Godzilla: King of the Monsters and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures and Toho
Directed by Michael Dougherty
I may have been a bit cold about the first Godzilla film (no not the one from 1954 and no not the FIRST Hollywood version) which had a tendency to favor human drama over monster punching action, but with Kong: Skull Island being a phenomenal bit of bloody adventure action and the trailers for this film looking absolutely gorgeous, it looks like things may finally be kicking into high gear for the once and future king! Shoot, they managed to get MOTHRA in this! What more could you possibly ask for!? Does the latest Godzilla movie live up to its title as King of the Monsters, or is this further evidence that the big green guy’s day in the spotlight has come to an end? Well probably not the latter since Shin Godzilla was pretty awesome and Toho isn’t about to give up this cash cow anytime soon, but let’s find out!!
Following the events of Godzilla 2014 (and technically Kong: Skull Island as well), the world is now hyper aware of Kaiju being a “thing” they just have to deal with now, and ever since Godzilla kicked those monsters’ butts the last time more and more seem to be popping up all over the place. Fortunately Monarch, the secret organization that studies Kajiu, has been keeping them either asleep or in cages so as not to cause further catastrophe, though I do wonder exactly where they get their funding if the government is constantly calling them in for hearings to tell them how bad they are at their job. Ah, it probably doesn’t matter! What DOES matter is that one of the Monarch scientist Dr. Russell (Vera Farmiga) and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) have been KIDNAPPED by… anti-Kaiju terrorists I guess (led by Charles Dance) and are planning something NEFARIOUS with her research which involves communicating with Kaiju. Good thing she’s got a self-pitying ex-husband named Mark (Kyle Chandler) who’s off somewhere still brooding about his son who died during the first movie, and Monarch calls him in to… help I guess. I mean they’ve already got Dr. Serizawa from the last film (Ken Watanabe) as well as Dr. Chen and Dr. Chen (Zhang Ziyi) who are Kaiju experts, Dr. Stanton (Bradley Whitford) who cracks jokes and does science stuff, and even a couple of army people including Jackson Barnes (O’Shea Jackson Jr) who cracks jokes as well, so why are they throwing in a guy who explicitly wants all the Kaiju killed into the pro-Kaiju organization? I guess to try and figure out how those kidnapping Kaiju-haters think? So now this rag tag group of scientists and random dudes are off to stop the anti-Kaiju terrorists from waking up all the monsters which I guess will show people that the monsters are bad… or something. Hey, isn’t Godzilla supposed to be in this movie at some point?
How did this happen? Can someone PLEASE explain to me how this happened!? What was the one thing that people criticized about Godzilla 2014? That there wasn’t enough monster action in it! That the story focused TOO much on the human characters at the expense of Godzilla! What did they do for this movie that has even MORE monsters in it? THE EXACT SAME THING!! WHY!? We have gotten Godzilla movies for over fifty years, and the formula has worked pretty darn well, but oh no! I guess when HOLLYWOOD gets a hold of it, they have to do their own spin on the material and make it into something it’s not. If you’re going in this for monster fighting action, you will be SORELY disappointed because less than what, ten, MAYBE fifteen percent of this, is actual monsters locking it up and telling a story through their conflict. If you wanted a good human story instead, well you’re not getting that either because most of the dialogue in this is exposition and the rest is clichéd nonsense. It boggles the mind that a movie with so much potential turned out to be such a misfire, but I guess even a force as powerful as the King of the Monsters couldn’t overcome his own lousy track record in Hollywood.
Now before we dig into the big problems with this movie, we might as well talk about what it gets right, and since I can’t just write MOTHRA seven hundred times and call it a day, I will say that the monsters they picked for this film are darn good ones who look great here and are well realized within the world that has been set up. Also, one of them is Mothra so clearly that gives this movie a bajillion bonus points right off the bat, because Mothra is awesome and I will hear no argument! The one thing the trailers tried to sell you on was the scope and sheer sense of awe that this monsters evoke which is basically what we loved about the non-campy Kaiju movies of the past, and with modern technology to REALLY bring them to life like never before it’s a true feast for the senses whenever the film gets around to making them smash against each other. It’s just a shame that they only had enough budget for about twenty minutes of fighting!
Yeah, so the big thing that completely [gobsmacked] me as a monster movie fan who ACTUALLY saw the trailers is that the Kaiju are barely in the darn thing, or at least not NEARLY as much as they want you to think they’re in it. Mothra has a good scene early one before going away for over an hour and even when she comes BACK it’s another half hour before she does anything. Godzilla has one and a half fights before dropping off the story until the two hour mark, and King Ghidora barely manages more than that as the supposed villain of the blasted film! That is until the finale! THAT’S where the movie is going to shine, right!? They’ll surely pull out all the stops for the big dust up between the good monsters and bad monsters in a recognizable city! Heck, maybe they’ll even throw in a pagoda or have a surprise cameo by one of the other monsters like a wrestler charging the ring!
I mean, kinda? The last fight is certainly the highlight of the movie and shows GLIMPSES of understanding what it is that makes giant monster movies appealing in the first place, but it’s just too darn short and is CONSTANTLY intercut with inconsequential nonsense from the human characters who couldn’t muster a tenth of the endearment that Mothra does just by showing up. Whenever we focus on the monsters in this scene for more than a few moments, its’ compelling as they are telling a story through the fight! Its drama, it’s ups and downs, it’s good triumphing over evil and moments where all is lost! We don’t need humans to tell the story to us when actions speak much louder than words, yet for some reason they don’t give it to us in droves but in insignificant crumbs.
But okay! Let’s say that you’re NOT me and you want to see an engaging movie; monsters or not. Perhaps I should judge this movie on its own merits instead of comparing it to the wrestling match-a-palooza I envisioned in my head. If most of this movie is about human stuff, then does the human stuff work on its own? Sadly, it’s gonna get a big ol’ NO from me because no one seems to know what tone this should be and the writer clearly hasn’t seen a movie in the last ten years otherwise they wouldn’t have tripped over as many clichés and presented them like they’re brand new. Moreover, it’s a ridiculously convoluted plot; so on top of nothing feeling all that original, they go about it in the most confusing way possible. There are twins in this movie, and I didn’t know that until someone point it out long after I saw it. Basic stuff like that is COMPLETLEY omitted from the film unless you’re looking out for it, and it’s not like some sort of mystery; they just don’t tell you it. Worst of the worst has to be the villain plot which I won’t spoil here, but it’s the same old song and dance we’ve seen before but done with so much conviction and weight that it becomes downright insulting. There are ACTUAL ways to tell this particular kind of story seriously but you have to get your facts right to do it. The reason I wasn’t TOO bothered when Daniel Bryan did something similar last year (there’s you’re requisite wrestling reference for ya!) is because they did it with a certain degree of self-aware camp. The melodrama of wrestling personas lends itself to over the top characterizations, so him doing THIS kind of storyline in the WWE was at least somewhat mischievous and cathartic even if he was quote-unqoute THE BAD GUY in that scenario. Not the case here, because a freaking GODZILLA MOVIE has to be as deathly serious as possible so we stop the movie dead for about five minutes for a villain to monologue at us and it’s the most trite garbage you can imagine. Remember that one Godzilla movie that was about a bunch of people finding him on an island with a crab monster, or the one that was basically a mecha movie about a woman’s struggle to believe in herself? You can call foul on these movies being cheesy all you want, but they understood what they were doing and told a compelling story that was a complement to the monster action; not some pretentious hodgepodge of confusing environmental messages and half-baked symbolic imagery. Heck, if you need a good example of how to do Godzilla seriously, just look at Shin Godzilla which blows this out of the water on EVERY story related point; because it was actually ABOUT something! I can’t say I’m an expert, but I read it as basically a successor to the original film; a reaction to a horrifying catastrophe that the people of Japan were still working through; updated here to be about the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Godzilla is not about lore, mechanics, or even stories about complicated webs of spy networks and globe-trotting adventure. Those CAN be in these movies (just look at Final Wars for basically all of that in one go) but Godzilla films NEED A HEART which this film is sorely lacking in. There’s no PASSION to be found as everything just feels mechanical, and whatever EMOTION can be gleamed comes in prepackaged clichés that feel cheap and hollow. Why did they even bother making this movie if no care enough about the monsters to put them on screen more or cared enough about the humans to make their stories feel necessary and anything other than cookie cutter? Can we just get another Shin Godzilla movie!? PLEASE!?
There are glimpses of a true Kaiju movie in this, particularly anytime Mothra comes onscreen to be an ethereal presence of peace and hope, but this movie is just weighed down in everything that a Godzilla movie doesn’t need to be and I can’t believe they’ve now missed the point of this franchise three times in a row! Seriously, the Godzilla track record in Hollywood is ALMOST as bad as The Fantastic Four, and while I still want to see my gosh darn Godzilla vs King Kong movie, I’ve lost a heck of a lot of hope that we’ll see a proper one of these movies outside of Japan anytime soon. I certainly wouldn’t recommend seeing it in theaters, but the action on screen when they actually get to it IS pretty spectacular to watch on such a large screen, so maybe check it out at a matinee or a second run theater if you need to see it that way. You’re probably better off using that money to buy an ACTUAL Godzilla movie though. Yes, even Son of Godzilla! I would gladly take Minilla over whatever the heck this is!