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Josh Reviews Godzilla: King of the Monsters

July 10th, 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is pretty much exactly what I’d expected it would be: fun but dumb.

The film is a sequel to Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla.  I enjoyed that film, though I didn’t love it the way many others did at the time.  I thought it was a very well-made film and I respected its ambition, but I didn’t connect with any of the sprawling cast of characters as deeply as I’d thought I should have.  The result was a film that felt rather superficial to me.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters, directed by Michael Dougherty, unfortunately moves further in that direction.  They’ve assembled a terrific cast, but we didn’t get nearly deeply enough into any one character’s story to suit me.  And so, while I thought the film was fun, I didn’t care about any of these characters.  I think for these sorts of monster movies to succeed, you have to care about the characters who you are following through these crazy situations.  But here, I really didn’t, and so I didn’t engage with the film in any sort of deep way.

There’s an interesting germ of an idea in the story of the main dysfunctional family.  Kyle Chandler plays Dr. Mark Russell and Vera Farmiga plays Dr. Emma Russell, while Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown plays their daughter, Madison.  Their family was torn apart when Madison’s brother was killed in one of the Godzilla battles from the first film.  Mark descended into alcoholism and he and Emma split up.  Emma dove into her work, trying to find a way to communicate with (and perhaps control) the “Titans” (Godzilla and the other giant monsters — what the 2014 Godzilla film referred to as MUTOs).  When she and Madison are kidnapped by terrorists seeking to use Emma’s tech for their own nefarious purposes, Mark is drawn back into Monarch (the organization we’ve seen in Godzilla and also Kong: Skull Island, whose mission is to document and deal with these giant creatures) in an attempt to rescue them.  But Madison soon discovers that her mother has been drawn into very dark places, and she realizes that what she thought she knew about her estranged parents might have been very wrong.

That’s an interesting story around which to hang a crazy monster adventure.  But the problem is that we don’t spend nearly enough time actually getting to know and care about any of these characters.  From the trailers, I’d thought Millie Bobby Brown’s Madison would be a very important character.  I would have loved a version of this film that was told through her eyes, with our following the story through her experiences.  But Madison is a very passive character until we get to the end, and she drops out of the movie for long stretches of time.  Kyle Chandler is eminently watchable as always, but we get his backstory through on-the-nose, saccharine speeches (like when he spells out a cliffs notes version of his character, explaining that he was embarrassed that his daughter saw him when he was drunk) rather than through the film actually letting us get to see and understand his character and his past more subtly through his actions.  This should be a story of Mark’s gradual redemption, but he starts the film as a good guy who always knows best what too do, and he ends the movie in the same place.  As for Emma, well, the film avoids truly exploring the mid-movie twist her character takes (see below) and I was able to predict where her character would wind up very early on.

(What do I mean by that?  Beware SPOILERS in this paragraph.  We learn that Emma’s actions are directly responsible for the release of ALL the Titans world-wide.  While the film avoids any specifics as to age exact body-count, we see shots of devastated cities like Washington DC.  There must have been thousands if not millions of casualties.  But the film doesn’t really dig into that, or seem to blame Emma at all for any of that.  And in the end, the film takes the most obvious, easy-out way of avoiding her having to actually accept responsibility for her crimes, by giving her a last-minute change of heart in which she sacrifices herself.  Yawn.  I suspected the film wouldn’t end with her in prison and charged with mass-murder, so I predicted mid-movie that they’d allow her to heroically sacrifice herself at the end.  Boring.)

The film is gorgeous.  There is a LOT of enormous monster battling in this film, and all of that is very well-executed.  This is an epic-looking film.  It’s fun to see these classic monsters (Rhodan, Mothra, Ghidorah, etc.) brought to life with the very best of modern CGI technology.  (I particularly love the look of Ghidorah’s three heads.)  This is a big-screen movie, and the monster-battles are huge.  When things get nuts in the third act and the monsters are really going at it, the film delivers on the premise of this spectacle.  It’s great fun to watch.

I just wish the story-telling wasn’t so ham-handed.  There are lots of silly coincidences and plot holes.  One of the moist egregious: in the third act, Madison broadcasts a signal through the Fenway Park speakers.  Somehow, that signal is heard by every Titan across the ENTIRE PLANET.  Let me say again: the signal was broadcast from the speakers in Fenway Park.  Come on.

Also, it’s weird to me that we learn that Monarch has discovered the locations of ALL of the giant creatures buried/hibernating across the globe.  Why wouldn’t they destroy these creatures?  Our Monarch heroes seem hopelessly naive in thinking these Titans aren’t a threat.  When they’re all awoken in this film, the consequences across the globe are catastrophic, and many, many people were surely killed.  It feels like this movie has made the same mistake that the Jurassic World movies have made, in that they make our heroes look sort of crazy and naive for believing that mankind can coexist peacefully with these monsters.  The events of all of these films (Godzilla and Jurassic franchises both) prove the foolishness of that thinking, and many lives are lost as a consequence.  It makes it hard to root for the characters who are supposed to be our heroes, because when you think about it, they are partially culpable for a big way for the mayhem that is unleashed.

I enjoyed seeing Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, and David Straithairn reprise their roles from 2014’s Godzilla.  (Though I was bummed the film then wrote both Ms. Hawkins and Mr. Watanabe out of the franchise.)

I also enjoyed seeing the references to King Kong, clear foreshadowing of the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong crossover film.  I’ve enjoyed the seeds of a shared universe planted in Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island, and now this film.  I hope this pays off in a cool crossover film.

The best new addition to the cast was Bradley Whitford as Dr. Rick Stanton.  I don’t know what Dr. Stanton’s role was in Monarch, and he’s not really given any depth of character, but Mr. Whitford’s snarky attitude is fun whenever he’s on screen.

Charles Dance, Zhang Ziyi, and Thomas Middleditch are great actors mostly wasted in small, one-dimensional roles here.  (I was surprised the film ended with Charles Dance’s terrorist character still at large.  Is the idea that he’ll reappear as a villain in Godzilla vs. Kong?)

I enjoyed the score by Bear McCreary (who created magnificent scores for the reimagined Battlestar Galactica series).

I wish Godzilla didn’t die and get resurrected TWICE in the film.  It’s boring, and it knocks the “king of the monsters” down a few too many pegs.

I don’t have too much more to say about Godzilla: King of the Monsters.  I had a fun time watching it on the big screen, munching in popcorn.  But the film doesn’t have the depth or complexity that I’m ideally looking for in a true action/fantasy epic.

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