Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
One King To Rule Them All
If there’s one thing that makes Godzilla: King of the Monsters worth anyone’s time, it’s the fact that we get to see iconic Toho titans King Ghidorah, Mothra and Rodan smacking-down in a healthily budgeted Hollywood production (that’s also playing in IMAX), because, goodness knows, we’ve already been treated to two Godzilla titles before, Roland Emmerich’s goofy 1998 reimagining, which introduced Western audiences to the radioactive reptile, along with Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, which, in 2014, gave birth to Warner Bros’/Legendary’s MonsterVerse.
Aforementioned Toho giants aside, there’s nothing overly unique or distinct about this 34th (that’s when taking all the incarnations into account) Godzilla outing — we’ve kinda seen it all before. For one, the lumbering nuclear-spawned lizard is so embedded in pop-culture (not just in Japan, but everywhere) that he’s got his very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which he received in 2004, coinciding with his 50th-anniversary film, Godzilla: Final Wars. Secondly, the kaiju sensation is no longer niche, having well and truly crossed into American borders with movies like Guillermo del Toro’s visionary Pacific Rim (2013) and its less-impressive sequel, Uprising (2018), both of which showcase some truly remarkable monster v mecha mayhem — so the sight of behemoth beasts flattening cities whilst duking it out is no longer uncommon.
Still, filmmaker Michael Dougherty, Krampus (2015), who replaces Edwards on directing duty, has (rather favourably) responded to criticisms and complaints hurled at the previous film, chiefly its lack of Godzilla action — that was a major gripe of mine, too — as King of the Monsters doubles down on the crazy monster madness we’ve come to expect from a good ol’ Gojira yarn, delivering genuinely jaw-dropping B-movie creature carnage, even if it’s at the expense of character development and crafting a captivating story. At the very least, KOTM is a nice remedy to ’14’s somewhat underwhelming franchise opener.
The third entry in the ever-growing MonsterVerse series — 2017’s Kong: Skull Island being the second — Godzilla II opens some five years after the events of the former film, this time trailing Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), a paleobiologist working for the supposedly secret crypto-zoological corporation Monarch, and her ex-husband Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), an animal behaviourist/ communication specialist who once laboured for the same monster-monitoring outfit before ditching them to take photos of wolves in the wild, along with their 12-year-old daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), who’s caught in the middle of a messy divorce.
Naturally, it doesn’t take long for the big, bad beasties to start breaking free, Emma and Madison witnessing the closed-quarters hatching of the gigantic larva Mothra in the film’s opening moments. From there, Charles Dance’s radical eco-terrorist Alan Jonah blasts into the birthplace with a gang of gun-toting troopers, kidnapping the doc and her kid, along with her experimental ‘frequency emitting’ device known as the Orca, which Emma uses to tame the titan Queen during her birth — the Orca, you see, allows one to potentially control and communicate with these god-like goliaths. Of course, Jonah wants to use this tech to reawaken alpha animal Ghidorah — a three-headed dragon codenamed ‘Monster Zero’ — who’s encased in ice deep in the Arctic, and thus proceeds to attack and seize the Antarctica Monarch facility.
Meanwhile, Monarch scientists Ishirō Serizawa (Ken Watanabe reprising his role from Edwards’ movie) and Vivienne Graham (a wasted Sally Hawkins) manage to get hold of Chandler’s Mark, convincing him to help them track his ex-wife and daughter, which, in turn, will lead them to the Orca. Once recruited, Chandler is quickly brought up to speed, informed about the many monsters (scattered across the globe) that the organization is currently containing, one of which is Godzilla himself, whom Mark blames for the death of his young son Andrew during 2014’s battle in San Francisco — so he’s a wee bit reluctant to join the fight. With Godzy set free by Monarch to challenge Ghidorah for the trophy of champion, it’s a race against the clock to save our planet from total annihilation as Ghidorah’s resurfacing spurs other giants to waken from their slumber, including volcanic bird Rodan, the ‘Fire Demon,’ who arises from an active peak in Mexico.
Penned by filmmaker Dougherty and Zach Shields, Krampus (2015) — with story assist from Max Borenstein, who wrote the screenplay to ’14’s Godzilla — KOTM is, as it states on the tin, all about the monsters — if you wanna see fierce kaiju-on-kaiju beatdowns and city-leveling destruction you’ve walked into the right theatre. Where Edwards’ picture explored the developing pandemonium through a human lens — with lots of tight claustrophobic close-ups — Dougherty’s spotlights the gargantuan brutes themselves, giving us plenty of wide shots and extended tracking takes, emphasizing the colossal chaos and carnage. Funnily, with the scope broadened the monsters feel surprisingly smaller in scale — go figure. With an abundance of grim, apocalyptic visuals — think hard rain, volcanic smoke, fire, snow storms and lightning (Ghidorah pretty much has an electrical hurricane hovering over him at all times) — it can become hard to follow the action (particularly when things get tumultuous) or pinpoint where the human players are positioned. But KOTM doesn’t give much thought to character, logic or story.
Which leads to the film’s principal pitfall, its nonsensical, pedestrian narrative and lack of character motive — basically, when the monsters aren’t smashing shit or one other, it’s a bit dull. The focus here is on another separated family (yawn), who isn’t given much to do bar comment on the ensuing anarchy or move the plot from A to B. There’s also a jarring character ‘twist’ that comes with minimal forewarning, this revelation accompanied by an awfully convenient, laugh-out-loud ‘video montage’ — it’s as if this person wasted time on iMovie compiling a clip for their big broadcast reveal. In terms of our military players, they’re the stereotypical bunch of soldiers and scientists, spending the flick’s 132-minutes barking orders or spitting out expository dialogue.
Of the cast, only Ken Watanabe, Inception (2015), stands out, whose Dr. Serizawa — a man who fears yet respects and admires these monstrous deities — gets a memorable send-off, cleverly paying homage to the ’54 film — spoiler alert: he uses a weapon of mass destruction to revive Godzilla rather than abolish him. Kyle Chandler, Super 8 (2011), proves he can play a leading man, even if his character somehow knows the solution to every setback, while the usually excellent O’Shea Jackson Jr., Straight Outta Compton (2015), is saddled with a thankless role as a generic GI Joe — heck, Thomas Middleditch’s Monarch techie has more witty one-liners. Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance also crops up as a one-note anarchist wanting to restore the ‘natural order,’ and then there’s Bradley Whitford, Get Out (2017), who gets to ‘drink a lot,’ his character, Rick Stanton, loosely based on reclusive genius Rick Sanchez from television’s Rick and Morty (2013), being equally blunt and brutal.
As stated earlier, Godzilla II is a glaring love-letter to these monolithic Eastern emblems, so it’s naturally the monsters that leave the biggest mark. The creatures are richly textured, detailed, and incredibly life-like both in movement and appearance, their designs all ace. And while the Toho titans have obviously been modernized, they remain faithful enough to their Japanese counterparts. Ghidorah is a particular highlight, each of his heads given a distinct persona, while the benevolent Mothra is truly a sight to behold — her waterfall cocoon emergence is majestic af. The city-scaled spats are nothing to sneeze at either — so, FX wise, KOTM is a bona fide knockout!
A silly, effects-driven popcorn entertainer, Godzilla: King of the Monsters dishes out some great creature-feature fodder. Still, there are carry-over issues from Edwards’ film, something that Skull Island managed to slightly overcome — the human players remain hugely uninteresting, slowing down the action with unnecessary drama. But look, as far as English-language Godzilla movies go, this one, glass-half-full, wholly honors the prehistoric sea monster and his zany world. So, if you’re willing to take the ride, bumps and all, you’re in for a roaring good time — hell, the flick concludes with a cheesy end credit track titled ‘Godzilla’ performed by Serj Tankian, so it ain’t posing as prestige cinema.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by S-Littner