I am not a huge fan of monster films. Mainly because most of the time monster films have a distinct lack of monster screen time. In the past two years, two very different takes on the monster franchise were released. This is my comparison of the the two films.
Pacific Rim Synopsis; As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to drive a seemingly obsolete special weapon in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse. (Synopsis from IMDb)
Godzilla Synopsis: The world’s most famous monster is pitted against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity’s scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence. (Synopsis from IMDd)
Review: Since the end of the Jaws franchise, very few monster driven movies have been released. In 2013 and 2014 two films were released that bucked the trend, Pacific Rim and Godzilla. Both films dealt with the repercussions of giant monsters invading major metropolitan areas. In Pacific Rim, humanity fights back by creating giant monster-punching robots called Jaegers. While in Godzilla, everyone runs around screaming. I am not a huge fan of monster films, but when I do go see such a film, I am expecting a lot of monsters. So I was a little disappointed with Godzilla. I am not saying that the films are either timeless monster classics or atrocious, they are both enjoyable movies that could have been better. Though, if I had to pick a favorite, it would be Pacific Rim every time. I have three major problems with Godzilla.
First, the film is boring. I know Godzilla is a popular franchise and has an extensive fanbase. But the 2014 reiteration is rather boring. Part of the reason the other Godzilla films were so popular is because they are campy and unapologetically over-the-top. The 2014 film is way too serious and Godzilla is cast as the misunderstood anti-hero. The titular character has about fifteen minutes of screen time, most of the film is of Aaron Taylor-Johnson running from a mating pair of Mothra. The film should have been called Young Man Runs from Giant Moths and Is Rescued at the last Minute by a Mellowed Godzilla. I should note that I did enjoy the film, it just would have been better without all the melodrama. It is a monster film, people are going to die.
Second, the script is all over the place. None of the main characters are well-developed. The screenwriters just gave the main characters a depressing backstory and made everyone mope for the majority of the film. Plus Bryan Cranston was horribly underused, which is a huge shame. If you are going to cast a great character actor, at least give him something worth doing. Besides the characterization, the biggest problem is that the plot resolution hinges upon a far-fetched nuclear bombing plan. The military is never depicted well in monster films and Godzilla continues the trend. These supernatural Moths thrive on radiation and the plan is to drop a nuclear bomb on them? That is not a recipe for success. Also, these Moths have the ability to sense radioactivity from miles away. So the plan is to transport these bombs by train? Really?
Third, the super smart humans are rather ineffective. When the Mothra attack, the defense team fire their weapons and complain about their ineffectiveness. Where is the battle field ingenuity or even basic survival skills fueled by adrenaline? When a monster is not invading, everyone stands around and discusses policy. As if ratifying a law is going to stop a determined bug from another dimension on its path of destruction. Frankly all the talking is exhausting, just go shoot something. Godzilla runs the risk of wearing out the audience with excessive human whining. Really I had no connection with any of the human characters, they all got on my nerves. On the plus side, the special effects are amazing. When Godzilla finally appears, he is quite spectacular.
I am not saying that Pacific Rim is the best monster film of all time, but it has a better screenplay than Godzilla. The main difference between the two films is that Pacific Rim revels in its over-the-top narrative. There is a flashback scene where Idris Elba rescues a young girl. Then he emerges from his Jaeger and the sun shines upon him as if he is the savior of humanity. This is a film that does not take itself too seriously. Rim starts with a giant monster fight, ends with a monster fight, and throws in some more in between. Pacific Rim is a monster film that actually shows monster fights, what a radical idea.
Unlike Godzilla, Pacific Rim is not masquerading as a serious film. It is a fun monster film with just enough characterization to move the narrative along. Also, the humans are a lot more intelligent in Rim. When the Kaiju decides to invade and stomp out a major city, the humans invent a Jaeger and go to battle. There is no standing around debating ethics, people just jump into action and defend themselves. Which is the appropriate response to a monster invasion. On this front, Rim is superior to Godzilla.
However, Pacific Rim does have a huge missed opportunity in exploring “the drift” concept. The film barely scratches the surface when it comes to developing this human connection. Especially since there could have been a significant subplot involving the difficulties of solving an external conflict while trying to overcome an internal obstacle. The emotional impact of the film could have been stronger if the relationship between drift partners was more developed. What I like about the characters in this movie is that they do not spend the majority of the film moping. They have a few self-reflective moments and then move on. Though Charlie Day was rather grating after a while. His character would have been more believable if he had toned down the crazy a bit more.
The one area Godzilla beats Pacific Rim in is the destruction. In Godzilla the fights seem more desperate and emotionally driven. This is because the majority of the fights take place in major cities and a lot of lives are at stake. If the plan fails, a lot of people will die. Whereas, in Pacific Rim only two people are in immediate danger at any one time. Yes if the Jaegers fail then everyone will eventually be in extreme peril. But the urgency is not as palpable as it is in Godzilla. However, both films do an excellent job with creating enormous monsters on screen. If all you want is to see some giant lizards take on humanity, either film will satiate your cravings. When it comes down to re-watching potential, Pacific Rim wins. Godzilla is both new and old; the problem with being a rehashing of an old franchise is everyone knows what to expect. After the movie is over no one is surprised with the ending. At least Pacific Rim is an original concept and has the luxury of creating its own backstory.