★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★ if you like Kaiju vs. Kaiju battles.
★1/2 out of ★★★★★ if you don’t
It’s rock-em-sock-em Kaiju in Godzilla’s return to the western screens. The monster-on-monster action is gorgeous and frenetic, and the humans are completely superfluous. This is Toho-style stompy monsters with a big Hollywood budget.
Directed by Michael Dougherty
“Let them fight!”
That was Ken Watanabe’s refrain from Gareth Edward’s 2014 version of Godzilla. It also came at about the 3/4 marker of that film Edwards took a lot of heat for concentrating on the human characters; treating the film as a disaster movie, the film was taken from the perspective of people on the ground. More action! More fighting! Humans are boring! Less talk, more rock! That’s what a large segment of Kaiju fans demanded. Legendary Pictures and director Michael Dougherty took heed, and for those people who demanded more action, Godzilla, King of the Monsters delivers big time.
On the flip side, this movie is populated with a top-notch cast uttering fifth grade dialogue, and a MacGuffen laden plot that often seems as a road map pointing towards Boston. Travel times seem instantaneous (Game of Thrones fans can sympathize) and character motivations are broad and frustratingly half baked. There are some traitorous acts, and overly generous redemption moments, and most of the characters have no conclusive arcs. But really. Who’s kidding who? The masses demanded Godzilla punching King Ghidorah, and there was lots of punching. And biting. And shooting energy from orifices. (Don’t worry it’s still PG-13)
In the aftermath of Godzilla’s battle with the Mutos in San Francisco, the monster hunting organization Monarch has been tracking, and monitoring seventeen (!) various “titans” who have been hibernating in various spots around the globe. Dr. Emma Russell (Via Farmiga) and Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) lost their son to the Godzilla rampage of 2014, and they have dedicated themselves to understanding how and why these beasts came to decide to roam the Earth again. The aftermath ended up breaking apart their family, as Emma and their daughter Madison continue to work to communicate and pacify the great creatures. Mark has become a wildlife photographer and has run from society.
Dr. Russell, as it turns out, has found a larval Mothra (Yay! Love caterpillar Mothra) and manages to communicate with her through a device that Emma and Mark had developed a long time ago, and now Emma has perfected. Once Mothra awoke, the nefarious eco-terrorist Alan Jonah and his hit squad takes out the facility where Monarch has been working with Mothra, and kidnaps Emma and Madison, killing the rest of the Monarch staff. Jonah and his team head for Antarctica, where a frozen King Ghidora awaits, and it is Jonah’s intention to wake up all the titans.
If the 1954 Godzilla was a metaphor for Japan’s suffering from the atom bomb, Godzilla King of the Monsters has decided to frame its story around the destructiveness of global climate change. The titans, you see, are guardians of the Earth, and they are acting Thanos-like by removing the blight of humanity from the planet. Or, at least that’s what Jonah espouses. That subtext is handled about as subtlely as a frying pan to the face, but metaphorical context is not what you really came to the theater to see.
Monarch, featuring a wonderful cast Bradley Whitford, Thomas Middleditch, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, and Zang Ziyi who are pretty much wasted with pithy and cliche-laden dialogue, and some alarmingly poor attempts at humor, goes in pursuit of Jonah but arrives too late. King Ghidorah is done napping. And, he’s ready to wrassle!
And now… in the red corner… weighing in at 1000 tons… Godzilla comes blasting out of the Antarctic ice, and the first of what will be many fights cranks up. As lame as the human story is, the monsters are fabulous.
Godzilla = Magnificent
Rodan = Impressive
King Ghidora = Awe Inspiring
Mothra = Glorious
The other new monsters = An afterthought
The Humans = inconsequential
So, if you are a fan of Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla, or War of the Gargantuas… this is what you were wanting to see, and it’s glorious. The full power of modern CGI brings the Toho beasties to life that is wonderful to behold. The movie treats us to at least five battles, as they titans battle for supremacy with one another, and by the end, there is a bit of a tag-team going on, which harkens back to many of the Toho combinations. Godzilla and Jet Jaguar vs. Megalon. Godzilla and Angurus vs. Gigan and Ghidora. If you understand that shorthand, you’ll understand the battle at the end of the movie.
I count myself one of those, who as a child, would fidget with the antenna on my parent’s black and white television so I could watch the grainy broadcast of Channel 12 Creature Features like Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, Gamera, Godzilla vs the Sea Monster, and of course, Destroy all Monsters. I enjoyed Pacific Rim... cheered in the theater, if I’m being honest, unlike my podcast partner Mike who really disliked Pacific Rim. I also loathed the Transformers movies. I think they are a waste of time.
This movie is closer to Pacific Rim for me than Transformers, but man, this movie tried hard for me not to like it. I didn’t like ANY of the characters. And, like a movie I recently reviewed, The Dead Don’t Die, I found that the wasting of a stellar cast like this to be a misdemeanor, if not quite a high crime. But my inner ten year old loved watching the monsters fight. I particularly loved Mothra, who was dubbed “Queen of the Monsters” in this film, though they fumbled that too with a rather lame attempt at biological humor.
I know that some in the genre community were holding out high hopes that this would be a game-changing title, elevating itself above the typical monster movie. But, this film is true to its B-movie roots. Upgrade from men in rubber suits with spectacular CGI, and you’ve got your movie:
Monsters punching monsters.
Can a giant monster movie elevate itself with a solid script, buoyed by a good cast and be Oscar worthy? Yes. It’s been done before. That film is King Kong. Merien Cooper’s 1933 Kong is in the AFI top 100 of all time (#41), and I believe that Peter Jackson’s 2005 Kong was a tremendous achievement. So, for those of you looking for a salve for disappointing dialogue, and are looking for something more meaningful in your monster fare, re-watch King Kong. (You can pass on the Dino DeLaurentis 1976 film though.)
Godzilla King of the Monsters is PG-13 for a bunch of stompy violence and is in wide release across the world now. Though… given its somewhat lackluster box office, may not be there much longer. If this is your kind of film, you will want to see it on the biggest screen you can. If punchy monsters are not your thing, you can totally skip this. For those of you who are all about titanic monsters battling out, I’d like to suggest you go to our friends at the Kaijucast , a fellow Portland Genre podcast team, who love themselves some big stompy monsters.
But, even if it’s not your bag, the trailers for this movie have been excellent: