In the week since its release, the 2014 iteration of Godzilla has been inundated with attaboys regarding FX achievements, and praise for giving the king of all monsters his due justice in Stateside multiplexes; the film has also received a respectable helping of criticisms for its showcase of mostly bland characters. In fairness, making human beings as interesting as a skyscraper-sized scaly gargantua with a serious case of atomic morning breath is nigh impossible, and if Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe can’t do it, then no one can.
But the critiques stand, and if they’re pedantic, they’re nonetheless difficult to ignore. More of the moment, though, are comments about Godzilla‘s dearth of female characters; despite boasting three incredibly talented actresses (Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, & Elizabeth Olsen), the movie barely gives them any screen time. When they do put in an appearance, each of them in turn wind up with little and less to do in comparison to their leading male counterparts (Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, & Ken Watanabe). Godzilla has proven itself critically and commercially, but when it comes to female participation, the monster mash has struck out.
So why does Godzilla feature such minimal involvement from its cast of gifted women? According to The Playlist, director Gareth Edwards, speaking at a recent London press conference, attested that his vision for Godzilla wasn’t always so testosterone-driven; at one time, he says, the film had a heroine positioned in its screenplay, though who that character might have been remains a mystery. Meanwhile, details on the script’s evolution from being less male-centric to more male-centric are fuzzy, though there’s little reason not to give Edwards the benefit of the doubt. Here’s the full quote from Edwards:
We had a version of the screenplay that had a heroine in the film. But you’ve got to pick a hero and we ended up with a male, and then everything supports the hero in some way.
Should we take Edwards at his word? If so, what might have led to the heroine he refers to getting jettisoned from the film? His answer to the question is evasive, frustratingly so, but after making the above remark, Edwards went on to cite Alien and Aliens as two of his influences, and both feature (the same) well-written female lead; he followed up by vowing to take the matter into consideration for Godzilla‘s sequel. (For posterity’s sake: the press conference took place before Legendary green-lit a second movie starring the Toho legend.)
Studio blockbusters are generally male-dominated, so it’s not outlandish to suggest that Edwards may have compromised on his original plan for Godzilla‘s cast as part of the process. His dancing around the topic supports this, since throwing Legendary under the bus would be a terrible career move. Alternately, the decision to reduce the impact of the film’s female characters could have been Edwards’ alone, but the truth is that we probably won’t ever know why or how Godzilla became a man’s movie; we can only wait to see if Edwards makes good on his word with Godzilla 2 (which he’ll get around to once he tackles that Star Wars spin-off he just got the directing gig on).
Of course, Godzilla isn’t the first tentpole picture to be chided for its absence of female characters; Star Wars: Episode VII found itself on the receiving end of Internet backlash with its initial casting announcement. But even if kaiju films are the last place anyone look for respectable female roles, the new conversation revolving around the film fits in snugly with current dialogues about women in cinema; put in short, this has been a point of contention for quite some time. In the specific case of Godzilla, hiring the likes of Binoche, Hawkins, and Olsen without maximizing their presence feels wasteful, especially considering that the egg-laden female MUTO Godzilla brawls with in the film’s final third gets more attention than all of them combined.
Whether or not that’s relevant to the film’s quality is one thing, but it is problematic on a conceptual level. Hopefully, Edwards will learn from this fracas as he goes forward with Star Wars and Godzilla 2.
Godzilla is now in theaters.
Source: The Playlist