With Gareth Edwards exiting the Godzilla sequel, Tony Black asks what is next for the King of the Monsters…
When Godzilla returned in 2014, the odds were stacked against him. The last time Hollywood had seen everyone’s favourite movie monster, he was ignominiously handled by the Roland Emmerich/Dean Devlin popcorn machine in 1997’s hokey version. Nobody really knew if British director Gareth Edwards was going to cut the mustard and deliver a modern-day outing worthy of the big guy – it was only his second major feature after the indie monster movie Monsters–indeed a *very* different kind of film than the romper stomping of Toho’s historic monsters–which he used his home computer to complete VFX on. Godzilla was a massive move from low-fi to huge budget, tentpole blockbuster and on the whole, Edwards made it work – some uninspired character work & writing aside, it had scope, scale and a liberal use of Godzilla so when he was on screen it mattered. Off the back of its success, not only did Edwards get the lucrative Star Wars anthology gig, Rogue One, but also committed to steering the new Godzilla franchise for a 2018 sequel. Until last week, when he quit the gestating Godzilla 2, citing he didn’t want to follow up Rogue One with another mega budget, massive picture. I suppose you can’t blame him.
The big question now on everyone’s lips is quite what happens to Gojira himself, because he’s a pretty enormous property who has now suddenly found himself rudderless. Edwards brought his own sensibilities to the franchise while cleaving, where necessary, to the wishes of Warner Bros, and whoever steers the next phase of Godzilla’s journey will potentially take him in a different direction to how Edwards no doubt would have envisaged. The studio wasted no time in almost immediately pushing the second Godzilla back a year, from summer 2018 to 2019. The expectation had no doubt been that once Edwards was entirely finished this year with completing Rogue One for Christmas, he’d begin work on Godzilla 2 during 2017 to shoot ready for a major tentpole 2018 release, but the lack of a director to steer the ship has made them weary.
It does have to be noted however that they parted ways amicably, and the delay wasn’t a rushed reaction to a sudden bomb drop. Edwards clearly for some time knew he needed to step away from the tentpole picture train and Warner Bros. have simply decided to exercise caution. No great drama. It simply opens up a potential change in how Max Borenstein’s already written script could go, and whether indeed it will still form part of the new cinematic universe WB and Legendary Pictures are hoping will lead up to the 2020 announced Godzilla vs King Kong. Let’s not forget that one still on the cards.
Next year we have the already lensed Kong: Skull Island coming out, from Jordan Vogt-Roberts and starring among others Tom Hiddleston & Brie Larson, and as it stands that looks to be set in the Godzilla universe from the 2014 revival movie, the King Kong of which will eventually smack down against Gojira for the battle of the monster titans. Few film fans, especially those of Toho’s oeuvre, would not salivate slightly at the prospect of this major blockbuster event, but as with every cinematic universe currently being devised, caution must be applied. Godzilla did very good business at the box office, making a princely $550 plus million, but chances are in the age of the billion, Warner Bros will be looking for the next one, and especially the Kong mash-up, to hit the big bucks.
To ensure that, a number of elements will need to be in play – a director firstly with some clout will help, someone with critical and commercial traction. Guillermo del Toro was attached before Edwards for the first Godzilla but while he’s no doubt busy on half a dozen films he’ll never make, and admittedly his movies almost never make any money, consider the kind of Godzilla he would make; eccentric, grandiose, no doubt connecting with the original Japanese Toho mythology, and riven with that kind of Gothic, Lovecraftian sentiment so far Hollywood has prevented us revelling in with At the Mountains of Madness, the greatest Del Toro film he may never get to make. Then again, he could well just make more rubbish like Pacific Rim. Oddly enough though you don’t even necessarily need big name actors to play under a name director, as people are here to see the big guy, and Edwards understood that – he just failed to marry character & story together in a way that made the moments when Godzilla wasn’t on-screen compelling.
So going forward, what Godzilla 2 needs is clear: an emphasis on the kind of scope and spectacle Gareth Edwards’ original did give us (though some would argue not enough), making Godzilla the centrepiece, and flanking him with an epic, Earth-shattering story that keeps to a modern, Western sensibility while respecting the origins of Toho. Almost all of this Edwards managed to do, hence why his film was a success, but it needs that strong level of direction, that balance of solid character work that doesn’t intrude on the monster action, and one eye on servicing the needs and wants of an audience who now don’t just expect sequels but franchises and greater spectacle. He needs establishing well, ideally by an idiosyncratic voice, before he steps into the ring with King Kong, and if that doesn’t happen – well, this may be one title fight we sadly never get to see.
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.