ONE KING TO RULE THEM ALL
In 2014, Hollywood took another chance in the iconic Japanese giant kaiju monster creation with the movie Godzilla; presenting viewers with a potential first installment in a planned shared cinematic universe dubbed “MonsterVerse”. Directed by Gareth Edwards, the film, which starred Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, and Bryan Cranston, followed the story of several humans who witness the rise of several monstrous creatures identified as Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms (MUTO for short), with only one who could possibly save humanity from annihilation. While 2014’s Godzilla faced mixed reviews from critics and fans, the movie was considered to be better than Hollywood’s last endeavor with “King of Monsters” (i.e. 1998’s Godzilla) and proved to be a box office success; cultivating roughly $529 million at the box office worldwide. The success of the film also prompted Toho (the original company that owns the Godzilla franchise) to reboot their own iteration of the classic giant monster as well as Legendary (the company behind the 2014 version) to move forward with their MonsterVerse. In 2017, Kong: Skull Island was released, acting as the second entry in this shared cinematic universe of giant monsters as well as a prequel spin-off feature that introduce viewers to the MonsterVerse’s version of the famed giant ape. The movie, which was directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and starred John Goodman, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, and Samuel L. Jackson, was met with mostly positive reviews and (much like 2014’s Godzilla) produced a sizable result at the box office; raking in roughly $566 million. Now, Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, and director Michael Dougherty present the third installment in this MonsterVerse franchise with Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Does this sequel to 2014’s Godzilla reign supreme or is it a bloated blockbuster that fails to impress from the word go?
Throwing herself into her paleobiologist work to push past the pain of her eldest son’s during Godzilla’s rampage battle with the MUTOs in 2014, Dr, Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) is an employee of Monarch, a secretive monster tracking organization, and has finally cracked the elusive “titan code” with the construction of the Orca, a machine that can match giant monster frequencies in way to communicate with the primordial beasts. Living in China, Emma is joined by her daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), who’s confused when her absentee father, Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), is trying to reconnect after cleaning up his life. When contact is made with the monster Mothra, Emma, Madison, and the Orca are taken by Colonel Jonah (Charles Dance), an eco-terrorist extremist who needs the device to awaken multiple dormant titans around the globe, hoping to unleash a new age of monsters capable establishing a new world order on Earth. Setting out to reclaim his loved ones, Mark is soon swept up in Monarch’s agenda, joining with Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Wantanbe) and his elite Monarch team, crossing the planet to stop Jonah’s evil scheme. However, it soon becomes clear that Jonah plans to release an all-powerful apex titan named Ghidorah from its slumber (with the help of the Orca device) and the only creature who can stop this ancient monster is Godzilla, who hasn’t been seeing in five years. That question now remains…. will Mark and the Monarch team come to rescue in team before Jonah’s endgame plan be fully realized and will Godzilla be strong enough to defend against Ghidorah and the titan uprising to follow?
THE GOOD / THE BAD
The Godzilla movies have always been a point of fascination to all, which have been iconic in their own right and have proven to be cult-favorites of the classic Japanese Godzilla movie franchise. Naturally, I’ve seeing a few of the older Japanese ones (with English dubbed) and of course I found them to be cheesy “old school” giant monster features (i.e. more plot driven in the first half, while the second half is more of the action). The 2014 version of Godzilla seems a little bit better than 1998’s Godzilla, but I still wasn’t super impressed with the movie, especially since the movie was more focused on “human drama” more so than the epic giant monster rampage fights that many moviegoers wanted to see. Much was the same with what I thought about 2017’s Kong: Skull Island. It definitely had more of a visual flair than 2014’s Godzilla and had plenty of recognizable acting talents that I liked (i.e. Hiddleston, Larson, Goodman, Jackson, etc.), but the movie felt totally bland and just mediocre. Yes, it was a cool introduction for Kong in this MonsterVerse, but it just felt adequate movie that really didn’t leave a strong impression on me.
This brings me around to talking about Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the third entry in Legendary’s MonsterVerse and the sequel to 2014’s Godzilla. As I mentioned, I knew that this shared giant monster cinematic universe was gonna continue and expand throughout years (if it was successful), so it was almost a matter of time before an entry like this one would eventually appear. Of course, given the fact that I wasn’t so super keen nor excited about the previous two MonsterVerse entries, my overall anticipation for seeing this third installment wasn’t exactly a “must see” movie on my radar. However, that sort of changed slightly when the film started to release its marketing campaign, especially with its various movie trailers that I kept on seeing every now and again when I go to my local movie theater. Because of this, my interest in seeing Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which I always mistakenly called Godzilla: King of Monsters, was definitely peaked as I was curious to see this new chapter in the MonsterVerse; hoping that it would be a giant monster “battle royale” that many viewers out there (including myself) wanted to see. So, I went to see the movie and now its time for my full review of what I thought of it? What’s my verdict of it? Well, to me, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is actual best entry in Legendary’s MonsterVerse. Yes, it definitely has its flaws, but it makes for blockbuster feature that many moviegoers were looking…. a fun, bombastic of great titans in a “monster” size battle rampage.
While director Gareth Edwards, who directed 2014’s Godzilla, was planning on directing this movie, he unfortunately stepped down from helming this project in 2016. Edwards’s replacement was soon found in director Michael Dougherty, whose previous directorial works includes such horror films like Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus. Given his past work on smaller scale projects (as well as being a screenplay / script writer for several other movies), Dougherty makes Godzilla: King of the Monsters his most lavishing and largest directorial work to date. As mentioned above, many viewers criticized Edwards’s 2014 Godzilla movie to me more focused on its human characters, peppering the movie with brief large-scale giant monster rampage sequences here and there and holding off Godzilla’s big battle scene for the feature’s climatic third act. To offer up fan service and more likability to this MonsterVerse, Dougherty approaches King of the Monsters with the promise of having much more devoted time for giant monster battles and rampaging across the world, with the iconic big green titan facing off against some of his most worthy and timeless enemies. To that effect, Dougherty succeeds with gleeful joy in presenting the feature with that hopeful promise of a “clash of titans” being fully realized in the film, rendering the battles with Godzilla franchise creatures with Hollywood’s current cinematic flavor of today’s blockbuster style. Thus, those expecting something grandiose of giant monster battling each other are in for a real tread with King of the Monsters. Dougherty definitely has an eye for some great battles, staging several of them throughout the feature and giving the movie ample time for the movie for clashes and damaging / perilous rampages throughout. Of course, King of the Monsters isn’t exactly made to be a wholesome endeavor of encompassing every single aspect of theatrical drama and giant monster fun, but Dougherty’s efforts on the film definitely works more so than Edwards did on 2014’s Godzilla as well as Vogt-Robert’s 2017 Kong: Skull Island.
The film’s technical and visual presentation are also on point with the giant monster size adventure that King of the Monsters tells, showcasing the feature’s blockbuster scope and large-scale vastness within the film’s narrative background settings. Undoubtedly, the visual effects are the movie’s true highlight by presenting all the various giant monsters in very vivid CGI effect shots. Thus, seeing such classic Godzilla monsters like Mothra, Rodan, and Ghidorah rendered in today’s visual effects shots is quite impressive. Of course, it really doesn’t push the visual boundaries of computer animation, but it is still very pleasing to the appeal and adds that extra layer of likeability to this giant monster feature. In addition, the usage of CGI throughout King of the Monsters is quite good and does play to the movie’s strength in presenting everything within a very bombastic blockbuster endeavor. Also, due to the large-scale monsters and dramatic moments, the movie’s cinematographer Lawrence Sher does an equally impressive job in making King of the Monsters look quite spectacular within its theatrical presentation. Definitely looks and feels like a summer popcorn blockbuster. The other technical film areas, including production designs by Scott Chambliss, costume designs by Amanda Moss Serino, and set decorations by Louise Mingenbach as well as the various members of the art department, do great work in their respective areas of expertise in making the film’s various background location and sets to be quite theatrically bold and fun….especially in the various locations on Monarch (including their winged airbase…the Argo). Additionally, the film’s score, which was composed by Bear McCreary, is rather great; demonstrating the epic and grandiose magnitude of the feature’s story within its orchestral flourishes of dramatic poise and frenetic tension in its action sequences.
Unfortunately, King of the Monsters does falter in some areas that make the ultimately makes the feature loose some of its giant monster palpability within its cinematic blockbuster tale. Of course, the weakest element is definitely the human storyline aspect throughout the entire movie. Given the nature of this genre, this is somewhat a forgone conclusion that many (including myself) have to sort of accept as a “for better or worse” aspect of giant monster movies. Of course, 2014’s Godzilla tried to elevate the “human” story a bit more than the normal, but sacrificed the giant monster action sequences (i.e saying major of the big monster fights until the climatic third act point). So, King of Monsters sort of reverses that aspect by placing the big fight sequences front and center. The problem? Well, the so-called “human” story of the narrative is the weak link of the movie and it becomes problematic throughout the film. So where did it go wrong? Well, it all stems from the movie’s script, which was penned by Dougherty and Zack Shields with a story by Dougherty, Shields, and Max Bornstein, just really fails to impress. The story involving the giant monster is good and feel reminiscent to the “old school” style of Godzilla, but the rest of it (i.e. the human storyline) feels woefully undeveloped. For the most part, the movie’s story is rather flimsy and just tries to go through the motion of trying to build upon by rushing over certain ideas and scenarios and just convoluted a basic narrative structure of giant monster battling each other. The prime example of this is the Orca device, which acts as the film’s McGuffin throughout. It seems to have all the answers and the various characters that want it makes some stupid and careless decision in trying to obtain. Thus, despite all the big monster actions sequences in King of the Monsters, the narrative story of the movie feels messy and rather bland.
In addition, the various human character in the movie are, more or less, bland caricatures and hardly develop beyond their initial persona / setup build. It’s not for a lack of trying, but the story / script handling of these certain narrative aspects are just downright dull and almost stupid; finding many of the feature’s characters motivations and plot arcs to be rather “cookie cutter” to fit their persona architypes. Even some characters just make stupid decision throughout that it makes it really hard to root. Again, I understand that these types of movies don’t necessarily have the best and strongest type of characters, but the effort just seems quite lackluster from the word go.
Given the criticism with the “human” story that I mentioned above, the cast in King of the Monsters has plenty of recognizable faces and the selection of actors and actresses selected are pretty good and do certainly help elevate their characters beyond the varying degrees of being one-dimensional. For the most part, the film focuses on the Russell family (Mark, Emma, and their daughter Madison) and how fractured their families is (due to the events of 2014’s Godzilla) and how they ultimately get swept up in the events of King of the Monsters. However, the strain of a broken family in a global giant monster pandemic sounds cool and compelling, but the script handling of it all doesn’t deliver that and instead oversells the idea in campy and almost cheesy way. So, let’s examine each of these characters. First there is Dr. Mark Russell, an animal behavior, communication specialist, and former employee of Monarch. Played by Kyle Chandler, known for his roles in Super 8, Friday Night Lights, and Argo, the character of Mark is your stereotypical no-nonsense military male architype and Chandler certain does fit that build. His personal journey in the movie isn’t exactly new (and has been done better in other cinematic endeavors), but Chandler’s Mark acts as the male lead in the film and does a decent job in that regard. Behind Mark is the character of Dr. Emma Russell, a paleobiogist who works for Monarch. Played by actress Vera Farmiga, known for her roles in The Departed, Up in the Air, and The Conjuring, the character of Emma is quite a confusing paradox that’s never fully explained. Her intentions and motivations throughout the movie are very convoluted and feels quite disjointed. The tries to explain the reasoning behind her actions, but the script just simple fumbles them; making the character hard to figure out. Of course, Farmiga does try her best to mask those character written flaws with her acting talents, but the character of Dr. Emma Russell just simply fails to impress and comes off as a bit pretentious.
Lastly, there is the character of Madison Russell, the teenager daughter to both Mark and Emma Russell. Played by actress Millie Bobby Brown, known for her roles in Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, Intruders, and Stranger Things, the character of Madison is supposed to be the “youthful innocence” architype individual that accidentally gets caught up the story’s larger and dangerous narrative. However, while the intent of the character is there, the idea of Madison ultimately backfires from the get-go. Why? Well, for starters, the character of Madison doesn’t really amount to much in the feature and rarely doesn’t anything or than to advance the plot forward a few times. All that Madison does is cry and scream throughout King of Monsters runtime. Looking beyond the thinly sketched character build, Brown doesn’t bring any theatrical nuances to the role and just seems way out of place in giant monster blockbuster film. In the end, Brown (despite her popularity as Eleven on Stranger Things) is the weakest and most useless character in all of King of the Monsters.
Behind the Russell family is the film’s antagonist human character Alan Jonah, a former British Army Colonel and MI-6 agent who defected and became a eco-terrorist, who is played by actor Charles Dance (Game of Thrones and Dracula Untold). The setup is there for the character of Jonah and Dance always looks the part (and speaks the part) of a villain baddie, but the characterization of Jonah quickly diminishes as the narrative progresses. In truth, the movie sort of forgets about him towards the beginning of the third act and he just ceases to be important to King of the Monsters’s story. Thus, in the end, Dance’s Jonah is a vanilla footnote villain that doesn’t live an impressionable mark on the movie.
With this movie being a continuation / sequel to 2014’s Godzilla, the movie does several returning characters in this new installment. The most prevalent to the continuity is in the character of Dr. Ishirō Serizawa, who is played by actor Ken Watanabe (Inception and Pokémon: Detective Pikachu). Of course, Watanabe is up to the task in reprising his 2014 role and certainly does a good job in making Serizawa a great side character. Plus, his character arc is probably the most compelling in the movie and does get moment in the film for his character to express his fascination with Godzilla. Along with Watanabe’s Serizawa, actress Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water and Paddington 2) and actor David Strathairm (The Bourne Ultimatum and Lincoln) return to reprise their 2014’s Godzilla roles of Dr. Vivienne Graham and Admiral William Stenz respectfully.
Rounding out the cast are several minor supporting characters, including actor Brad Whitford (The West Wing and Get Out) as Dr. Rick Stanton, actress Ziyi Zhang (Memoirs of a Geisha and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) as Dr. Ilene Chen (as well as Dr. Ling), actress Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water and Paddington 2) as Dr. Vivienne Graham, actor Thomas Middleditch (Silicone Valley and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie) as Sam Coleman, actor / rapper O’ Shea Jackson Jr. (Straight Outta Compton and Long Shot) as Chief Warrant Officer Barnes, actress Aisha Hinds (Mr. Brooks and The Next Three Days) as Colonel Diane Foster, and actress CCH Pounder (Avatar and The Shield) as Senator Williams. All of these acting talents are quite good and do bring a recognizable sense to us (the viewers) in watching this movie. However, most of these characters are cookie caricatures, with most being “cogs” in the narrative machine of the film (i.e. exposition, comedic levity, etc.) and are there for the padding of side characters in the story. Nothing grand or original and mostly just campy action and reactions dialogue to what’s going in the scene.
As an additionally side-note, actor / stuntman T.J. Storm returns to reprise his role of Godzilla (the motion capture performance), while Jason Liles, Alan Maxson, and Richard Dorton do the motion capture performances of Ghidorah’s three heads (each one given a bit of a personality from each other).
Lastly, for the movie cinephiles out there, be sure to stick around during King of the Monsters ending credits for two Easter eggs. The first is a montage sequences (as the credits are rolling) of various Monarch files and photos (hinting at what the next might be), while the second, which is at the very end, presents another possible clue at a future Godzilla installment.
Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and Ghidorah collided in a giant monster battle royale for dominance as a handful of humans try to prevent unimaginable mayhem and destruction from these titans in the movie Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Director Michael Dougherty latest film sees the big-screen clash of Godzilla titans (from the popular franchise) and offers up plenty of blockbuster visual flair that many are looking in a summer popcorn feature. While the film’s story plot could’ve been “beefed” up (or just simply be less convoluted) and to have a more interesting human narrative arcs (especially in its various characters), the movie succeeds on its monster charm, delivering a sublime and large-scale action that giant monster fans will enjoy as well in its visual / technical presentation. Personally, I liked the movie. Yes, I think that the human storyline threads definitely need to be improved upon (as the end results of them are shallow and campy), but the movie’s giant monsters action caught my interest and made me feel satisfied and entertained as well. To me, King of the Monsters is definitely my personal favorite of the three MonsterVerse entries released (so far). Thus, my recommendation for this movie is an amusing “recommended” as it will please giant monster fans out there as well as being a nice (yet sometimes cheesy / goofy) distraction for the casual moviegoers out there. It will be interesting to see how this shared cinematic universe will continue forward as its fourth installment (Godzilla vs. Kong) is set to be released in March 2020. How that titanic match-up will play out is still a mystery, but its own that I hope to see, especially how this movie play out. In the end, Godzilla: King of the Monsters delivers on what was promised; producing a fun (and ridiculous) blockbuster spectacle of giant kaiju monsters battling each other in a grand and cinematic fashion. It’s not perfect, but it’s a visually satisfying “big monster” feature endeavor and that’s all that matters.
3.7 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: May 31st, 2019
Reviewed On: June 9th, 2019
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is 134 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of monster action violence and destruction, and for some language