Best New Franchise of 2014: Guardians of the Galaxy vs. Godzilla
If a venn diagram of movie audiences were made with the question of “what trend bothers you the most about modern cinema?”, old school movie goers and art-house snobs would probably overlap with this response: too many sequels. Now if a segment of those groups are in our midst (or if it’s just me, hi, I’m Brian Formo, a recovering snob who saw the most blockbusters in 2014 since he was 13 years old in 1995), here’s something I found that might be a little surprising: of the 99 sequels that have been greenlit over the next six years, only four of those come from films that originated in 2014. Approximately 96% of all the sequels coming down the pipeline are from properties that already existed prior to 2014.
What are the four? Divergent, Godzilla, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The LEGO Movie.
I actually thought all of those films were fun as introductions. So I’ll reserve my complaints for the Horrible Bosses and Hangover sequels of the world.
Related: What Was the Sexiest Movie of 2014?
But which series are set-up best for multiple films? Most likely not Divergent. What I found fun about the first in the series was that it was a John Hughes-type high school drama dropped into a militaristic government faction. Its characters were primarily concerned with tests, who sits next to who at lunch, and the fear of the rest of your classmates knowing you’re hot for teacher. But now that Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) is a revolutionary and school is seemingly out forever, the Divergent series will most likely become even more standard. The LEGO Movie was a lot of fun. It was like watching a kid play with toys for two hours and observing all the fun leaps their stories take. But that film was a surprise. Will future installments be able to repeat? That might depend on the involvement of LEGO directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who were able to turn the surprise 21 Jump Street into a more surprising 22 Jump Street.
And then there were two. Since I’m writing this three days before Christmas let’s sing it out: 2014 gave us three galactic warriors, two talking animations, and a nuclear lizard in the tree. As exciting as Guardians of the Galaxy and Godzilla were as singular films, which set itself up better for the long haul?
The Case for Godzilla:
I guess people wanted more character development and more actual Godzilla in this Godzilla. What we got was some big tears from Elizabeth Olsen, a dearly departed Juliette Binoche, and fantastic direction from Gareth Edwards who fought back against our apparent need for instant gratification at all times. Universal did a fabulous job of marketing some of Edwards’ strongest shots: the airborne drop, the San Francisco flames. Everything was pointing to Godzilla attacking the city, and the military responding. But when Bryan Cranston and Aaron Taylor-Johnson visit a dig site with a monster it’s a total shock that that monster isn’t Godzilla.
We aren’t totally surprised by tentpole movies anymore because so many people know most of the story beats so far in advance. Edwards and Universal planted a pole in the ground, propped up the tent, but then didn’t invite the main attraction into the circus until the end, which is how circuses actually run! Edwards: what a showman! Godzilla is a carnival of carnage on a rainy day, and thunder announces the beast. Godzilla knows it’s the main event and that the main event is the fight. Let the opponent have the longer intro song. You don’t need a song, you’re Godzilla. (This movie was so much fun it’s making me confuse my first, second, and third person perspectives!)
It’s a giant lizard movie! And there were big bug things! Ken Wantanabe’s mouth is agape the entire movie because, the city has been overtaken by giant pregnant monsters, and when he says something worth noting it’s a plea to “let them fight” the giant lizard! Which is what everyone wanted all along.
And so Godzilla fought. And now more Godzilla is promised. And it will be done after Edwards shoots a Star Wars spinoff movie. Remind me again, as I unclench myself from my seat, why people were disappointed? The biggest set-up for Godzilla 2 is that we saw Godzilla fight, and Godzilla will now be more prominent. Right? If you weren’t stoked by the first installment, perhaps the promise that Godzilla is fighting three of Godzilla’s most famed opponents in the next one will get you fired up.
The Case for Guardians of the Galaxy:
If this is Marvel “being weird” then “being weird” was their best card to play at this juncture. Guardians is the most huggable film they’ve made.
Everyone loves this movie, so there’s not a whole lot of space that needs to be taken up to defend or anoint it. It’s the only film that Marvel’s made that can inject nostalgia into non-comic readers because it uses a mix tape of 1970s Earth hits. And because they’re all a bunch of misfits, they’re more rootable because they actually make some mistakes. Thankfully, James Gunn is not going to have to force his narrative into The Avengers world. At least not for a while. And that’s part of why Guardians worked so well, it feels like it’s standing on its own eight feet and one tree trunk.
These Guardians are set-up for an amazing adventure because they’re in a totally separate galaxy from all the avengers. While all the other solo Avenger films are apparently leading to a Civil War, the adventures of an American doofus named Star Lord (Chris Pratt) and his gang of faun, fauna, and alien just have their own narrative to worry about.
The 2014 Verdict:
Godzilla has to work to bring back some of the audience who was disappointed before. Guardians has to live up to expectations of being the most popular film of 2014. What Godzilla has against it is a monster who will never speak. Whatever humans speak in it will most likely not be enough for the crowd that expects great human character depth in their giant lizard, three-headed dragon battle movies. Godzilla has more work to do. Guardians is so beloved that it can either hit cruise control or go into hyperdrive.
Put it this way, when trailers for Godzilla 2 come up, a large section of the theatrical audience will respond with, “again?” When trailers for Guardians of the Galaxy 2 emerge, people will be buckled in, blasting the soundtrack, and saying, “fuck yeah!”
Clearly that’s the winner of the best franchise to emerge from 2014.
Bonus: We’d love to see the franchise that Oscar Isaac laid out in his Most Violent Year interview with CraveOnline. A24, make it happen, please. Let’s squeeze five franchises from 2014.