Being a professor of kaijuology, I know a thing or two about giant monsters. Yet, MONARCH never bothered to give me a call. Based on what I see of that organization in Godzilla, King of the Monsters, it’s probably just as well. They don’t seem to know Ghidorah from fedora. But that is neither here nor there….
You won’t find too many fans of giant monster mayhem that haven’t been slobbering over the release of Godzilla, King of the Monsters with rapt anticipation. That includes yours truly. The 2014 reimagining of Godzilla was generally well received and laid the groundwork for a new version of the monstrous universe that was created by Japan’s Toho Studios many years ago. The immediate sequel Kong: Skull Island did even more to stoke the fires of monsterdom. In fact, that film was an enjoyable surprise to me in every way and did a lot to create a new version of King Kong that was a worthy opponent for Godzilla in future films.
When fans heard that the third movie in the series would feature new versions of monster favorites like Ghidorah, Rodan and Mothra, interest reached a new high. Anticipation of Godzilla, King of the Monsters has been at a fever pitch. Having now seen this tableau of titanic terror, what is the verdict?
Well, if you want a lot of giant monsters, you got ‘em. Beyond that, my chief reaction is one of mild disappointment. This isn’t nearly as much fun as Kong: Skull Island and seeing Godzilla this time around doesn’t have quite the visceral kick that his 2014 appearance did. But I would not describe this as a total loss by any stretch.
No one expects in-depth character development and high human drama in a giant monster movie. That doesn’t mean the movie has to have cookie cutter characters spewing vapid clichés and acting in ways that have nothing to do with normal human behavior. But that’s what you get in Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Some of the dialogue here will make you doubt your ears.
The direction is also so murky and chaotic that most of the action scenes involving humans and the military are extremely difficult to process. Naturally, about 90% of the movie was somebody hanging in front of a green screen. A lot of it looks like it could have been taken directly from a modern video game. The crumbling cities and exploding volcanoes don’t have much of a feeling of solidity and reality to them. Say what you will about the miniature cities created by Toho in their heyday, but they had some weight and mass to them that these pixelated CG cities just don’t have.
But the movie is chock full of giant monster mayhem, so if that’s what you seek, ye shall find it. Now let’s take a little closer look at Godzilla, King of the Monsters….
The world has changed drastically following the events of 2014’s Godzilla. Most importantly, humanity now knows that monsters really exist. In the reality created here, the monsters are referred to as “titans.”
The veil of secrecy has been ripped off the secret monster-hunting organization MONARCH and the US government is not pleased that information concerning the titans has been suppressed all these years. The figureheads of MONARCH, Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) must endure a royal roasting during a public hearing on MONARCH. They don’t do their cause any favors when they receive sudden information and bolt from the hearing, leaving the officials in high dander.
They have heard about the possible awakening of a new titan with insectile characteristics codenamed Mothra. We are now introduced to the grossly dysfunctional Russell family, about whom much of this action revolves. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) is a typical housewife who just happens to be a monster expert who has created a machine that can communicate with the titans. She is raising daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) on her own after a very nasty split with ex-husband Mark, another scientist. It seems that during Godzilla’s 2014 battle with the giant MUTOS in San Francisco their young son Andrew was killed, leading Mark (Kyle Chandler) to hit the bottle and develop a pathological hatred for Big G. Emma on the other hand is drawn to the giant creatures…just how much we will later find out.
In an impressive scene, Mothra is born as a colossal caterpillar like creature that immediately puts itself into a cocoon behind a tropical waterfall. It’s a very nice tip of the hat to Mothra’s history that we get to see the larva form. One of the nice things about this movie is the many subtle tributes it makes to past kaiju mythology.
Emma’s ORCA device that communicates with the titans prevents Mothra from going on a rampage. But soon afterwards, the MONARCH outpost monitoring Mothra comes under attack from a murderous band of extreme eco-terrorists led by the typical cold refined British type you’d expect to head up such a group, Alan Jonah (Charles Dance). Jonah’s purpose is to release all 17 known titans from their slumber to trash human civilization and bring back an ecological paradise to Earth. He kidnaps both Emma and Madison and takes control of the ORCA. Or so it appears on the surface.
Dr. Serizawa and the rest of MONARCH do not want the titans slaughtered as most of the world governments do. But neither do they want Jonah to unleash a monster holocaust on Earth. In the last few years, Godzilla has disappeared, and MONARCH wants to track him down. Mark Russell would just as soon have Godzilla and all the other titans dead, but he promises to aid Serizawa if they can help rescue his daughter Madison.
From there, we get a lot of running around to various exotic locales where titans are buried. Next stop is chilly Antarctica, where “Monster Zero” is entombed in ice. Any Toho veteran worth his salt knows that “Monster Zero” is three-headed bad-ass Ghidorah, always the nastiest of Godzilla’s opponents. After much loud and confusing action that makes the head hurt, the alien space dragon is released. No matter what one can say about the movie, the monsters are always portrayed correctly and Ghidorah is no exception. He’s a lightning-spitting nightmare that brings his own hurricane with him wherever he goes, and he considers himself the “alpha predator” of the titans. Well, there’s another Big G who might have something to say about that. Sensing his old nemesis has returned, Godzilla has stirred from his slumber.
With Ghidorah on the loose and sending out a primal call, ORCA is no longer really needed to rouse the titans. They are responding to Ghidorah on their own. In Mexico, winged terror Rodan literally crawls out of an exploding volcano in a pretty cool scene. Rodan also benefits from his portrayal here. Like all the monsters in these Legendary films, he’s truly gigantic and seems to be made of burning lava. He devastates the nearby cities and laughs off the fighter jets sent to stop him. For some reason, he has a beef with Mothra just as Godzilla and Ghidorah have hate for each other and they engage in a fierce battle. Mothra was always the “girl’s monster” in the old Toho films and I never cared for her much, but here she’s a lot fiercer. She had the best “upgrade” of all the kaiju.
Monster battles now commence worldwide, and the military seems to cause just as much havoc with their own ham-fisted response. Ghidorah pretty much kicks Godzilla’s ass to the curb and leaves him for dead. Dr. Serizawa realizes that Godzilla is the moderating force of all the monsters…the one who keeps the others in line. With him gone, Ghidorah will pretty much destroy the planet. A pretty interesting analogy is made between Ghidorah and an “invasive species” since he originates from another planet instead of being an Earth native like the other monsters.
We get some brief looks at other titans that are starting to go on the rampage. Unlike the “Big Four” monsters who star here, these are all brand new creatures instead of Toho reboots. There’s a giant spider called Scylla, another giant who seems to be a living mountain and another one of the MUTOS Godzilla fought in the 2014 movie. One really neat looking new monster seems to be a cross between a mammoth-like elephant and a giant gorilla. We don’t get to see too much of these new titans, which is a pity, because they all look different and interesting. During the course of the movie, we are told that 9 of the 17 known titans have awakened. Very conspicuous by his absence is Skull Island’s Kong, who certainly would consider himself a challenger for the title of king of the monsters. But that’s a story for another movie, apparently….
While all the monster mayhem is going on, we still get treated to the human conflicts involving the dysfunctional Russell family. Not to give too much away, but apparently scientist housewife Emma has been working with Jonah all the time to revive the titans, feeling that they will help stop the “human” infection that’s ruining the Earth. I can kind of sympathize with that, but this plot unfolds with such clunkiness that at no point does it seem realistic. Apparently being a monster-reviving eco-terrorist doesn’t mean you stop being a loving mother. Oh, brother….
All the major characters are now in play and the movie steams towards the inevitable confrontation between Godzilla and Ghidorah. Along the way, we learn about the almost symbiotic relationship between Mothra and Godzilla and we also discover the remains of a lost undersea civilization. The exploration of this lost world is perhaps the movie’s coolest scene not directly involving a monster battle. We learn that all ancient cultures originate with this “Atlantis” where Godzilla and the other titans were worshipped as gods.
Also, feeling left out when it comes to planetary destruction, the US military decides to unleash a devastating “oxygen destroyer” missile to take out Godzilla and pretty much every living thing in the ocean within a two-mile radius. That would make it almost as destructive as toxic runoff from the Perdue chicken farms in the Gulf States. This plot twist was totally unnecessary, but it does give another shout out to Godzilla lore as the “oxygen destroyer” was the weapon that “killed” Big G in his very first appearance in 1954.
Frankly, the movie is a mixed bag to say the least. I have honestly never been to a movie where the humor falls as flat as it does here. Literally none of the laugh lines got any kind of response from the crowd on the night I saw it. Dialogue is not a strong suit here at all. At one point, mopey Dr. Serizawa, who always looks painfully worried and who is quick with Yoda-like wisdom, admits that most of his aphorisms come from fortune cookies. Yes, you read that right. My jaw literally dropped when he uttered that line. But I must admit, I really liked his final scene with Godzilla (the reverse of what the original Serizawa did in 1954).
Chances are, you will be as annoyed with the Russell family as I was. Spunky teenage girls are almost always especially irritating, and Madison is no exception, especially when she indulges in derring-do that probably even Captain America would find difficult to pull off. Lots of hokiness with these folks. Charles Dance, a pretty good actor, is criminally wasted as the underdeveloped Jonah. This was a character that could have been really scary or intriguing.
The makers of Godzilla, King of the Monsters do understand the majesty and spectacle of the titans. It is obvious they are real fans of the giant monster genre and the mythology that it created. The kaiju are given massive scale…Godzilla seems to literally be a walking mountain and he does have a kingly bearing. The monsters all have the proper personality. And they are shown as nature personified…the living extensions of the Earth’s wrath. They even seem to spread some sort of magic radioactive fairy dust that can regenerate environmentally devastated areas. Seriously. I also would love to check out some of the “news clippings” that pop up during the end credits…they are probably brimming over with “easter eggs,” including information about the new titans.
The ultimate kaiju movie that balances every element perfectly has yet to be made. Godzilla, King of the Monsters is not that movie. Not yet. But if you are hungry to see colossal creatures beating the hell out of each other and everything else, this will fill the bill. Now let’s see what King Kong has to say about Godzilla and his pals….