Giant Monsters Smash Cities Real Good! Arrrrgh!
DIRECTED BY MICHAEL DOUGHERTY / 2019
As you know, dear reader, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a sequel to Gareth Edwards’s 2014 reboot Godzilla. In that film, Godzilla awakens to protect humanity from a pair of giant mantises known as MUTOs (which stand for something I can’t be bothered to look up right now). King of the Monsters picks up where Godzilla leaves off and makes sure this time the audience gets what it came for: Giant Monsters beating the tar out of one another while leveling major cities in the process. To that end goal, King of the Monsters overachieves royally.
When King of the Monsters begins we learn that as Godzilla was fighting the MUTOs and wrecking San Francisco in the process in the 2014 film, we the heretofore unmentioned Drs. Emma and Mark Russell were scrambling in the wreckage looking for their lost son who, alas, turns out to be a casualty of the disaster. Now in the present, the two are estranged. Emma (Vera Farmiga, The Conjuring, Captive State) is raising their daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown, best know as Eleven from Stranger Things) at a super-secret science outpost in China. Emma works for the super-secret science program Monarch, who’s thing is basically S.H.I.E.L.D., but for giant monsters. She’s perfecting a super-secret science doohickey that will hopefully allow humans to communicate, and maybe control, the monsters, which people have dubbed ‘Titans.’
King of the Monsters overachieves royally
Such a device would be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands and sure enough, the wrong hands show up to take it. An ‘eco-terrorist’ arrives at the site: one Jonah Allan, played by Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister of Game of Thrones). Allan wants to use the device (known as ORCA) to wake up all of the known Titans and unleash them on an unsuspecting planet, and he kidnaps Emma and Madison to help him do that. Re-enter Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler, First Man, Manchester by the Sea). Monarch, led by returning scientists Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), recruits Mark to help track down the Orca, stop Allan’s masterplan and rescue his wife and daughter. Monarch arrives too late at Allen’s first stop to prevent his group from awakening the three-headed dragon Ghidorah. Luckily our boy Godzilla is not far behind and he and Ghidorah have their first massive on-screen smackdown.
And we’re about half and hour into the movie by this point.
I liked 2014’s Godzilla, even as I question many of its choices (really, you’re gonna kill Bryan Cranston’s character off that soon?). One of the more common complaints about Gareth Edward’s film is that there simply wasn’t enough Godzilla. Well, folks, King of the Monsters has heard your lamentations and there’s now plenty of Godzilla in here. Other Toho favorites return as well: in addition to Ghidorah, Rodan and Mothra both join in the smackdown. All of their updated designs and textures look great- and they’re all helpfully color-coded: Godzilla radiates blue, Ghidorah glows yellow lightning, Rodan red and Mothra a pale blue-green. While no single shot from King of the Monsters approaches the heights of some of the 2014 film did (King even opens with a recreation of the glorious HALO jump from the previous film), the main monsters are resplendent and the action sequences are all clear and exhilarating.
From the moment of Ghidorah’s awakening, the film hardly pauses a moment to take a breath as the characters race from China to the Antarctic to Mexico to a vast undersea city to Washington D.C. to Boston. And that’s maybe for the best, since the parts of the film that don’t feature giant monsters isn’t… great. Oh, I’m sure there have been worse in Godzilla movies over the years (I know there have… Godzilla vs Megalon anyone?), but apart from one or two scenes (usually either featuring Millie Bobby Brown or Ken Watanabe), the characters are flat and interchangeable and the dialog consists mainly of perfunctory exposition. Someone even starts off a briefing with “As you know.” Come on, screenwriters. Be better.
The set-pieces that anchor the film are everything a fan of giant-monster smackdowns could possibly want.
But we don’t go see a movie like King of the Monsters to hear people yapping, do we? The clashes of the Titans the trailers and advertisements promised certainly over-deliver. The set-pieces that anchor the film are everything a fan of giant-monster smackdowns could possibly want, and while the human-level stuff is just… its fine. If King of the Monsters has any other weakness is that it falls into some of the same ‘Shared Universe’ traps that Avengers: Age of Ultron found itself in. There are a few scenes within the movie whose only purpose seems to be setting up the next movie (which is 2020’s Godzilla vs. Kong)- just weird, seemingly throwaway bits (one featuring actor Joe Morton!) that have seemingly little to do with the movie at hand and will hopefully pay off in a movie down the line.
The other curious thing King of the Monsters shares with an Avengers film is that its main (human) antagonist wants to restore ecological balance through mass human extinction- ala Thanos. This is probably just another case of the writers following the rule that good villians often see themselves as the heroes in their own story, and the writers give them a motivation that most people would sympathize with (see all the “Thanos was Right” threads online- or do yourself a favor and don’t). But it’s a little telling that at a time when humanity really is facing catastrophic ecological damage, that the extreme eco-terrorist is popping up with such frequency in these giant blockbusters. I wonder if in the next Godzilla movie, Big-G will be fighting for the right for humans to fly in planes, drive big trucks and eat hamburgers.