GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019)

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So, following up from Godzilla (2014) and Kong: Skull Island (2017), we have the latest from Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat, Krampus), Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

Godzilla: King of Monsters is it’s own film, not really tying too much into Godzilla (2014), but there are echoes of the original 1954 film in this film that I liked. The original film’s ideas tie into the new film, with an updated version of an old character, Ishiro Serizawa, who’s seen many iterations of his character since 1954. The character Ishiro Serizawa was both named after the original director of the 1954 Godzilla (Ishiro Honda) and the original character that kills Godzilla in the 1954 version, Daisuke Serizawa.

Godzilla: King of Monsters, opens with a monster you’d maybe least expect. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga, Captive State, The Orphan), paleobiologist, is working hard with her Monarch team on communicating with a monster in a huge underground lab. This is called a “Titan” by the characters in the film. To the awe of her twelve-year-old daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown, Stranger Things) who is there with her, the giant larvae they are studying and communicating with begins to give birth. Madison cheekily names it “Mothra”.

The device they are using to communicate with it is the ORCA. The ORCA is a small, probably very expensive, machine about the size of a turntable. It’s capable of emitting frequencies that attract, or change, the behavior of Titans. Before Russell’s group can celebrate their victory of successful communication, a band of eco-terrorists, led by Alan Jonah (Charles Dance, Game of Thrones), attacks the facility. In the chaos, they shoot everyone and kidnap both Emma and Madison. Mothra luckily escapes.

Next, we meet Monarch scientists Drs. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe, Godzilla) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins, Godzilla, The Shape Of Water). They visit Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler, Game Night) at home. Mark is an animal behavior analyst, and Madison’s father and Dr. Emma Russell’s ex-husband. In visiting Mark, Serizawa and Graham hope to find out where Madison and Emma have gone. But Mark, who is divorced from Emma, and only talks to his daughter Madison occasionally through email, doesn’t have any better idea of how to find them.

When Godzilla attacked San Francisco (in the 2014 film), Madison’s younger brother Andrew was killed, giving Mark some PTSD. Mark doesn’t like the idea of tracking down Godzilla, but his daughter and ex-wife’s lives are on the line. He quickly decides to accompany the Monarch team to where Godzilla was last seen, and then they track Godzilla to Antarctica.

Once in Antarctica, Mark finally reaches Emma and Madison. When he does, with Jonah’s men breathing down his neck in the ensuing confrontation, Emma does something crazy. Knowing full well that Ghidorah, or Monster Zero, is trapped in ice, but having her own crazy plan in mind, Emma presses a button on a detonator that will bomb the ice and release… King Ghidorah.

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Godzilla: King of the Monsters, has been, in my opinion, a bit unfairly criticized for having thin storylines in the film, and having underdeveloped characters. Having so many amazing monsters, like Rodan, King Ghidorah, Mothra, Godzilla, and even cameos of the monsters from the other films, appear in the film was amazing to me. And they were able to give each monster ample screen time.

It’s unfortunate that anyone would feel this way about Godzilla: King Of The Monsters. The movie lays out the relationships between the monsters in a very compact, concise way. Even if I am not well-versed in the Mothra or Ghidorah lore, I liked the adaptions this movie made of old characters that have been present throughout the lore (such as Dr. Serizawa and the twins Drs. Ilene/Ling Chen). I’m looking forward to what they will do with these characters in future films.

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But Godzilla’s allies and adversaries are important, too. I loved Mothra and her introduction. The efficient way that the human cast personified Godzilla and Mothra quickly gave me context. Also, there’s Rodan, whose name was taken from Pteranodan, the prehistoric dinosaur. And Ghidorah, the three-headed dragon, called Monster Zero for a good portion of the film. The monsters were fast, loud, sinister, and there were some insanely good fight scenes.

It’s tough to tackle a movie that has so much lore behind it. I was always primarily interested in Godzilla. But having good pacing in the film allowed them to open up the plot a bit more. The man vs. nature thing is always going to be a discussed concept, as long as mankind survives. The cool part was having Godzilla be, for now, on the side of mankind.

As far as casting goes, Godzilla: King Of The Monsters is not too star-studded but just so. Vera Farmiga is pretty average in this film, and same with Kyle Chandler, with neither of their characters really having much to do. Millie Bobby Brown is adorable but not too cute, her character Madison still makes the decisions of a regular preteen kid, and that was neat to watch to see how it would affect the film’s events. I really liked Dr. Ilene Chen (Zhang Ziyi, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Cloverfield Paradox) in her role, as she was knowledgeable not just about Mothra, but Ghidorah’s awakening as well.

There are some fan theories that with how knowledgeable she is about Mothra, that she and her twin sister Dr. Ling Chen (also played by Ziyi) will be something like “Mothra’s fairies”. Ken Watanabe is excellent in his role. With a nicely sized, well-chosen cast, I was able to quickly grasp the scope and size of the film, and of the battles between the monsters. Godzilla: King Of The Monsters was well-named and worked with the overall theme of the movie, showing how kickass Godzilla is.

I liked the setting of the final fights in Boston, it felt like Godzilla: King Of The Monsters was trying to stick it a little bit to the infamous Matthew Broderick Godzilla film from 2000, set in New York. It probably wasn’t, but it proved that anything New York can do, little Boston can do it just a little bit better. The Paul Revere statue falling over in the fights in Boston Common gave me a laugh.

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The look of Godzilla was basically what I’ve become accustomed to, even if I thought Kong in Kong: Skull Island was a little bit more realistic. Maybe Kong’s easier to capture (no pun intended). Same basic first impression, though, with Godzilla here. But Godzilla’s look was definitely an area in which I felt it important the movie focus on. And they nailed just about every last inch of Godzilla’s look. The only thing that I didn’t enjoy about Godzilla’s look was the face. The face felt a little bit too chubby to me, and not as lean a look as what I’ve come to expect from Godzilla in recent years.

Godzilla: King Of The Monsters getting a full five stars would require more from Charles Dance being the villain, more screen time and more nefarious planning. He was Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones, after all. And a less chubby-faced Godzilla would have been more menacing. But regardless, there was lots to like about this movie.

The best part is that Godzilla: King Of The Monsters didn’t try to cram all of the stories into one movie. It worked because they took their time with the story and blew my mind in the process. And moreover, it is a movie, by the people, for the people, about the…monsters. I don’t care about human drama, I want as little of it as possible in my monster movie. And they did a good job in this aspect. Spirit me away to a pyramid in China, or to the middle of the ocean. I don’t care how we got there. All I care about is finding Godzilla so he can wreck stuff.

Godzilla: King Of The Monsters is destroying homes right now at a theatre near you. He will destroy your home last. 🙂

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