Synopsis – The crypto-zoological agency Monarch faces off against a battery of god-sized monsters, including the mighty Godzilla, who collides with Mothra, Rodan, and his ultimate nemesis, the three-headed King Ghidorah.
My Take – Let me be clear here, I am a massive fan of Godzilla and his universe, and have seen about 16 or so from 32 films produced by the Toho Company.
In Japan, Godzilla, since his debut in 1954, has continued to spearhead their biggest media franchise, with different filmmakers and writers continuing to churn out their different takes on the kaiju year after year, with its most recent releases being the excellent Shin Godzilla, and the massively disappointing animated trilogy which released internationally on Netflix.
But for Hollywood, following its knackered 1998 attempt, it took about 16 years to formulate a reboot under Warner Bros and the Legendary banner, with Gareth Edwards (Rogue One, Monsters) directing towards a fresher approach by embracing more of the franchise’s disaster elements.
The film went on to receive acclaim for its direction, visual effects, musical score, cinematography, respect to the source material and earned about $529.1 million worldwide, hereby prompting Legendary to propel a franchise, an entire planned monster universe, which includes Kong: Skull Island (2017), and an upcoming collision between the two heavy hitters in 2020.
However, if there is one aspect in which the 2014 film found constant criticism was for its reduced Godzilla’s screen-time. This sequel, learning from its predecessor’s mistakes, seeks to give the heavyweight back his crown with a similarly relatively inexperienced writer/director in the form of Michael Dougherty, making his blockbuster debut and hoping to wow audiences with a suitably epic clash of the Titans.
Gladly, the film delivers and what it promises, my being a perfect summer blockbuster through and through, more importantly, it demonstrates his true love for the franchise and the lore that came before it, as the film does everything to stay true to the spirit and roots of what a Toho produced film should be!
Sure, it isn’t a particularly smart film, with its cookie cutter plot being its weakest link, but if you’re stepping into this one seeking well-rounded, three-dimensional characters acting as more than mere story fuel for the world’s largest wrestling match, then perhaps this one isn’t for you.
Essentially, this is a love letter to established fans and a summer blockbuster in the same vein as films like Jurassic Park and Independence Day, with glorious cinematography to gawk and a well-established scale of the monsters to astonish at. Purely from a long-time fan perspective, this $170-230 million production is everything that I used to dream about watching as a kid and never thought I would. Elevated by solid film-making craftsmanship and sharp narrative cleverness, as a vessel for sheer spectacle, it’s just awesome.
Set five years after the events of 2014 film where Godzilla’s battle with the MUTOs completely leveled San Francisco, the world is now a changed place. With more and more monsters, now nicknamed Titans, being discovered every day, leaving the governments of the world in a dilemma to whether continue observation or just take every one of them down.
Here, the story follows the members of Monarch, the once secret monster research organization who continue to make their case that Godzilla is the earth’s protector, despite being mocked over the notion. Things begin to go awry for them when Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), a paleobiologist and her daughter Madison (Milly Bobbie Brown) are taken captive by Colonel Alan Jonah (Charles Dance), an Eco-terrorist and his armed militia group, in order to make her use The ORCA, a sonar technology, to awaken the slumbering titans of the world include Rodan, Mothra, and the worst and most pivotal of all an alpha titan called Monster Zero, aka King Ghidorah, with the purpose of creating an extinction-level event.
In order to prevent this, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) and Dr. Sam Coleman (Thomas Middleditch), recruit Monarch’s former member, co-creator of ORCA and Emma’s ex-husband, Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), who is still grieving the loss of his young son at San Francisco, to help them and set loose Godzilla, the only titan that can stop the others from destroying humanity.
If that sounds like an extremely silly setup for a film, it is. It’s also just the first act, with the action capped by a major plot twist, the film gets down to delivering giant monster drama on a scale never before seen, with the action rendered in the most epic, violent, brutal, and most entertaining way possible.
There’s certainly a lot more smashing going on this time around. As I mentioned above many people were put off by the way director Edwards played hide-and-seek with his ostensible star, but I admired the way his film was presented as a ground-level apocalypse drama, rooting us with its human characters by often witnessing Godzilla from their distant or partially obstructed points of view.
Here, director Michael Dougherty with a script he wrote with Zach Shields and Max Borenstein, effectively continues that tack in certain shots, while in general plunging us into the thick of battle between the Titans and the puny human forces trying to stop them. Yes, sometimes feels about as coherent as that run-on sentence and, much like reading that aloud, it will occasionally leave you out of breath as you try to figure out what, exactly, is going on while images assault your eyes and roars blast your eardrums. But this was intentional, as it succeeds at what it sets out to do, which is overwhelm and excite.
The monster stuff is absolutely awesome, fully delivering on the promise of re-staging the classic Toho brawls with all the digital technology a huge budget can buy. There isn’t a single frame of monster fighting that doesn’t look ready for a poster print. Three-headed dragons annihilating entire cities with lightning; flaming monster birds erupting from volcanoes; Mothra hovering in shafts of light like an insecticide angel; Godzilla charging into battle flanked by a squad of fighter jets. These sights have all the madcap yet completely sincere energy of something that was story boarded by a child. That’s as it should be.
Here, Bear McCreary’s score also masterfully remixes the original themes into powerful new arrangements. There are also many blatant callbacks and treats for devoted Godzilla fans that it is made so obvious this film is for them. Its clear director Dougherty did his homework.
Yes, it’s hard to particularly care about the family drama at the heart of the film, though Vera Farmiga and Kyle Chandler are their usual charming selves as a divorced couple still grieving the loss of their son. Mainly as a particular motivation for setting a potentially disastrous scenario in motion, and the attendant dialogue, just isn’t convincing, which undercuts the film’s attempts to give an emotional spine to the spectacle, even though Millie Bobby Brown manages to shine in every sequence.
It’s clear from the start that the only reason the human character’s exist here are to provide a form of exposition to everything that is happening in the film, and that is exactly what they do, whether you like it or not. Ken Watanabe, who truly is one of the film industry’s greatest imports, and brings a sense of Zen gravitas that keeps the film ticking over in quieter scenes.
Ziyi Zhang plays a kind of walking Easter egg for hardcore Godzilla fans, a role that feels like setup for future sequels. While Charles Dance is also amusingly villainous in his role, Sally Hawkins continues to be underutilized unfortunately. In supporting roles, Bradley Whitford, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson and Anthony Ramos are alright. On the whole, ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ is massively enjoyable crowd pleaser that along with fan service provides a transcendent pure cinematic experience.
Directed – Michael Dougherty
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 131 minutes