Face-Off: Pacific Rim vs. Godzilla 2014

Legendary is a production company that is clearly interested in being in the giant monster business. Not only are they building a "MonsterVerse" with GODZILLA and KONG, but they're also making monster movies that apparently aren't even part of the MonsterVerse, like Guillermo Del Toro's 2013 film PACIFIC RIM, its upcoming sequel PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING, and this weekend's THE GREAT WALL. Looking forward to THE GREAT WALL, I decided to evaluate how Legendary is doing with their monstrous endeavors by taking a look at their two franchise starters - PACIFIC RIM and 2014's GODZILLA, directed by Gareth Edwards.
The giant monsters in this film are an invading alien force, entering our world through a portal between two tectonic plates beneath the Pacific ocean. We don't know exactly where they came from or what they are. We don't know how that portal opened or how to close it, and we can't get anything through it to the other side. All we can do is fight these monsters when they show up... Creatures from another world or dimension are part of the kaiju tradition, but I prefer the more homegrown ones.
For me, the best explanations for the appearance of kaiju involve "the folly of men"; we are somehow responsible for them. While Godzilla and the other monsters featured in this film are prehistoric creatures, not the result of nuclear testing or bombings, we have drawn them back into the modern world, stirring them with deep sea submarines and mining drills, enticing them with nuclear reactors that provide the radiation they crave. We didn't create them, but we've made the world more welcoming to them.
For years, the threat of the Kaiju comes from their size. They're too large for our world, they smash through cities and kill thousands of people. The Jaeger program is created, and these giant war machines beat a Kaiju down whenever they show up. When the Kaiju start appearing more frequently and become bigger and stronger than the Jaeger machines, the fallback option is to build impenetrable walls along the Pacific coast. If we're just going to let the ocean fill up with these things, it doesn't sound like they're so bad. The wall doesn't work, though, and a scientist figures out that the Kaiju are being sent here on purpose to overtake our world and destroy it. They've been here before. They wiped out the dinosaurs. Now it's our turn to be hunted into extinction.
This is another case where the monsters are too big for our world and wreak a lot of havoc while just traveling from place to place, but while Godzilla is content to keep to himself in the sea, the parasitic spores called MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) are more troublesome. They will consume any source of radiation they come across, draining nuclear reactors and submarines. They send out EMPs that knock out electronic devices. And there are two of them, a male and female - and they intend to mate. Soon there would be MUTOs all over the planet, and it's not hard to imagine that the human race wouldn't be around for very long if these things took over. Luckily, Godzilla is an alpha predator, naturally drawn to the MUTOS so he can fight them and kill them.
This is what PACIFIC RIM is all about. This is what draws the audience in - the chance to see giant monsters fight giant machines. Del Toro gives the viewer what they want, showing us multiple scenes of Jaegers and Kaiju knocking each other around with violent physical blows, causing a good deal of property damage in the process. Fights occur at sea, in cities, and in the sky. You want to see a machine punch a monster? You got it. They'll also hit them with plasma blasts, fire rockets at them, slice them with spinning blades, or smack them with any sort of weapon they can get their hands on.
Edwards went to great lengths trying to build anticipation for the climactic monster fight - such great lengths that the film can be incredibly frustrating when he refuses to show earlier fights, cutting away right when the action is about to begin. The cinematography is exceptionally dark when we finally do reach the climactic battle, but it always brings a smile to my face when I get to watch Godzilla fight other monsters and blast out his atomic breath. It's not a particularly impressive battle, but Godzilla kicks some ass, and that's entertainment.
This truly feels like a fan geek-out movie, Del Toro's joyful tribute to the kaiju movies that he loves. It's clearly just out to be a fun a ride, and it succeeds. It's a colorful, neon-soaked, large scale monster mash that moves at a quick pace and provides a lot of destructive action. This feels like a comic book or a cartoon come to life, and it's very visually appealing.
This film takes a very grounded, real world approach to its story of giant monsters rampaging around the planet, and it's serious to the point of being dour. It also plods along at a deliberate pace that is tough to appreciate if you're a viewer who's frustrated by the way Edwards holds back on showing the monsters. It's respectful to the legacy of Godzilla, but not very much fun.
PACIFIC RIM sort of feels like a sequel to a movie that didn't exist; there's plenty of room for prequels about the first Kaiju attacks and the creation of the Jaegers, the trials and errors. Problem is, no past events were as big as the events that occur here. The franchise has to move forward, even though this ends in triumph, with the destruction of the portal and the nuking of some of the monster-making creatures on the other side. This could be a satisfying one-off, but the concept of "mecha vs. kaiju" alone is worth getting at least a couple movies out of, and there's always the chance of another portal opening.
All you really need for this franchise is Godzilla himself. Other recurring characters may cycle in and out, but Godzilla has already been carrying a franchise on his scaly shoulders for more than sixty years. He fought the MUTOs, and he'll come back again to fight whatever other monsters show up in the future, including Kong. But other than the presence of the monsters, how else do you tie the movies together? Legendary has put a scientific organization called Monarch at the center of their MonsterVerse. Monarch collaborates with the military to seek out monsters and study them, and has been doing this for decades.
This was a hard-fought battle, but in the end I find that PACIFIC RIM comes out on top as the better, more entertaining giant monster movie from Legendary. So far. It and GODZILLA are about to get a lot more competition, and I can't wait to see the Legendary monster action that lies ahead of us.

Would PACIFIC RIM be your pick as well, or do you think GODZILLA was the better kaiju film? Share your thoughts on these films, and let us know which upcoming Legendary monster movie you're most looking forward to, in the comments section below. If you have any suggestions for future Face-Off articles, you can contact me at [email protected].



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