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Godzilla: King of the Monsters Review

May 31, 2019 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Godzilla: King of Monsters
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Godzilla: King of the Monsters Review  

Directed By: Michael Dougherty
Written By: Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields and Max Borenstein
Runtime: 131 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of monster action violence and destruction, and for some language

Kyle Chandler – Dr. Mark Russell
Vera Farmiga – Dr. Emma Russell
Millie Bobby Brown – Madison Russell
Ken Watanabe – Dr. Ishirō Serizawa
Charles Middleditch – Dr. Sam Coleman
Charles Dance – Colonel Alan Jonah
Bradley Whitford – Dr. Rick Stanford
Sally Hawkins – Dr. Vivienne Graham
Zhang Ziyi – Dr. Ilene Chen and Dr. Ling Chen
Aisha Hinds – Colonel Diane Foster
O’Shea Jackson Jr. – Jackson Barnes
David Strathairn – Admiral William Stenz
Joe Morton – Dr. Houston Brooks
CCH Pounder – Senator Williams

After an inexplicable five-year wait, Legendary Pictures has finally produced a sequel to its 2014 Godzilla movie. While the 2014 movie did have its positive aspects, the film has not dramatically aged well at all. Director Gareth Edwards was able to provide some interesting disaster movie elements and some strong aesthetics. However, he proved to be a weak director when it came to handling his human actors. Not to mention, there were numerous instances where he teased some exciting monster battles, only to cut away from them as a form of ridiculous teases and gags.

Krampus director Michael Dougherty is an infinitely better and more competent director than Edwards. While his sequel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, is not without its issues, the film at least delivers with the monster clashes it promises in the title.

Set an undetermined number of years after the monster attacks in the 2014 film, the world is still reeling from the damage caused by the appearance of Godzilla and the MUTOs. The no longer clandestine monster-research organization, Monarch, is continuing to study these large kaiju, dubbed “Titans” in the film. The governments want them contained or destroyed, while Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Watanabe) wants to form a type of symbiotic coexistence between human and monster, respecting all forms of life and believing the Titans, at least in Godzilla, are not malevolent creatures.

Meanwhile, Monarch’s Dr. Emma Russell (Farmiga) is part of an operation that gives birth to a new moth-type larvae Titan, dubbed Mothra, along with her daughter Madison (Brown). Emma and Madison were both at ground zero for the Godzilla/MUTO fight depicted in the first film, leading to the loss of Madison’s little brother, and her father Dr. Mark Russell’s (Chandler) estrangement from the family. It seems Emma has developed a breakthrough technology in communicating and controlling the titans with a sonar device that can match Titan speech patterns and influence their behavior.

Emma and Madison, along with Emma’s Titan communication device that’s called the Orca, are taken by a rogue military leader, Col. Alan Jonah (Charles Dance). Jonah is a former soldier-turned-ecoterrorist who wants to use the Titans to cull humanity and bring back balance to the world. Basically, he’s Ra’s al Ghul-lite. Monarch and Dr. Serizawa (Watanabe) then enlist the help of Mark Russell, an animal behavior expert, in order to help track down the Orca and his family since he helped originally design and build it. Believing Godzilla and the Titans to be responsible for the death of his sons, Mark thinks they should all be destroyed or contained instead of trying to find a peaceful solution. However, Col. Jonah’s group soon unleashes a terrifying apex Titan, Monster Zero, which is not like the other Titans. And the only other Titan with the power to stand against and defeat it could be Godzilla.

Where Dougherty does have trouble for King of the Monsters is by introducing a ton of characters and not really giving them much to do. David Strathairn’s Admiral William Stenz is back from the first movie, and it seems like he’s only appearing due to contractual obligations. It’s the same with Sally Hawkins as Vivienne Graham, who doesn’t have a meaningful role to speak of and is given an unceremonious exit. Quite a few military personnel are added to the cast, but they are two-dimensional characters and are constantly in the background. They are depicted throughout the film in the thick of the action, but they are given little in the way of actual character development.

Ken Watanabe, who can be a hit and miss with his roles, at least has a better performance here than the first film as Dr. Serizawa. His constantly dumfounded look from the first film has been tampered down, proving yet again that Dougherty is a much more competent director when it comes to getting better performances out of his actors. However, Dougherty’s script, which he co-wrote with Zach Shields, does fall back on some rather lame stereotypes of the “wise Asian mentor,” complete with Dr. Serizawa making a lame joke about reading something wise in a fortune cookie. If there are some cliches that should be tossed in the trash in 2019, it’s those.

Major points are due to Dougherty and composer Bear McCreary for using the classic 1954 theme music as part of the score for the film. McCreary’s version is tweaked and amped up, but none of the music in the 2014 movie was memorable at all. Even Hideaki Anno realized that for Shin Godzilla, which utilized the 1954 score and music from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Dougherty and McCreary were also smart enough to recognize that the 1954 theme is iconic and needs to be a part of a movie such as this. Some of the film’s best moments are punctuated by appearances of the remixed version of the original score.

Additionally, Dougherty is smart enough to realize that fans come to these movies for the monster battles, and King of the Monsters Definitely delivers on that spectacle. While Legendary Godzilla’s design is not the best, the new updated designs for other classic Toho monsters, Ghidorah (Monster 0), Monthra and of course Rodan all look good. Mothra has little to do until the final act, but it is ultimately very satisfying. Dougherty avoids the problem with the fights that constantly plagued the first film, and he doesn’t over-direct the action with a lot of goofy weirdness like Kong: Skull Island.

Interestingly enough, Monster 0 is given a somewhat surprising backstory. If the backstory remains consistent, it has rather interesting implications for potential future installments depending on where Legendary takes it in the future. Honestly, a King Kong vs. Godzilla remake sounds sort of tacky in comparison to the ideas that are introduced here. Hopefully, what’s seeded in King of the Monsters isn’t merely lip-service for more crazy, sci-fi ideas.

The one major element that causes ambivalence is the nature of Godzilla. The first movie basically presented Godzilla as the film’s de-facto hero. King of the Monsters doubles down on that idea. Legendary’s Godzilla basically shares a lot more in common with Kadokawa’s Gamera than the original Toho monster. This Godzilla is a protector and defender of the Earth, and by proxy, humanity. Godzilla is not out to cause wanton, indiscriminate destruction. He’s a downright cuddly, big lizard here. This is not the first time Godzilla has been depicted as a benevolent hero, but it goes against the grain of what should be a more gritty disaster story.

What’s problematic is that Godzilla is no longer a cautionary tale. He’s no longer a natural disaster given physical form. He’s no longer an amoral creature or antihero. These are the best versions of Godzilla, where his goals might just somewhat align with mankind, and he becomes a monster to fight another monster that’s possibly worse. Now, he’s a literal protector, who even has a home and resting place that was likely built by humans. That likely means that nuclear testing likely had nothing to do with his creation or awakening either. Really, the only thing missing from this movie was a beeper to summon him and Godzuki like the 1978 Hanna-Barbera animated TV series. So yes, there is existing precedence for a version of Godzilla that shares a lot more in common with Gamera, but it’s still not the best route Dougherty and Legendary could’ve gone for Big G.

Overall, kaiju and monster movie aficionados will find a lot to enjoy with Godzilla: King of the Monsters. It’s a marked improvement over the more problematic 2014 film, which has not aged very well over the years. Dougherty at least treats these legends of the screen with the iconography and respect they deserve. As a filmmaker, he understands they are the true stars of the film and treats them as such.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a fun monster clash movie. It features some exciting fights with classic Toho monsters re-envisioned with a gigantic budget. Some of the script and character elements could've used a bit more development or thought. But overall, Dougherty is a much more competent filmmaker and is up to the task than Gareth Edwards was for the first movie.