The Internet being the Internet, the release and success of Godzilla has turned into a fight over which giant monster movie is better. I largely avoided that in my review of Godzilla because using one movie as a club on another is unfair to both, in my opinion. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion on which movie is better.
As you may have figured out, it’s Pacific Rim that wins my affection, and here’s why.
I go to see a Superman movie, I want to see Superman. I go to see a James Bond movie, James Bond had better be doing things. And if I see a Godzilla movie in it, once I see Godzilla, I want to see more Godzilla. One of the central failings about reviews of both these movies is the assumption that we’re not here to see the title character.
Pacific Rim makes with the ridiculous fights right away. Not to knock Godzilla‘s monster fights, as they were the best part of the movie and superbly done, but Pacific Rim‘s monster fights were also the best part of the movie, also superbly done, and there are more of them.
Godzilla Is Dumb In A Bad Way
This isn’t to say that Pacific Rim is a sensitive and intelligent movie about giant monsters. It’s dumb as a brick. It’s just that Pacific Rim is a better-written dumb movie.
Godzilla, script-wise, is kind of a mess for about a dozen different reasons, but the main problem is that the plot hinges on the military making every single conceivable stupid decision when faced with a situation like this. These giant bugs eat radiation and your plan is to nuke them?
Even giving that as a plot idea, you’ve got two giant bugs eating everything radioactive for miles, and you know they can sense radioactivity because the entire plan hinges on that. So why, for the love of God, are you transporting these bombs by train? True, there’s a long-standing tradition of military stupidity in Godzilla movies, but that’s why we laugh at them.
Is building giant robots a reasonable response to ridiculous alternate-dimension monsters coming out of the ocean? Of course not. But Pacific Rim is not pretending to be a serious movie to be taken seriously, and it has the virtue of being at least internally consistent. There’s a difference between a movie that knows it’s stupid and a movie that assumes you’re stupid.
The Humans Do Things
When a kaiju stomps into a city in Pacific Rim, the humans jump onto a robot and hit it with a tanker. When a MUTO stomps a city in Godzilla, they ineffectually fire things at it and fret about how they’re useless. Characters driving the plot is basic screenwriting, and Godzilla can’t be bothered with it.
It gets worse when there’s not a monster to fight: Godzilla‘s humans stand around and argue about policy. Pacific Rim‘s hit each other with sticks, visit exotic organ markets in colorful neighborhoods, and cancel the apocalypse. Who do you want to follow around more, the cocky multiethnic crew of robot jockeys getting into shenanigans, or the McNeil-Lehrer Kaiju Policy Hour?
It’s not that Pacific Rim and Godzilla are either classics or terrible: They’re both enjoyable movies that could be better. But if I’ve got a choice, I’ll follow the Jaegers every time.