Pacific Rim vs Godzilla (2014): Kaiju Battle On!

Pacific Rim vs Godzilla

Pacific Rim vs Godzilla

 

It’s taken quite a while for giant Japanese monsters to stomp all over western cinema, but they’re finally here.  This year marked the strong return of Godzilla, who hasn’t appropriately seen the dim lighting of an American movie theater  since Roland Emmerich Ferris Buellered the whole concept in 1998.  Godzilla made quite a splash (pun absolutely intended) at the box office this year, raking in almost $200 million domestically and close to $500 million worldwide.  The international gross isn’t really all that surprising–going big in Asian markets was a total no-brainer–but having half of that revenue coming from America alone is big news (there we go with those puns again).  Looking at these numbers wholistically, it completely makes sense.  Big monsters + big theater screens + awesome special effects = the dreams of sci-fi nuts and 14 year olds completely fulfilled.  There’s no good reason as to why it took this long to finally get the kaiju ball rolling.

Despite his welcome reimagining, Godzilla 2014 wasn’t the first movie monster to jump on the modern kaiju bandwagon.  Last year, Guillermo Del Toro gave us Pacific Rim, which mixed up the whole endeavor with giant monsters and big ass robots.  Pacific Rim didn’t do perform quite as well financially, but it made an admirable attempt.  That said, gross revenue does not a better film make, and although Godzilla may have been all the rage during the early summer season of 2014, giving that particular film all the credit for the resurgence of cinematic colossus warfare would be in poor taste.  Pacific Rim did it first.  But which one did it better?  Let’s take a look at these two kaiju-themed films and try to answer that very question.

On a side note, I realize that the Transformers movies happened way earlier than both these films, but they don’t count because they’re awful.  So without further adieu, let the ultimate kaiju battle begin!

Round 1: Basic Premise

Godzilla tells the simple tale of a world that isn’t quite ready for monsters.  We are arrogant, you see, and allow our nuclear testing and careless attitude towards the Earth take precedence over the ecological footprint undoubtedly trampling our fragile planet.  Nature fights back by unleashing giant dragonfly MUTOs, hell-bent of messing things up and mating.  This isn’t part of the natural order, though, and Godzilla shows up to put an end to all of this nonsense.  The end.

I wish there was more to say about Gozilla’s overall narrative, but it really just boils down to that.  MUTOs show up, this isn’t right, Godzilla comes out of the ocean to fix things.  Pacific Rim, on the other hand, creates its own deep mythology right from the get go: alien beings invade Earth through interdimensional rift at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, sending massive Kaiju pets to cause all sorts of death and destruction.  To fight back, the countries of Earth band together and create nationalized giant mecha (referred to as Jaegers) that are powered by some hocus-pocus dual mind melding technique.  Once this backstory is established, the rest of the movie involves a group of American humans, detailing their attempt the stop this invasion once and for all.  Which really isn’t all that complicated.  Hmm.

Not going to lie–I was sure that this round would be going to Pacific Rim, but after writing all of this down, I realize that both films share an equally basic premise.  Not to say that either one of them are bad–they do exactly what’s needed to progress to what matters most (Kaiju battles!)–just very, very simple.  Let’s just call this one a tie.

Round 2: Human Characters

I know what you’re probably thinking: “Humans?  who cares about stinkin’ humans!  This is all about massive monsters and radical robots, dawg!  You trippin’!”

But I digress–the only things I’ll be tripping on are my shoelaces.  Human characters are extremely important in any film, especially when giant creatures are at play.  How else would we know that the kaiju are indeed enormous?  Human characters are needed, first and foremost, for scale.  We also need them to make the whole endeavor relatable.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t effectively empathize with a towering lizard.  So, out of these two movies, which one featured the best human characters?

Godzilla goes off on a good start with Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), an American scientist who used to live and work in Japan.  After his wife is killed in a tragic nuclear accident, he finds himself continually breaking into his old stomping grounds in an effort to get to the bottom of the mystery.  He’s a man obsessed with finding the truth, and Cranston plays the role with plenty of gusto and a stinge of much-warranted paranoia.  Joe really carries the film, which is really too bad since he’s only in it for a brief amount of time.  The rest of the characters are wildly two-dimensional in comparison.  There’s Aaron Taylor-Johnson as his son, Ford Brody, a Lieutenant in the American Navy who just happens to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Ken Watanabe plays a former colleague of Joe’s who spends most of the film pleading everyone else to leave nature alone.  David Strathairn portrays an Admiral in the Navy in charge of neutralizing the MUTOs.  Elizabeth Olsen plays Ford’s wife because, well, he’s got to have a wife, right?

None of the characters in Godzilla are badly acted, but they seem completely unimportant because they are unimportant.  The movie simply doesn’t care about them–they exist simply because humans exist on Earth.  Pacific Rim does things a little differently with its humans.  While the kaiju in Godzilla can only be fought by its namesake lizard creature, the monsters in Pacific Rim can only be defeated by people.  People controlling giant mechas, but people nonetheless.  By the very nature of this setup the human characters are given full attention, and by default, play an important role in the narrative.  Each and every one of them serve a purpose:  Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi play the two main Jaeger pilots instructed to carry forth their mission of defeating the kaiju.  Idris Elba plays their commander, a former pilot himself who provides a moral center–the “Yoda” of Pacific Rim, if you will.  There’s also Charlie Day the scientist (!) and Ron Perlman the capital-minded black marketeer, each one of them playing an integral role to the narrative.

This round easily goes to Pacific Rim.  The human characters in this film serve a purpose, and are all given a fair amount of development before all hell breaks loose and the big fights begin.  With the exception of Bryan Cranston’s Joe Brody, Godzilla just doesn’t give a flying flute about its characters, who are all too easily upstaged by the big-daddy-lizard himself.

Round 3: The Monsters

Ah, the battle we’ve been waiting for!  These are both monster movies, after all, so it would be stupid to ignore the biggest round of them all.

Godzilla is really quite the beast.  Honestly, he’s never looked better.  Director Gareth Edwards’ special effects team did a splendid job making the massive lizard look superb on the modern silver screen, with tons of bonus points for the whole 3D IMAX experience.  They really did do the impossible here–Godzilla’s design is at once refreshing an undoubtedly classic, two things that Roland Emmerich splendidly failed at achieving.  The other MUTOs, on the other hand, are simply passable at best.  Their overall look borders on uninspired, which is a shame considering how creative past Godzilla foes have been.  Seriously, they had all the resources to make the additional monsters in Godzilla look as equally majestic as the big kahuna himself, couldn’t they have hired a better designer?  It’s too bad they get most of the CGI screentime.

The monsters in Pacific Rim are classic Del Toro fantasy creations.  They are at once menacing and horrid, with an H.R. Giger influence running deep in their (likely) cold bloodstreams.  They absolutely serve their purpose and they do it well, but that’s where the ultimate problems begin: they all look the same, so after a while, they get a little boring to look at.  Same thing for the Jaegers.  They’re totally awesome at first, and while they don’t necessarily outstay their welcome, they become commonplace as the movie goes on.  Thankfully, the excellent human cast is well developed enough to keep our suspension of disbelief going, but a little massive monster variety would have been nice.

This round goes to Godzilla, but just barely.  Both films feature impressive special effects, but the luster wears off after a while, especially in the case of Pacific Rim.  Godzilla himself barely gets any screentime, but that in of itself may be a blessing in disguise–too much Godzilla could have potentially been a bad thing.  At the end of the day, Godzilla is simply a more awesome kaiju.

Round 4: The Better Film

This one is tricky, because Pacific Rim and Godzilla are two very different beasts.  Godzilla is a serious, laugh-free reimagining of the classic Japanese film legend.  It doesn’t try anything new, but rather feels comfortable going through the motions of what is expected from any given Godzilla film.  Can’t really knock it down for this–it’s simply how they are.

Pacific Rim is standard Del Toro fare.  More Hellboy than Mimic, it’s a goofy take on standard kaiju mythos, with bursts of subtle irony and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.  Some of the acting is a little hokey in spots, but Del Toro’s crazy imagination more than makes up for these moments.

This will be a controversial ruling, but Pacific Rim takes this round as the better film. Gareth Edwards made a decent Godzilla movie, but really, that’s all it is.  It wouldn’t be a problem had there not been ten billion Godzilla films before it, but alas, there have been (33 so far, to be exact).  It doesn’t try anything new, and for that it simply cannot be a better film than Pacific Rim, which ends up doing a lot in two tight hours of runtime.

So what do you think?  Is Pacific Rim a better kaiju film than Godzilla?  Am I a fool for coming to this conclusion?  Use the comments section to sound off and let us know what you think.

 

 

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