early on is not a bad idea, and it kind of works in this movie. When he finally shows up in all his glory, he looks incredible. He’s gigantic, as tall as the skyscrapers. But if you’re going to build up to the monster’s reveal, you need to have an engaging human story on the way there. And this story does not engage. But what’s really…just weird is how much more screen time the generic-named MUTOs get. They cause a ton of havoc, destruction, and make the movie pop in the first couple of acts.

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For all of his faults in directing actors, director Gareth Edwards has a lot of positive qualities. His 2010 film Monsters shares a lot of the same flaws, but it also foreshadowed his many gifts. If you’ve seen that movie, you got an inkling that he might be a master of building up dread and holding tension. Godzilla confirms it. Every scene that either involves a monster or leads up to a monster is outstanding. Edwards manages to instill dread, fear, and tension in the audience before inspiring a true sense of awe. The point-of-view shots help with this. He keeps his camera near human characters to let the audience view these gargantuan beasts from their perspective. It gives the movie a powerful sense of scale, since we can see just how big they are in comparison to us. Edwards keeps his camera still and allows the overwhelming feeling that scale inspires to sink in, while still ever-so-slightly shaking the camera to affect the fear the characters feel.

The best the movie gets is the HALO jump scene, glimpsed at in the first trailer for the film. This scene illustrates all of Edwards’ skills perfectly. In the lead-in to the jump,Edwards establishes the soldiers’ fear; they recite bible verses and Ford looks gloomily at a picture of his family. Then the plane opens up, and we glimpse the sky, reddened and darkened from the smoke coming from below. Edwards doesn’t reveal the cause of this atmosphere just yet. Alexandre Desplat’s score, now emulating chamber music with high-pitched vocals backing the diegetic sounds, underscores the scene like a horror film. In an extreme long shot, we see the soldiers, trailing red smoke from the flares attached to their legs, falling towards a city on fire and utterly demolished. The cause? Godzilla and a MUTO, brawling, smashing, careening through skyscrapers. All seen through Ford Brody’s mask.

That scene establishes character, massive scale, and point of view, through which Edwards evokes terror, dread, fear, and awe all in the course of less than two minutes. Edwards comes close to this greatness with other fantastic scenes, as well, which disappoints me even more that he can’t get his human characters right. Too often, Edwards cuts back to these characters that has failed to make resonate with the audience.

But the scenes like that make the movie worth watching. And if the whole movie had been of those emotional roller coaster scenes with better performances and Godzilla as the terrifying force of nature, it would have been phenomenal. It would have been the movie Legendary Pictures advertised.

Instead, we got a good version of the monster-punches-monster movie. That’s all well and fine, and I’m willing to see another Gareth Edwards Godzilla, but I was sold and hyped for a much different movie. A more interesting movie that doesn’t treat Godzilla like a tertiary character.