Movie Review - Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
Better, Warner Bros. Better.
Yeah, there are still some nits to pick, and we’ll get to those, but it’s encouraging to see that when it comes to the new Godzilla: King of the Monsters, someone (actually more than one) can actually do their damn homework.
You see, for a while now, I’ve been wondering how does one make a kaiju film in a post-Shin Godzilla world? [You really need to sit and review that. – Ed.] I mean, sure, Kong: Skull Island was released shortly thereafter but with it being confined to the titular island, well, it didn’t have the urban destruction that typically goes with your standard kaiju film even though, yes, the giant ape certainly fell within the scope of the genre. Rampage tried…but quickly devolved into the usual rah-rah jingoistic military porn that most American attempts at these type of films always end up becoming. Michael Dougherty, in his sequel to the lackluster Godzilla (2014), opted not to forge forward in the new paradigm set by Shin Godzilla but instead retreat into the character’s past, ultimately crafting a pretty good update to the Showa kaiju beatdowns of the Big-G’s early days.
The film picks up five years after the story of Ford Brody – Unkillable Dude, with secret organization Monarch (headed in the field once again by Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Serizawa) discovering more of the now-dubbed Titans (no longer MUTOs) [*cough*kaiju*cough* - Ed.]…in this instance the larval form of Mothra. Turns out that in the five years that have passed, Monarch has been working with scientists to come up with a device called the “Orca” which can influence Titan behavior via sound. For Mothra, they’re trying to calm her…but, wouldn’t ya know it, terrorists strike causing Mothra to flee and, in the wake of the attack, the “Orca”, its developer, Dr. Emma Russell and her daughter Madison are missing…taken by said eco-terrorists. Their plan? To unleash the Titans and use them as a ‘cleansing fire’ to undo the damage done to the environment by humanity and serve as a check against any further damage that could be wrought.
So…how does Monarch plan to develop a counter to the “Orca” now in terrorist hands? By building another…recruiting the other scientist that helped develop it: Mark Russell, Emma’s ex-husband. There’s a bit of a problem though, Mark’s been out of it ever since their son was killed by the Big-G in the 2014 San Francisco attack and is not in any hurry to get back into the fray. As one would expect, he’s not exactly a fan of Godzilla either. Still, Serizawa convinces him to come on board…mainly with the news about his wife and daughter. It’s in this introduction that we learn that something might not quite be right with Emma…and I have to admit, I don’t know how far I should go in my description. See, it’s a bit of a plot twist…and if you look the film up on Wikipedia, it’s right there…and hell, it WAS spoiled in one of the trailers for the film…but still, it does count as a spoiler. Regardless of that, our eco-terrorists do manage to wake King Ghidorah in the Antarctic…and then it’s off to the kaiju battle royale!
While the story of the film follows the tried and true ‘Rocky’ archetype (fight, defeat, training montage, fight, victory) it isn’t something we’ve seen in an American kaiju film and, as such, there is a touch of newness to it. This is also the first time we’ve seen an American film take on multiple kaiju at once. [Sure, you could try to count the 2014 Godzilla, but you’d be wrong since that film is called Ford Brody – Unkillable Dude. – Ed.] In this film, we not only get the Big-G and King Ghidorah, but also Rodan, Mothra and other Titans that go unnamed but I think end up being 18 in total. Once they come into play during the film’s climactic sequence, if your inner 8-year-old isn’t grinning ear to ear with kaiju joy…there’s something wrong with you.
The fact that the film can elicit this kind of reaction…even though kaiju screen time is limited and we once again find ourselves mostly watching humans…say something about just how well the Titans are pulled off during their small amount of screen time. We’re made to care about Godzilla and Mothra just as we learn to fear and hate Rodan and King Ghidorah and…like the best films in the Showa series, it is almost like a giant wrestling match…cheering on the good guys while booing the heels. The saving grace is that these human moments mostly feel like the best cut scenes in video games – telling the story all the while getting you hyped up for the next fight. And as one would expect, if you know your Godzilla history, you’ll find plenty of easter eggs here.
There are some instances where the film falls flat…but fortunately they are few and far between. There were some puns that were totally both unnecessary and not even remotely funny. [Can’t you say that about all puns though? – Ed.] The other bit that didn’t set right with me was trying to redeem Emma’s character. No. Just no. For someone who set all of this in motion, culminating in a, dare I say it, Monsterpocalypse, and the way she did it…plus just the way she was played by Vera Farmiga…I’m sorry, but you can’t ask me to have sympathy with this person. ‘Oh, I finally realized I did something wrong’…when your daughter has been sitting there screaming at you for nearly the entire length of the film that you were being a shithead…no, I’m sorry, you’re gonna be monster-chow and don’t ask me to shed a tear, because all you’re going to be met with is a laugh and a “Good. Bitch deserved it.” [Um…spoiler warning maybe? – Ed.]
Lastly, going back to the theme of this production doing its homework, a big tip of the hat is owed to Bear McCreary for his score which does indeed incorporate the old-school Godzilla and Mothra themes. To hear them given a big orchestral American soundtrack update was fantastic. Godzilla’s was definitely front and center at times while Mothra’s ended up being very subtle and you have to listen for it…but it’s there. This little addition proved to be the cherry on top of this wonderful kaiju sundae.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters takes a very different approach in being the Godzilla film to be the American response to Toho’s absolute masterpiece that is Shin Godzilla by not moving that film’s themes forward…but instead looking to the Big-G’s past. While not as chock full of monster fights as the films of the Showa series, this film does a good job of giving an American spin on what the children of syndicated television of the 70s and 80s have so ingrained in their cinematic identities. It’s not perfect, sure, and it might be a little too thin plot-wise for some tastes…but come on, if you don’t leave with a sense that the child in you just finished mashing all his toy monsters together in the sandbox…and the wonder and joy that comes with that…man, just hang it up because you’re no longer in the ‘fun’ business. You…have become a sourpuss.
Or a professional movie critic, apparently.