Review by LL Soares
First of all, let me say that GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS is the best American Godzilla movie so far. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Featuring a strong cast of both humans and monsters, KING OF THE MONSTERS (KOTM) falls into the same trap all American versions have fallen into so far – the need to provide a substantial human plotline. Why? Nobody goes to a Godzilla movie for the human stories. Well, not any hardcore fans I know. The main reason being that almost always, the human storylines are just plain boring.
The human melodrama in KOTM is no different.
The movie is directed by Michael Doughery, who previously made the decent anthology horror film TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007) and the Christmas -time nightmare KRAMPUS (2015), and it’s based on a screenplay he co-wrote with Zach Shields (based on a “story” by Dougherty, Shields, and Max Borenstein, the guy who wrote the previous 2014 GODZILLA film).
That mysterious government organization MONARCH is back—the device that links the movies of this particular “monster universe” (they were also part of the plot for KONG: SKULL ISLAND, 2017, and the previous GODZILLA, 2014, and have a hand in the next movie in the series, GODZILLA VS. KONG, 2020)—and they’re appearing before Congress (represented by Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins and Thomas Middlemitch as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, Dr. Vivienne Graham and Sam Coleman, respectively) to plead the case that the giant monsters we’ve seen so far need to be studied rather than destroyed (despite the fact that Godzilla pretty much leveled San Francisco in the last movie). The military wants the okay to just go in and kill the “Titans.” Oh, and since the last movie, more giant monsters (called kaiju in Japan, and Titans here) have shown up, including a giant larvae version of Mothra.
Meanwhile, we’ve got the main human story here, revolving around the Russell family led by Mark (Kyle Chandler, who was Coach Taylor on the great series FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, 2006-2011, as well as being in movies like SUPER 8, 2011, and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, 2016) and Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga, who plays Lorraine Warren in the CONJURING movies, and was also in THE DEPARTED, 2006 and was Norma Bates in the series BATES MOTEL, 2013-2017). The Russells lost their son in Godzilla’s previous rampage in San Francisco (five years earlier), and now are having a tug-of-war over their daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown, best known as Eleven from the Netflix series STRANGER THINGS, but you should also check out her performance as a different Madison in the British series INTRUDERS, 2014), now a teenager. Dr. Emma has custody of the girl and has developed some weird contraption called an Orca, that uses sonic waves to communicate with the Titans, while Mark has since become an alcoholic and left, doing who knows what. He wants back into his daughter’s life, and Emma is not thrilled.
There’s also a storyline about a group of eco-terrorists led by Jonah Alan (Charles Dance, best known as the evil Tywin Lannister from GAME OF THRONES, now an effective bad guy here), who want access to the Titans in order to use them to “restore balance” on a planet now plagued with the woes of climate change, by setting them free to fight it out and basically run amok across the world. Let’s just call it what it is – he wants to bring about the end of the world as we know it.
Larvae Mothra escapes and soon after has built a cocoon under a waterfall. Then King Ghidorah, the three-headed, lightning-spouting dragon, is freed from a massive block of ice. The giant pterodactyl Rodan emerges from a seething volcano and is described as a “fire bird.” Other Titans emerge across the world, including Behemoth, a giant mastodon-like creature with ape-like limbs (he looks pretty cool), a MUTO (one of those freaky mutants from GODZILLA, 2014), a giant spider (Kumonga from the old Toho movies?) and some others. The secondary monsters don’t get much more than cameos, unfortunately. I wanted to know more about them, especially Behemoth.
There are some fights among the “Titans” – the main reason we’re here – with the dynamic mainly involving Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (the two alphas) for supremacy. The difference being that Godzilla is some kind of ancient Earth god, and Ghidorah is an “invasive species” from another planet. Once Ghidorah is free from that ice, Godzilla shows up right away to put him in his place (or at least try). Rodan is reduced to being one of Ghidorah’s minions, while Mothra, once she emerges from the cocoon, is in full moth mode (with very cool praying mantis arms) and, also being a Earth-bound goddess, tries to assist Godzilla is restoring planetary balance.
Of course there’s a scene where Godzilla sort of dies and has to be revived (the continuing resurrections of the lizard god…), and mankind tries to get in on the battle with their weapons. There are tons of Easter eggs here that long-time Godzilla fans will notice. Among them: the fact that Ghidorah is first referred to as Monster Zero (the monster’s alternate name in 1965’s GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO); the military coming up with their ultimate weapon to stop the Titans, which just happens to be called the “oxygen destroyer” (which goes all the way back to how they defeated Godzilla in the original GODZILLA, 1954, aka GOJIRA, and pops back up in GODZILLA vs. DESTROYAH, 1995); and there’s even a mention of the tiny Shobijin fairies (played by the twin singing duo The Peanuts in the old 60s Mothra movies) who used to sing to Mothra (and may have a modern-day equivalent).
The monsters, er…Titans, now done via CGI rather than actors in rubber suits, look very cool, and the monster fights are decent (including a battle that should have made a smoking crater out of Boston’s Fenway Park), even though just about every monster battle is obscured by rain or smoke. But whenever things get interesting, the human storylines interfere and have to take center stage again. The whole eco-terrorist thing isn’t too bad, at least it has a direct correlation to the Titans. But the whole “parents fighting over their daughter” thing gets annoying very fast, and takes up way too much screen time. Which is too bad, because Chandler, Farmiga and Brown are all really good actors and sounded like great additions to the cast when they were announced (remember, the previous GODZILLA movie had Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Elizabeth Olsen in the cast, all good actors, who were also kind of wasted). It’s not the actors’ fault, so much as the script, which just doesn’t provide for a very compelling human story.
But see, hardcore fans go to Godzilla movies for the kaiju, not the humans, and almost all of the human stories in previous Godzilla movies (American and Japanese) aren’t much more than glorified filler, so this is nothing new. Frankly, I wouldn’t care if the human stuff was scaled back a lot (and needn’t be played by such talented people). In a Godzilla movie, the screentime should be 60% or more given over to the kaiju, with as little time as possible spent trying to humanize things on the people end. All said, KOTM probably gives the Titans about 40% screentime (still a big improvement over the previous American films), but it still could have jettisoned a chunk of the histrionics.
And there were some wince-inducing scenes that should have been cut as well. Primarily every scene where a gigantic creature somehow becomes aware of a little tiny human (and seems able to tell who they are, despite their tininess). These huge creatures don’t care if you’re a good guy or a bad guy, you’re just an ant to them. And when, say, Godzilla leans in real close to a tiny Millie Bobby Brown and then snorts (to let us know he isn’t going to eat her, and he’s a good guy), that’s the kind of stupid, idiotic crap that should be left on the cutting room floor. What is this a Gamera movie? LOL. I laugh because I love Gamera, too, especially the 90s Japanese movies, but remember back in the 60s when he was called the “Hero of Children.” Man! There’s also a “monsters bowing” scene later on that was just pure silliness, and made me think back to the days when these monsters actually talked in some of the Japanese movies (GODZILLA’S REVENGE, 1969, or GODZILLA VS. GIGAN, anyone? I’ll pass, even though I loved REVENGE as a kid).
But what the movie gets right is very good, and clearly things are going in the right direction. Next time maybe don’t stack the deck with so many big name stars who get paid to take up screen time, and instead use the money for more cool monster effects!
As a Godzilla fan, I give GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, three and a half out of five knives. But for everyone else, it’s probably just three knives. This isn’t Masterpiece Theater. But then, it’s not meant to be.
(By the way, I saw this one in 3D, thinking it would actually add to the experience. But it didn’t. And stay for some secret scenes during the end credits.)
© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares
LL Soares gives GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS ~ 3 ½ knives!