Review: ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ (every kaiju wants to wear the crown)

Best “Captain Planet” episode ever.

Five years after the MUTO was defeated leveling San Francisco, the Monarch agency has continued researching and categorizing “Titans,” massive skyscraper-sized creatures theorized to have once roamed the Earth — possibly an essential part of the ecosystem. Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) has been working to recreate a sonar broadcasting device invented by her husband Mark (Kyle Chandler), enabling it to summon or calm such creatures, a fail-safe intended for global emergencies. During a crucial test of the apparatus, an eco-terrorist named Jonah (Charles Dance) kidnaps Emma and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), seemingly intent on using the technology to weaponize the Titans against humanity. Informed of the incident, Mark is recruited to work with Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) to recover the stolen tech and rescue his family, but the dormant Titans are all awakening — seventeen that they know of — and humanity’s last hope might be the one they are most fearful of: Godzilla.

The best of these films follow a simple formula: humanity does something ecologically stupid, a huge problem/creature occurs, and Godzilla has to kick some butt (not you, Godzilla 1998) — cute twin Japanese girls optional but preferred. The 2014 reboot may have been a little plot-heavy with the human interference stuff, but director Michael Dougherty (Trick r’ Treat, Krampus) knows or thing or two about what monster-lovers yearn to see. Using the latest in CGI compositing and stuffing the roster with favorite classic critters — Rodan, Mothra, and Ghidorah among them — can the sequel overcome the lack of monster battles and over-reliance on human characters that bogged down the 2014 film?

Godzilla fans of all ages watch and wait for that first glimpse of the big guy to make his on-screen appearance. The latest production goes one better, reveling in the reveals of future foes, showcasing their emergence and foreshadowing the fights they’ll join. King of the Monsters delivers all this and more, so by the time we finally see the King himself, it’s icing on the cake with extra scoops of ice cream. Having already established the existence of Monarch in 2014 and in Kong: Skull Island, this new installment minimizes plot complexities to provide just enough character drama to let audiences catch their breath between throw-downs. This is a monster disaster film intended for the biggest screens packed with a cheering audience watching a string of money shots framed like murals in a museum.

As a climate change metaphor, the question is whether man can co-exist with territorial giants for any benefit they might provide. There are arguments on both sides — to kill or save them all — but someone decides for everyone else and all hell breaks loose. Actors like Vera Farmiga, Ziyi Zhang, Charles Dance, and Millie Bobby Brown are welcome additions to help out Ken “let them fight” Watanabe. Verizon spokesman Thomas Middleditch also adds a generous amount of proper sarcasm along with Bradley Whitford as needed. It’d been nice to have seen Millie do more, but it’s Kyle Chandler’s part as a main-ish character that seems the most wasted, looking clueless or whining more often than succeeding at anything. Once again, the humans aren’t the star attraction, reducing characters to flare-carriers luring dinosaurs from disaster to disaster. It’s not their fault; the monsters just look that good.

Speaking of which: anyone having read Jurassic Park knows huge chunks of the novel were devoted to the specifics of hacking a computer system to reboot the park; guess what was reduced to a mere footnote in the film to make room for more rampaging dinosaurs? The same logic goes here. You can spend days arguing rushed plot details, but it’s all glossed over for the star attractions. Frankly, among the best human character moments is when rain-soaked Millie Bobby Brown smiles; if you already guessed why and at what, this movie’s for you.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is rated PG-13 for sequences of monster action violence and destruction, for some language, and the ire of diehard Red Sox fans.

Three skull recommendation out of four

One comment

  1. Your friendly warning: SPOILERS MAY BE FOLLOWING!

    I watched Godzilla: King of the Monsters again. My initial thoughts were that my original assessment was too tough, that maybe it deserved a fairer shake. Upon the rewatch, I think I instead saw exactly what I was meant to: my review was right on.

    Knowing what happens by the end informs several character performances (spoilers are coming). Emma actively warns a fellow researcher that maybe he should take a break; she knows who and what is coming. When Jonah appears, she’s taken aback by his sheer and thorough brutality. As the film progresses, Emma had also told Madison what might be coming BEFORE Jonah showed up, but it was that same display of brutality that made her rethink if it was ever a good idea for her mom to get involved with the guy. Jonah even scolds Emma several times in front of Madison — intent that she hear it — for ever involving the kid.

    In other words, the performances are more nuanced than they should be in a film like this, mostly because it’s already overstuffed with enough kaiju and city destruction for a full-season order at Netflix. The human drama comes off as melodramatic because there’s no time to build it up; we’re just meeting these characters, and there’s too much other stuff going on.

    That said, rewataching it makes one appreciate all the detail and work that went into it, especially clocking in at about two hours. It’s exhausting, yes, but also very complete.

    Like

Speak up, Mortal -- and beware of Spoilers!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s