Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Three simple ways Gareth Edwards
could have improved Godzilla (a bit)

Not including this one.

*** WARNING ***
Contains massive spoilers for Godzilla.
Don't read unless you've seen it, aren't planning
to see it, or don't give a hoot about spoilers.

Gareth Edwards' Godzilla, currently stomping around in a cinema near you shouting about something or other, may have some of the best set-pieces we've seen in monster movies for yonks, but in terms of its human characters it's prehistoric. Everyone's a cliché, relationships are irrelevant and emotional attachment to any of them is non-existent.

But more troublingly, despite this being The Year Of Our Lord 2014, the film is a total sausagefest. Juliette Binoche is dispatched in the first reel, Sally Hawkins is a dutiful, irrelevant assistant and Elizabeth Olsen spends the whole film being a worried wife on the end of a phone while the men get on with all the heavy lifting. The only important female character in the entire movie is a Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object, and if there's one thing I know about women it's that they don't like to be referred to as Objects. Or, for that matter, Massive.

While much of the blame for this woeful state of affairs can be apportioned to screenwriter Max Borenstein, Gareth Edwards has gone on record to say that he was largely left to his own devices by Warner Bros, so as director the buck must stop with him. He's an intelligent guy, and his first film Monsters did a much better job with the gender balancing, so what gives? The most frustrating thing about the testosterone overload is that there were three very simple solutions available to Edwards and Borenstein, and any one of them would have made a positive difference. The plot may still have been throwaway, but at least we'd be making some kind of progress in an industry powerful enough to cause ripples as big as Godzilla's footsteps.

1. Swap Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche
Cranston and Binoche are both terrific actors, and their billing in Godzilla is a sly wrong-footing of the audience given the amount of screen time they get. But imagine for a moment that Binoche is the nuclear expert who has to make the terrible decision to seal her husband's fate, and then spends fifteen years trying to uncover a conspiracy. Not hard, is it? The story would barely change, but the mother-son dynamic between her and Aaron Taylor-Johnson would have been a refreshing spin on the Steven Spielberg Absent Father routine Edwards employs.

2. Swap Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins
Presumably Ken Watanabe has to be the Godzilla expert rather than Sally Hawkins because he's a) older and b) more Japanese. Fair enough. But couldn't Hawkins' Dr Graham have been on a more equal footing to Dr Serizawa, if not his superior? Hawkins can do anything, and I for one would love to have seen her get all misty-eyed over the discovery of Gojira and excitedly spewing exposition. Gareth Edwards' love of Jurassic Park is obvious, but it doesn't appear to have extended to a close examination of the skillfully written relationship between Graham and Serizawa's predecessors, Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler.

3. Swap Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen
I'll admit this one's a stretch, but only because the ridiculously-named Ford Brody is a soldier and we don't see many lady soldiers. But why not? He doesn't need to be physically intimidating, he's a bomb disposal expert. I'm pretty sure women do that job too. Shove him in the hospital with an iPhone stuck to his face and get Elizabeth Olsen, one of the most exciting young actresses of the moment, out in the field. The dynamic between her and her fellow soldiers would immediately suggest the kind of gender politics-based interest we saw in Aliens, and young female audiences would get their very own Ripley to boot.

I realise this might sound a bit hypocritical coming from someone who's a huge fan of such classic feminist films as the James Bond series, but I genuinely believe that young, exciting directors like Gareth Edwards have the ideal opportunity - a responsibility, even - to do something about a problem which very much exists. The fact that it might have improved his slightly disappointing film somewhat just happens to be a bonus.

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