Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Story by Max Borenstein, Michael Dougherty, & Zach Shields
Screenplay by Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields
Directed by Michael Dougherty
Roaring into theaters is Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the follow up to 2014’s American Godzilla that stays in the same universe but ditches most of the cast. It’s now a few years later, the world knows about monsters, and the Monarch group is besieged by people who want to kill the monsters and people who want to set them all free.
This film is in theaters as I publish this, but it’s the kind of movie that is easy to classify. If you loved the first one, you will love this. If you love giant monsters fighting each other but were disappointed by the lack of monsters in the first one, you’ll probably love this one, as there is lots of monster action. If you want a movie with a good story and don’t care about giant monsters, go see Booksmart or something. Godzilla and other monsters smash stuff up! The humans do questionable things in between being boring! It’s a couple of allegories, some more intentional than others. No reason to get all worked up at the RottenTomatoes score like some people were, this isn’t a movie for everyone, it’s a movie for people who like giant monsters smashing things!
And everything after this paragraph is…..
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS!!!!!!!
The monster fights are top notch monster fighting, the best we’ve ever gotten in a big budget Hollywood flick and the kind of fights Godzilla fans dream about. As if to quash complaints about the original, they take place in full view from the get go. They do make references to the original during the final act, as the main characters on the ground allow for lots of debris falling scenes that people must dodge as titans battle above them. I thought that was a great way to both reference the prequel while making this film distinct enough it didn’t need to copy the disaster styles.
King of the Monster is also packed with references to original movies, but usually built into the script organically enough that they made them their own thing. Rodan emerging from a volcano and having fire powers spanned the entire history of the character. Godzilla going nuclear with glowing red skin, the oxygen destroyer weapon, twins, the stinger scene with the head of King Ghidorah that everyone is assuming means Mecha-King Ghidorah is coming, and even King Ghidorah being an alien invader are all fun callbacks that stood on their own. I don’t know if that was Seatopia or Mu or Atlantis (if so, it would be Namor’s Atlantis, as we all know Godzilla belongs to Marvel!) that was the undersea kingdom, but weird world-building stuff like that is my jam, even if it makes no sense and they then completely destroy it with a nuclear blast. Hopefully there are other Seatopia temples lying around in the Earth’s core.
The plot for King of the Monsters begins in the ruins of Godzilla, a family that lost one of their children to the destruction. This further destroys the family, as the father turns to drinking and soon becomes estranged, while the mother lives with the surviving daughter and works with the Kaiju group Monarch. Terrorists attack to get a hold of technology she developed that allow basic control of kaiju behavior, but soon we learn that the entire scenario was orchestrated by her to unleash more monsters to help reboot the planet. Kaiju as Infinity Stones, if you will. Or more likely, someone had Malthusian Dragon on their mind when they saw a picture of King Ghidorah. King of the Monsters is basically a disaster movie where the monsters are the disaster.
It’s not shocking to see all the parallels to climate change baked into the film. King Ghidorah appears as a gigantic hurricane on the global radar map the Monarch team uses, and later when all the kaiju are unleashed the map comes alive looking like destructive weather across the globe. Sure, the winds aren’t winds but instead monster fists, but the destruction is the same and soon people are fleeing and the death count is rising. The parents are destroying the planet, unleashing monsters of destruction, but do not fear. For just as the child in the movie escapes to free the monsters from being controlled so they can fight it out, the children of the world are taking climate change seriously and setting up their own protests and movements to try to save our Earth from its destruction by their lazy and selfish elder generations.
Outside of a brief mention in the congressional hearings and a terrorist using it as justification, the closing credits drive hard that the radiation from the monsters spur renewed growth for the areas that are devastated. We see photos of what might be an abandoned San Francisco overrun by plant growth. The credits claim monster radiation renew the Great Barrier Reef and other ecological problems. And no worries about the monsters rampaging too much, Godzilla beats them up if they do. This is magical movie radiation, as what would really be happening is everyone dying either very quickly or slowly as their bodies fill with tumors. They even mention in the film that there is too much radiation in one area and poor Serizawa is sent off to sacrifice himself. I wonder if the worldwide radiation thing will be addressed in future installments.
The film begins straight out of Batman v Superman, with the main character screaming in a city being destroyed by super beings battling it out. It continues to crib from BvS with congressional hearing scenes, but luckily no one puts a jar of pee on the bench and blows up the building. It appears they just visually borrowed some scenes to hurry along the plot they wanted set up and then switched to borrowing from other films as needed. Aside from the motivation of Emma Russell’s heel turn, there are no consequences for actions from the prior film, and especially none that causes the heroes to battle each other. Outside of the terrorists massacring civilians, most of the fighting is against monsters or just monster vs monster.
It’s good the monster battling is so fantastic, because the human stuff is bad. Very bad. Honestly, my biggest problem isn’t with Kyle Chandler’s Mark Russell character, but it’s the fact the script decides that since he is the lead he needs to have all the glory at the expense of everyone else. I love Kyle Chandler, I’ve loved him since he was Early Edition (a criminally underrated show!), I loved him in Tour of Duty (yes I watched tv shows about ‘Nam as a wee tot), I even loved him in 2005’s King Kong. Everyone loves him, the problem is the film didn’t believe that people would love the character, so they had to make him the best at everything. He comes up with all the ideas despite there being a whole team of experts, and then explains each one to Serizawa who doesn’t seem to understand why but then instantly lets him do it. This is despite his character running off with a gun and disobeying orders, causing an already troubled mission to go even more off course.
Maybe I wanted more of a Science Patrol than the white guy coming in to replace all the characters from the first film we are killing off (what is this, Pacific Rim 2?) That would work great, as you could combine all the military and science supporting characters to cut down the cast members and give them actual personalities. Hey, cool, Zhang Ziyi has a twin and comes from a long line of kaiju fans, but she’s usually just there and only gets increased lines when Mothra shows up. Maybe give her a history with Charles Dance’s terrorist character so he’s not just a big enigma?
I don’t even know what to say about the bowing scene. It’s like what I expect scenes from that live-action Lion King will look like. Of the new monsters, the one with the giant tusks was the most visually interesting, though the big spider was also cool. There is another big lizard and a new MUTO too, but they didn’t stand out too much. Most of the other monsters were just implied, probably so they could be used for sequels without locking them in. King Kong did not make an appearance outside of archive footage, but the end credits basically spelled it out for us that Skull Island was where everyone was headed next, and since that is where the movie series is also happening with Godzilla vs. King Kong, we shall soon see if Kong will be bowing, of if Big G will have to bend the knee. At this point, anything could happen…
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