It occurred to me while watching the latest Godzilla movie that we are entering a new era in filmmaking. I call it Postnarrative. In this Brave New World movies don’t much bother with characters or plot. They don’t tell stories in the traditional sense. In Postnarrative filmmaking characters and plot are just mechanisms to move us from set-piece to set-piece. Maybe also to sell copies of Maxim, depending on the Obligatory Female Supporting Character & Love Interest (OFSCLI)…
Michael Bay’s Transformers movies originated and perfected this formula. In Godzilla it reaches its zenith. In Godzilla we’re not even going from set-piece to set-piece so much as “really cool shot” to “really cool shot” (or “sequence of really cool shots” to “sequence of really cool shots”). Note that I began this post with a picture centered, taking up the entire column width. It expresses the essential quality of Postnarrative movies. It
says screams LOOK AT THIS AND BE AMAZED!
There is, for example, the halo jump sequence referenced in that image. In visual terms it’s absolutely stunning. I’ve never made a halo jump. I most certainly never will. But the sequence feels right in terms of what it would look like to parachute into a thunderstorm over a ruined city where three giant monsters are battling to the death.
There is another sequence that tracks a dog tied up at the beach as it flees an oncoming tidal wave, from the moment it breaks its chain to when it reaches the Great Mass of Innocent Bystanders clogging the city streets.
Godzilla is just a collection of these moments. Sure, we have a generic military dude and his family (watch for Elizabeth Olsen as the OFSCLI!) to follow around. And sure, Brian Cranston and Juliet Binoche show up for a little bit — just long enough to justify a paycheck, it seems. But Godzilla doesn’t give us any reason to care about them. So we don’t. The result feels more like a ride at Universal Studios than a movie.
I am not going to defend Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla movie. I bring it up only to mention Jean Reno’s performance as Philippe Roche, a French DGSE agent. The role was never going to win him an Oscar. But he was an interesting character to watch, and I at least felt invested in his fate. Godzilla 2014 has no such character. Ken Watanabe could have been that guy, but Max Borenstein’s script doesn’t give him anything to work with. Same with Brian Cranston.
Watch any of the following (in no particular order):
- Kill Bill
- From Dusk Till Dawn
- Die Hard
- Die Hard with a Vengeance
- The Hunt for Red October
- The Matrix
All these movies prove action and character need not be mutually exclusive. Nonetheless, Postnarrative movies seem to insist on treating them as such. They insist that if you want action and FX something else has to go. And that’s simply not true.