In one corner, we have Godzilla: a giant lizard-like monster with atomic breath, thick thighs, and a bad attitude. In the other we have King Ghidorah: a three-headed dragon-like creature that can control lightning and fly. It’s the matchup of the millennia in Michael Dougherty’s (Trick r’ Treat, Krampus) latest film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters begins in a world changed after the events of 2014. Titans are a part of everyday life, with Monarch discovering 17 of them around the world. One of these Titans is Mothra, located in the forests of China, where Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) and her mother, Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), live and monitor her larva. While studying the massive Titan, Dr. Russell has created a new device called The Orca, which can match the bioacoustics of any of these massive monsters. This means she can control their behavior with the press of a button.
“…the kaiju are unbelievable, shot as if they are part of a painting rather than just CGI monsters wrecking cities.”
However, this device gets into the hands of ecoterrorists, lead by Jonah Alan (Charles Dance), who want to use The Orca to awaken Monster Zero, a.k.a. King Ghidorah. They believe awakening these Titans will restore balance to the planet. But they don’t realize the consequences of awakening this Titan. The three-headed monster, and Godzilla’s arch nemesis, has the ability to control other Titans and awakens them all, wreaking havoc on the world. Only Godzilla can stop him. But sometimes, three heads are better than one.
There is a lot happening in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, almost too much. I appreciate how quickly the film manages to navigate so much lore, but on top of this lore are the human stories about family and connection. As much as these films may need a human element to appeal to wider audiences, the need to include Mark Russell’s (Kyle Chandler) mission to save his family felt superfluous, a reinforcement of a need to preserve the nuclear family. Dougherty and Zach Shield’s script tries to pack too much story into two hours, which at times bogs the film down.
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Despite a clunky story, the kaiju are unbelievable, shot as if they are part of a painting rather than just CGI monsters wrecking cities. There are shots of King Ghidorah’s silhouette illuminated by lightning while it hides in storm clouds. There is a terrifying underwater shot of Godzilla swimming towards Monarch’s base with his scales flashing blue as a warning signal. In short, the cinematography is surprisingly breathtaking, giving these monsters a beauty and a scale reminiscent of Shin Godzilla (2016). The one shortcoming is how close the camera is placed during the monster battles. The use of close ups makes seeing anything extremely difficult, especially when these battles are all happening at night or in low light.
The cast is absolutely stacked with talent, but the standouts are Aisha Hinds as Colonel Diane Foster and Bradley Whitford as Dr. Rick Stanton. Hinds commands the screen as a logic-driven colonel who constantly tries to combat Mark Russell’s emotionally-charged nonsense. It is refreshing to see a woman of color in such a powerful role, especially in a summer blockbuster. Whitford serves as comedic relief, making witty quips and jabs at every plan or idea. His comedy cuts through melodramatic tension, which makes some of the cheesy story and dialogue more palatable. I would be remiss not to mention Ken Watanabe (Inception, The Last Samurai) who plays a kaiju-loving scientist with perfect heartfelt sincerity.
“…Dougherty made a Godzilla film for Godzilla fans.”
Bear McCreary’s (10 Cloverfield Lane, Happy Deathday 2 U) score elevates Godzilla: King of the Monsters to a whole new level. He utilizes Akira Ifukube’s original 1954 score to create a new theme for Godzilla that captures his power and his legacy that has lasted for so many decades. Each main kaiju gets their own song that manages to capture their essence, whether is the tenderness of Mothra or the terror of King Ghidorah. He also wrote an original song with System of a Down’s Serj Tankian about Godzilla, which is the song of the summer.
My biggest complaint about Godzilla: King of the Monsters reveals my bias towards Mothra: she is barely in the film! She is proclaimed Queen of the Monsters but then barely has any screen time. I was hoping for better treatment of our queen, but was severely disappointed. She, the only female monster, is used merely as support and a shield, rather than reaching her full potential seen in her previous films. Yes, perhaps I am reading too much into the gender dynamics of fictional titans.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters attempts to strike a balance between appealing to a broader audience while catering to dedicated franchise fans. But ultimately, Dougherty made a Godzilla film for Godzilla fans. Callbacks to the original Showa era films serve as bits of appreciated fan service that show Dougherty cared about the source material and getting back to what makes Godzilla so much fun. Yes, the dialogue is cheesy, yes, the lore is strange, but that’s what makes a Godzilla movie, well, a Godzilla movie. Godzilla has risen as our new king and I cannot wait to see what this new franchise has in store for humanity.