There’s a new shared universe in town. Legendary’s MonsterVerse began stealthily with Gareth Edwards top-down reboot of Godzilla, but has been blown open by Kong: Skull Island, which boosts shady organization Monarch to top-billing and features a post-credits scene loaded with teases for 2019’s Godzilla: King of Monsters. Seeing Gojira take on Mothra and co. is only part of the fun, however; a year later audiences will be treated to Godzilla vs. Kong.
It’s a franchise with promise as big as its stars. Seeing monsters clash in destructive bouts was the core appeal of Godzilla and co. in their original Toho days (and even led to the co-opting of Kong for 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla) and the impressive action work of Gareth Edwards and Jordan Vogt-Roberts only promises a more impressive clash. But where do Legendary go after the two icons have shared the screen?
One possibility would be to look to the studio’s other emergent monster movie franchise: Pacific Rim. Guillermo del Toro’s love letter to classic kaiju monster movies like Gojira was a modest success in 2013, not blowing audiences away but proving enough of a success to get a sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising (nee Maelstrom) due next year. This film, which stars John Boyega and Scott Eastwood, is the fledgling series’ real test, although whether it improves, only matches or depreciates on the original’s appeal, joining up with ‘Zilla and the Eighth Wonder of the World would be an exciting prospect all the same.
How Would A Pacific Rim-MonsterVerse Crossover Work
It should go without saying that shared universe are big business in modern Hollywood. Ever since Marvel paid off five movies worth of setup with The Avengers, everyone has been scrambling to make their own version; Universal are resurrecting their classic horror monsters, Paramount are rejigging Transformers and Warners are busy expanding the DC Extended Universe, as well as helping Legendary with the Monsterverse (and there have been many failures on the way, such as Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man and the ridiculous promise of an Aunt May spy movie).
In an age where Marvel properties are fenced off my legal contracts and a Jump Street-Men in Black crossover was a serious possibility just because they were owned by the same studio, it’s clear that the main power behind these choices are the rights; shared universes are either collections of multiple series (see the mooted Hasbro universe) or attempts to build further properties around a single IP (Transformers). The MonsterVerse is a bit of both – ostensibly dealing with Toho creatures, but also peppering in outside characters like Kong. With that in mind, there’s definitely scope to expand and take in another franchise.
As it stands, the MonsterVerse is set up to the end of the decade, with Godzilla: King of Monsters in 2019 and Godzilla vs. Kong in 2020. Pacific Rim, meanwhile, has its 2018 sequel and then an uncertain future. That lines up pretty easily; Pacific Rim: Uprising can raise the franchise’s profile before the micro-culmination of the MonsterVerse can tease a crossover in the early 2020s where the giant monsters tackle humans directly (and also bringing in that series’ own kaiju).
The main narrative barrier is that the world of Monarch and its M.U.T.Os is incredibly different to the one of kaiju and jaegers. In the MonsterVerse shown so far, terrestrial creatures are a little-known phenomenon, with most cases covered up and the events of Godzilla the first publicly recognized outbreak. In Pacific Rim, the entire world order has been changed by the arrival of monsters at a similar to point in time. While this may put a pin in the idea, the fact that the monsters of Pacific Rim come from portals immediately sets up the idea of parallel dimensions; it can be established as two different universes, with jagers coming across to the Toho world.
Beyond logistics, on a base level it’s definitely something the creatives are interested in. When promoting the first Pacific Rim, del Toro was asked about the possibility of having Godzilla appear in a later film, saying that while he wasn’t expecting it, the idea did thrill him. Obviously then the MonsterVerse was yet to be created (it was only a year out from The Avengers), but the core point’s there; rights issues nonexistent, the main barrier to this happening is someone with a degree of creative control objecting, which really doesn’t seem to be much of an issue here.
The Ultimate Fight
The advantages of a MonsterVerse-Pacific Rim crossover on a visceral level should be obvious – they’re both big, effects-heavy monster films that approach their action from a fairly unique perspective. In the modern blockbuster landscape, event films are increasingly the only option taken by major studios, and this idea offers an event like no other. But it’s not just a case of following trends; bringing the two series together also offers the opportunity to offset their respective flaws. Although the MonsterVerse and Pacific Rim are at their core big monster movies, they come at the genre from two distinct angles that would seemingly compliment each other very well.
A consistent criticism of both Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island were their weakly scripted human parts, with Aaron Taylor-Johnson a rather flat lead in the former and the latter’s A-list cast all under-utilized. The series so far gets away with it because the true stars have been the monsters (and when we get into versus movies that’s only more true), but it conversely means what should be relatable characters can feel rather useless, something that will become an increasingly prominent niggle the more movies in we get (see how Marvel’s villain problem became exacerbated by Phase 2). By introducing Monarch as connective tissue there’s hope there’ll be more purpose to the stars in the future, but giving a tangible way for the human characters to be involved in the story is necessary to draw out a real emotional connection. While it’s a blunt solution, introducing giant mechs to put the heroes right in the middle of the action isn’t a bad way to combat that.
From the Pacific Rim side, the real issue is real-world scale. The first film was a mid-range success but – bar a few quote-unquote cool images – it’s failed to leave much of a tangible impact; none of the jaeger or kaiju designs have really stuck in the public consciousness. The MonsterVerse provides that launchpad; Godzilla was a box office smash making over $500 million worldwide and Kong is looking to achieve similar numbers. How much of Skull Island’s success will come from the MonsterVerse association is unclear – it’s an unknown prospect to many moviegoers – but it lays the groundwork for the future. For Pacific Rim, having jaegers share the screen with classic monsters gives them extra sticking power in the mind, propelling them (somewhat artificially) to iconic status.
On a simpler sense, it benefits the bigger construct, making the MonsterVerse a bona fide mega-franchise. Marvel has had so much success with the MCU and a core facet of that is how each sub-franchise operates on its own merits but can come together into a massive whole; look at how Captain America: Civil War can double as both the peak of multiple characters’ arcs then be refocused as set up for mega team-up Avengers: Infinity War. Bringing in another franchise gives Legendary a way to escalate in a similar manner, going beyond the first versus film – the standard culmination – to become a more sprawling series.
So far it all sounds ideal – a way for two franchises to push each other up and create a unique experience even in the pantheon of monster cinema. However, when you measure up the benefits, the positives are rather skewed to the MonsterVerse, giving it a further property to play with. There’s also the question of whether they really need more additions to the impressive roster they already have.
For Pacific Rim, joining up with another proven franchise after only two outings may be an admittance that it can’t actually stand fully by itself. New movie series are nigh-on impossible to jump start in the age of extreme brand recognition shared universes – the closest we’ve got is John Wick, and that is playing within a certain niche – and Pacific Rim was one of the rare semi-exceptions. Del Toro conceived of it as an original, modern take on kaiju, so for it to be saved by the most well-known of all monsters has a whiff of failure about it. That inspiration is a sticking point by itself. Pacific Rim was both a genre update and a homage, born out of the director’s love for the films of his youth. Whether or not he succeeded – the first film had an overall mixed reception, although many of the issues could be said to stem from that replication – is besides the point; it undoes the entire notion of it being a homage to have a whip-snap crossover as the franchise’s pure future.
Indeed, for Legendary it may be best to diversify – while there’s the possibility for major dividends with a shared-shared universe, it ties up their two key properties into the same successes and failures. If they want to keep the movies financially viable, being separate may be better, especially given that there’s thus far only been one breakout success from the mega-franchise model (the MCU).
Pacific Rim joining the MonsterVerse is a definite possibly; there are no major legal hurdles to get over (that’s a biggie) and both current slates almost have this built in as a contingency. And, from a pure fan perspective, it can only expand the scope of the enterprise. We have the CGI technology to make massive monster movies, and in the tradition of throwing everything into the smelting pot, this is the genre as usual.
The major question is long-term viability. This hypothetical multiverse expansion presumes that Pacific Rim: Uprising, Godzilla: King of Monsters and Godzilla vs. Kong all succeed, and do so to such a degree that audiences are invested for more. It also locks both intrinsically together; once you have the rift jumped, there’s no going back. It’s a big decision that needs to have its real ramifications considered.
That said, it would be really cool.