Jen Krueger: Mindless Monster Movies
Before Godzilla had even been out for 24 hours, I was already hearing mixed feedback about it. Some people I know enjoyed themselves while watching it, but the more vocal reaction I’ve encountered is disappointment that the characters and story aren’t strong enough for it to be a good movie. And though I have to preface this by saying that I’ve yet to see it and could end up being disappointed by it myself, I do have something to say to the people that are complaining about the narrative shortcomings of Godzilla:
Get your expectations in line with the movie you’re watching!
Of course, I’m all for monster movies that have characters with dimension and stories without gaping plot holes, but when I sit down to watch something with a kaiju in it, all that needs to happen for me to be satisfied is for that kaiju to rampage. I want to see a city get attacked, and a fight ensue to take down the kaiju (preferably one in which another huge monster or some kind of huge machine is the kaiju’s opponent). If I happen to care about the fate of the humans that serve as the audience’s entry into the story, that’s honestly just gravy.
But as someone who’s usually complaining about hollow characters or narrative shortcomings in other blockbusters, why is it that I don’t take issue with similar problems when it comes to monster movies? Because it’s one of very few genres in which I think the characters are completely secondary to other aspects of the movie. Sure, superhero films must have set piece action sequences and exciting stunts to be successful, but they also must get the viewer to take the hero’s side in those sequences, because even a team of superheroes working together is still a fight involving several individuals against an antagonizing force. Monster movies, though, pit all of humanity against a terror from space or the sea, and the specific characters involved in the fight against them are basically incidental since they could be replaced by any other pilot, politician, or unlucky civilian tasked with the same plan to eliminate the kaiju.
Even with my (fairly low) requirements for a monster movie to satisfy me, there have certainly been some offerings that didn’t live up to my expectations. In its trailers, Cloverfield promised a monster movie unlike any I’d ever seen, but delivered on that promise by barely letting me see the monster. I expected unparalleled destruction, but got far too much time spent with people I didn’t care about running through tunnels. And despite the signs of destruction around the protagonists, I was too embedded with them to get the sense of large-scale damage and combat that I crave from a kaiju. With no real monster money shot, I left the theater underwhelmed and had to wait five years for one that really lived up to what I crave in this genre. With multiple kaiju and a bunch of giant robots, Pacific Rim seemed to never go more than fifteen minutes without showing one smashing into the other, and became the monster movie to which I’ll compare all future offerings.
While Godzilla advertises itself as a single kaiju movie and (as far as I know) has no giant robots as part of the scheme to take it out, it at least makes its single monster enormous and destructive enough to plow through bridges and swat away combat vehicles as if they were pesky insects. It’s enough to get me in the theater, and as long as the eponymous kaiju doesn’t have a silly weakness that brings it down too easily in the end, I’m sure I’ll have a great time watching it. And if all else fails, at least Transformers 4 is only about a month away. It may not have a monster, but it has a giant robot riding a robot dinosaur, which is obviously the next best thing.