Movie Review: "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" (2019)
Godzilla is a cultural icon the world over. There are 35 films in the Godzilla franchise between the Toho films and the 3 Hollywood films. His distinctive roar and trademark energy blast are pop culture meat and potatoes, and the movies have a surprising amount to say about the themes of messing around with the balance of nature and the wicked deeds of man, from pollution to overpopulation to nuclear war. He’s a common ground between the Japanese and America, born from the ashes and fear after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He’s a walking warning about what lives inside Pandora’s Box.
In short, he’s a pretty big fucking deal.
I haven’t seen every one of the 35 movies by any stretch, but I’ve damn sure seen my fair share. All Godzilla fans have their favorite monsters not named Godzilla (my favorites are Gamera, Rodan, and Mothra in that order), but no one argues that the big guy is the undisputed king. He’s a hero who doesn’t fit the bill of “savior of the human race”. I mean, he’s pretty destructive while he’s saving our bacon from other monsters. It’s not really his fault; he’s almost 400 feet tall and probably weighs a hundred tons. Shit is going to get wrecked when he comes around. It’s fairly inevitable.
So, what do you with all that history and social significance when you’re putting out the 3rd film in The Monsterverse (after Godzilla & Kong: Skull Island)? That’s an easy answer: go light (though not nonexistent) on the social commentary and give us some seriously badass giant monster fights in a summer blockbuster that fits the bill of “popcorn entertainment” in the best way possible. Michael Dougherty (Trick R’ Treat) is in the director’s chair this time around, and he heeds that advice with passion and an eye for detail.
Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga; The Conjuring franchise) and her daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown; Stranger Things) live in a Chinese forest with the remains of the cryptozoological corporation, Monarch. They are keeping tabs on Godzilla with the aid of a device called The Orca that speaks to the Titans. They also awaken Mothra from her slumber before being kidnapped by a rogue Monarch employee turned eco-terrorist, Jonah Alan (Charles Dance; Game of Thrones). His goal is to awaken ALL of the Titans (“17 and counting”) and restore balance to an overpopulated Earth that’s on a collision course towards extinction. Unfortunately, they awaken the evil King Ghidorah and bite off one hell of a lot more than they can chew. Meanwhile, Dr. Russell’s husband, Mark (Kyle Chandler; Friday Night Lights), has one goal in mind: rescue his daughter and (possibly) his estranged wife.
There’s so much to love her in regards to setting up a series of films in The Monsterverse. I wanted badly to be able to pause the movie and get a look at the map showing all of the locations of the other sleeping Titans awakened by the wrath of the three-headed dragon. There are some seriously iconic (and seriously weird) characters in the Godzilla bestiary, and thankfully there are no generic bugs in sight like the 2014 movie. Godzilla: King of the Monsters gives you a taste of those numbers and what they can do, with (admittedly) most of the attention going to Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Rodan!
Yes! Rodan! I prayed for some giant firebird action and I got it! We’re talking real tears of joy stuff here, people! His emergence was such a geek-out moment for me that I know it will stay burned onto my brain long past Alzheimer’s kicking in. As a child that bird scared the fuck out of me when nothing else could. This 2019 version is apocalyptically gorgeous and menacing. There were a couple of tears of joy; I can’t lie.
Mothra is also a thing of beauty, played for sheer awe with all of the accompanying musical gimmicks and enchanting majesty that comes with the Queen of the Monsters. She is a scene stealer, and the VFX people deserve crazy credit for it. Even if you hate moths (and I do), you will fall in love with the Queen. She’s perfect.
Still, there may not be a better villain than the mighty King Ghidorah, archnemesis of Godzilla. His story is even fleshed out a smidge in a clever turn of the pen that makes real sense. When the hero is a creature as legendary as Godzilla, you need a sick badguy like the King to balance it all out and make the fight truly epic. A three-headed dragon with eyes full of sinister intention that’s so nuts it snaps at itself is a damn fine way to do just that. He’s the world’s scariest conjoined triplets.
And oh…the fights. There’s a cubic fuckton of carnage on display throughout the 131-minute runtime (that somehow manages to fly by and not feel bloated at all). The cinematography is dark with being Battle of Winterfell dark, and the CGI renders are worth every penny. It’s literally fight after fight with just enough of the human drama to move the story along and make you care. The cinematography and shot framing are absolutely first-rate, in particular the shot of King Ghidorah on his volcanic throne and the two kings charging each other over a ruined Boston. Flat out fuckin’ breathtaking stuff.
That caring is, in large part, thanks to great casting. Kyle Chandler is the classic strong male lead. Vera Farmiga can switch her style at the drop of a hat, and we all know how brilliant young Millie Bobby is. The supporting cast really shines, too- O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Straight Outta Compton), Bradley Whitford (Get Out), Ziyi Zhang (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley), and a returning Ken Watanabe (Inception) as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa. The comedy is well-timed and sparsely inserted, and there are enough cheesy one-liners to let you know that this is an unapologetic big-budget monster flick.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with social commentary. Often times, the best of it will find its way in without a writer or director having to be heavy-handed about it. That’s the case here. That aforementioned formula of “let’s just have a shitload of fighting monsters” works so damn well that I’ll be disappointed if Godzilla: King of the Monsters is remembered as anything other than a frighteningly fun celebration of the Godzilla pantheon with surprisingly violent and intense action. Hopefully (and this is coming from an admitted Godzilla geek) we get a few more of those characters unlocked for the next installment. WHERE’S MY GAMERA?? I NEED THE DAMN TURTLE!!
Now…bring on Godzilla vs. Kong in 2020. I really missed the big ape in this one.