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A tribute to Kyle Chandler's distant dad with a heart in 'Super 8' and 'Godzilla: King of the Monsters'
Some love for a distant dad with good intentions.
A difficult family dynamic is as vital to a monster or alien summer blockbuster as the actual creature wreaking havoc on the world. Parental issues are common in genre narratives, from Star Wars to Batman. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is more than happy to reinforce this particular trope.
Famous landmarks, buildings, and cities are constantly under threat, but the emotional ties that hold a family together are just as vulnerable as the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge. The monster or alien tends to be a metaphor for something bigger, whether commentating on global anxieties or reflecting a personal trauma (often, it is both). An emotional gulf separating father and child needs as much resolving as the global catastrophe in play.
Kyle Chandler is probably still most recognizable for his Emmy-award-winning role of Coach Eric Taylor on Friday Night Lights, the ultimate dad to his own children and the players on the high school football team. He somehow manages to be equal parts standoffish and exudes oodles of empathy, making him perfect for the distant dad that has to save his relationship with his child (as well as saving the world) in a big monster movie.
He refuses to take any BS and wears his disdain on his face for all to see when facing off against shadowy organizations. Chandler in these authoritative roles is the guy you want fighting in your corner, but you might find it hard to have a heart-to-heart with him.
There are a number of similarities in the characters he plays in both J.J. Abrams’ 2011 nostalgia-fest Super 8 and Godzilla: King of the Monsters. For Father’s Day, we are going to take a look at how Chandler excels as the distant dad with good intentions.
Spoilers for Super 8 and Godzilla: King of the Monsters ahead.
Disney is fond of killing at least one parent (sometimes both) at the start of a movie, but this plot development extends beyond animated classics. A death often shapes the relationships in summer blockbusters, impacting not only the personal bonds but also how the impending disaster is dealt with. In Super 8 and Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Chandler plays a father emotionally estranged from his child after the loss of another family member. The arrival of a deadly outside force means he has to confront and break through the emotional barrier he has constructed around his heart.
As Deputy Jackson Lamb in Super 8, Chandler’s role is to protect the town from not only the creature wreaking havoc but also the shady military clean-up operation. When the sheriff disappears, Lamb is who the people turn to (and yell at). Amid the chaos caused by this extraterrestrial, his already-imploding relationship with teen son Joe (Joel Courtney) is put the test. The opening of the movie isn’t a world-changing event depicting how the alien came to this small Ohio town; instead, it is the aftermath of the factory accident that kills Lamb’s wife, Elizabeth (Caitriona Balfe). The wake that follows indicates the emotional void that already exists between father and son, which will only continue to grow.
Set in 1979, rigid rules of masculinity are on display in the Lamb household. Four months after the accident, Joe comes home from school to find his dad crying in the bathroom, but instead of embracing this shared pain, Lamb shuts the door, telling him he will be out in a minute. They are strangers living in the same house, the emotional tether connecting them is frayed, and Lamb can’t cope with both his grief and his son's. His solution is to send Joe to baseball camp for the summer. “It's what we both need,” Lamb explains, but this act of denial is only going to destroy this relationship. Sports are what Lamb understands; the artistic expression of making a zombie movie is alien to him.
Matters are complicated further when Lamb finds out Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) is involved in this movie project. Alice’s father is who Lamb blames for his wife’s death, and a classic forbidden friendship follows. Lamb tells his son he can no longer hang out with Alice, but Joe refuses to obey, telling his dad, “You and I aren’t clear about anything." The matter is left unresolved as Lamb has to go back to work, but his duty to the town also means he can temporarily ignore the emotional trauma he and his son are both experiencing.
The alien of Super 8 is destructive, but all it wants to do is go home. The real villain is the military, which has been conducting experiments on the extraterrestrial since it crash-landed in 1958. Like Joe, the alien is feeling lost and scared, and the teen connects with this creature from another world before his big reunion with his father.
Ultimately, Lamb doesn’t need to save his son, but another rescue does bring some closure when he breaks Alice's dad out of the military hospital. Chandler is so good at playing stoic authority figures, but he isn’t completely closed off as he makes peace with Louis (Ron Eldard) over the death of his wife. These catastrophic scenarios help re-evaluate and confront past pain.
Forgiveness is also the bedrock of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which follows on from Gareth Edwards’ 2014 franchise reboot. The sequel opens on the attack in San Fransico; here the human toll is shown from a different perspective. The Russell family have lost their son in the destruction, a death that splinters them beyond repair. Chandler, as Mark, goes off into the wild to continue his work after boozing too hard as a coping mechanism, whereas his now ex-wife Emma (Vera Farmiga) continues her research into Godzilla and other Titans. Daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) has stayed with her mom, mostly communicating with her dad over email (when she finds time to reply). Mark blames Godzilla for losing his son and isn’t a fan of Monarch either, but he has to work with both when his estranged wife and daughter are kidnapped.
Again, Chandler plays a father who finds it hard to express himself beyond bottled-up anger. Mark isn’t without empathy; he is incredulous, but there is something in the way he bitterly laughs at the ridiculous nature of these end-of-the-world scenarios. Whether he is a scientist or a sheriff’s deputy, Chandler oozes reliability with his thick head of hero hair. He might be emotionally unavailable, but he will do anything for his kids — including running into a dangerous situation armed only with a handgun facing down men with bigger weapons or a monster with three heads.
A glimpse of the past is shown through old home movies and photographs in both Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Super 8, calling back to a time before death tore these families apart. The only way to go back is through the magic of film, but in order to heal, the past is confronted via these extraordinary events that go way beyond typical therapy sessions. In Super 8, the alien is a stand-in for letting going, to acknowledge the pain and talk to each other. In Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) sums it up before he sacrifices himself, saying to Mark, “Sometimes the only way to heal our wounds is to make peace with the demons who created them.”
The true monster of these movies is the grief that turns into anger threatening to stomp all over the living. As Kyle Chandler proves in both Super 8 and Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a distant dad doesn't need to stay that way.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.