Warning: Spoilers for the 2014 Godzilla movie below.
Do you remember how upset everyone was last summer when Warner Bros. pulled a bait-and-switch with its ads which promised Godzilla would be a Bryan Cranston movie when in fact his character checks out at the quarter mark and leaves the film in the uninteresting hands of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s plot robot? Well, time has loosened Bryan Cranston’s lips because he just told The Nerdist what he really thought about that storyline choice:
“That character dying at that time was a mistake. I knew it when I read it. When I read it I said, ‘Oh, page 50 this character who was the emotional core at the center, that was guiding the audience in the story up to that point – he dies?’ What a waste.
They kind of dealt with it poorly, that’s my only criticism of it because I think it was a fun movie, it was a very successful movie. I told them that even if I wasn’t doing this role, that character shouldn’t die at that point. It’s just bad narrative, but they were too far down the road. I was the last guy hired because I was still shooting Breaking Bad and they kept pushing because Breaking Bad kept pushing. Finally, I was able to get in and do it.”
He’s not wrong. I am just surprised to see an actor being so honest with a criticism of a movie which actually made plenty of money and is getting a sequel (due June 8, 2018). It’s like a baseball pitcher having a great game but telling reporters in the clubhouse afterward how much he struggled with his command and was simply lucky that the other team kept chasing his pitches out of the strike zone. Sure, such candor happens, but it’s rare.
Then again, we now live in a post-Josh Trank world where a director can breach contract and bury his own movie through social media on its opening day. We also live in a post-Charlie Hunnan world where an actor who is returning for Pacific Rim 2 can openly critique the first Pacific Rim and argue that its characters and story took a backseat to the spectacle. The difference there is that Fox might have legal grounds to sue Josh Trank if it wants whereas Hunnan’s repercussions might merely be less screen time in Pacific Rim 2 (or perhaps a hardy “You’re right. I’ll do better this time” from Guillermo del Toro).
Unlike Hunnan, Cranston probably won’t be back for the sequel to the movie he’s critiquing, unless they work in some flashbacks. Oh, great, eh, probably terrible idea – with so many movies simply ignoring the prior franchise installments no one liked maybe Godzilla 2 can ignore the storyline decision no one liked in the first Godzilla and pretend Cranston’s character either never died or was simply in a hospital the whole time.
Done. You’re welcome, Godzilla 2 screenwriter Max Borenstein. You just promised the sequel would be “bigger and better,” possibly because you were mad-libbing film marketing cliches. Well, more Cranston would be better than more Taylor-Johnson.
That character should have been with his son and they would’ve started to bond a little bit more and they went on this journey together to go back home and be reintroduced to his grandson. Just when they’re bonding and it looks like they could have a relationship, the father sacrifices himself to save his son. And that’s the way he should have died.
Why did they kill the father when they did, though? At the time of the film’s release, the director, Gareth Edwards, who will also direct the sequel, told Empire:
We tried versions where he survived, in terms of the screenplay. The thing is in every one in which we did that there’s nothing left for that character to do without it being silly. If he sticks with [Taylor-Johnson’s character], it turns into Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and the tone of the movie becomes fun, but not the tone we were trying to do. If he sticks with the military guys he’s like a fifth wheel. It just seems like his job was done in the story there. Retrospectively, when you see the movie I understand, and I wish that we had maybe figured a way to make it work. It was just that as a story beat he becomes redundant after he’s handed over the baton to the rest of the cast […] I also wanted people to think, ‘Oh, if they’re going to do that maybe this won’t necessary end the way I’m expecting.’
Translation: He knew they screwed up in the finished film, but they hadn’t cast Cranston when they finished the script.
Simply looking at it on the page, Cranston’s character, the amateur “Godzilla expert,” sticking around probably made it challenging to write for Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkin’s characters, the professional “Godzilla experts”:
And they couldn’t simply drop them. They already had precious few females in the movie, and Watanabe needed to be around because they wanted a Japanese guy around to honor the franchise’s history even if it came across as him wearing one facial expression the whole time before muttering, “Let them fight.” However, it’s as obvious to us as it was to Cranston the moment he read the script: the emotional throughline of the story is a father (Cranston) and his adult son (Taylor-Johnson) reuniting, and the moment they tried the transition away to making it about a father (Taylor-Johnson) desperately attempting to get back to his wife (Elizabeth Olsen) and young kid is the moment the heart fell out of the movie. That being said, the rest of the movie is perfectly fun to watch, and the Godzilla scenes are gorgeous showcases of big-budget spectacle.
To take a wider viewer on this, Gareth Edwards had only ever made one film before Godzilla, the uber-low budget Monsters (2010) for which he did the impressive-looking special effects on his own computer. There, he took a Spielbergian approach to merely hinting at the titular monsters before showcasing them in the final act, and he repeated that formula beautifully in Godzilla. However, Monsters, which credits Edwards as its screenwriter even though all of the dialogue was improvised by the actors, is short on compelling human characters, and the same goes for Godzilla the moment that Cranston’s character goes bye-bye (despite a valiant effort from Elizabeth Olsen). So, while Edwards’ “character and plot first, spectacle second” storytelling impulses are laudable he’s not quite good enough to fully deliver on that promise, or he hasn’t hooked up with a screenwriter who can help him make it happen. Let’s see how his next movies turn out.
Godzilla 2 is due June 8, 2018. Before that, Edwards will give us Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One.