Amid complaints that Godzilla 2014 is too serious, we think the problem is far more simple.
A lot of people have bemoaned the influence of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films on current blockbusters, accusing them of sucking out all the fun and rendering the result dark and dreary. Last year’s most significant casualty of Nolanisation was Man of Steel, and this year the same accusations are being directed at Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla: people seem to think it’s too serious for a film about a 300-foot radioactive dinosaur smashing up a city.
Godzilla 2014 is an attempt to marry the darkness of the original with the giant monster punch-ups characterising the later Toho films
But there’s a good case to be made that Edwards wasn’t aiming to imitate Christopher Nolan, but rather Ishiro Honda. Godzilla 2014 is tonally very similar to the 1954 original, and seems to represent an attempt to marry the darkness of that film with the giant monster punch-ups that characterised later films in the Toho series. Yes, for much of his history Godzilla has been extremely silly, but the fact that Edwards’s film is less-so isn’t too much of a problem in itself.
Godzilla 2014 certainly never loses sight of the awe these creatures should evoke in an audience, and the final battle between Godzilla and the MUTOs is fantastic entertainment. Edwards gives the King of the Monsters the respect he deserves, but never takes him so seriously as to lose the fun inherent in the premise of skyscraper-sized monsters beating each other to a pulp.
The obvious comparison is to last year’s Pacific Rim, to which a lot of people seem to wish Godzilla had a similar tone. Guillermo del Toro’s anime-inspired mechs vs. monsters film is much more playful and light-hearted, more in line with the spirit of the goofier Godzilla films many remember so fondly. Even so, despite both films being on opposite ends of the spectrum tonally, the core problems with both are identical.
Both Godzilla and Pacific Rim are most let down by the fact that each film’s main character is so utterly devoid of personality that he threatens to collapse in on himself, create a blandness singularity and drag the entire rest of the movie in after him. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a very talented actor, but he’s given nothing to do by Godzilla’s screenplay, in much the same way as Charlie Hunnam had so little to work with in Pacific Rim.
Godzilla’s problems are not from the Nolan influence, but from focus on human characters who aren’t interesting enough
But then, why should we care about the human characters when there are giant robots and giant monsters pulverising entire cities? It’s a good question, and one that the directors of both films would have benefited from asking themselves. Ken Watanabe outright says, “Let them fight!” in Godzilla, but apparently no one told Edwards the same thing: as great as the final kaiju battle is, there just isn’t enough of it. It makes sense to delay Godzilla’s arrival for maximum impact a la Jaws, but it would have been nice if Godzilla had a bit more to do in his own movie.
So, Godzilla’s problems are not from the influence of Christopher Nolan, but from too much focus on human characters who aren’t interesting enough to keep our attention. You do have to ground these stories in human terms to an extent, and it wouldn’t have been a problem if the humans had been a more engaging bunch. If they’d written out Aaron Taylor-Johnson and made Godzilla’s human story about Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe – far more interesting characters given far too little screen time – it would have made for a much better film.
More on film: Did Christopher Nolan suck the fun out of summer movies?
Which brings us to the obvious question: how to make the at this point inevitable Godzilla sequel a better film? Start with the above, naturally: if you must make these movies about the people rather than the monsters, give us a reason to care about them. It’s not that hard, and Edwards managed it admirably with his debut feature Monsters, so there’s no good reason why he shouldn’t be able to do it again for Godzilla 2.
With Godzilla 2, if they must make these movies about the people rather than the monsters, give us a reason to care about them
But a kaiju movie must always come back to the monsters themselves, and this is the most obvious area for the Godzilla sequel to up the ante. We want more monster fights – in a 120-minute feature, it’s not unreasonable to expect a minimum of 30 of those to consist of fight scenes. As important as this, though, is the fact that we need better monsters for Godzilla to fight. The MUTOs weren’t bad, but they weren’t especially visually inventive, and Pacific Rim certainly trumps this Godzilla for creative antagonists.
Apart from just hiring del Toro’s art department, the easiest thing would be to bring back some of the classic Godzilla monsters. Have him fight Mothra and Anguirus, and then have the three of them team up to take down King Ghidorah. Godzilla 2014’s final kaiju battle was the stuff monster movie dreams are made of, and watching classic Toho monsters brawl to a $200 million dollar budget and modern special effects would be amazing.
Hear our thoughts on Godzilla: It’s this week’s Screen Robot Filmcast
All images: Warner Bros