For years now I have been perplexed by the fact that we have not had any good Godzilla films produced in the west. How hard can it be to screw up a movie about massive monsters bent on destroying each other while laying waste to the city? With a good production budget and consistent marketing a movie like that should be a massive summer blockbuster film and yet Hollywood’s treatment of the big guy has been dismal at best. To be fair, Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla seems to have a dedicated fan base and that is great but my issue with that film is that Godzilla does not have enough screen time. To me it felt like that movie was more about the humans than the titular monster.
This is why I was so excited last year when Warner Bros. showed a trailer for Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Not only do we get a new movie featuring the cute and cuddly giant lizard with the Atomic Breath, he will be sharing the big screen with a bunch of other titan monsters. It seems like sure a fire winner on paper. Did director and writer Michael Dougherty and Warner Bros. deliver this time? Well, …
This movie is a sequel to the 2014 Godzilla flick but the story is centered around the Russell family – an entirely new group of characters. In fact, there were only about three returning human characters as far as I could tell but they have smaller roles this time around. Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel, The Conjuring) plays Dr. Emma Russell, the mother of the family and creator of a device that allows humans to communicate with these gigantic monsters (dubbed Titans) appearing all over the Earth. Kyle Chandler (Bloodline) plays her husband, Mark, who fills in for the action hero role in the movie. Finally, Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things) plays as their daughter, Madison, though it feels as though her role was added to capitalize on her current star power. While not seen in the 2014 film, it seems that the Russels tragically lost a son during the events of that movie which prompts Emma to learn more about these creatures.
An attempt to harness the power of the Titans one at a time goes awry and several of the monsters are activated simultaneously which naturally leads to a power struggle between Godzilla – the current King of the Monsters – and his hated nemesis, Ghidorah. Yes, the plot of the movie ultimately hinges on one of these two mighty beasts becoming the Alpha – the King of the Monsters, if you will.
For the most part, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is an enjoyable ride when it is about the monsters battling each other. It is the human element that drags the film down albeit only slightly. This is largely due to the fact that the humans have a tendency to complicate things for Godzilla but also because they largely exist to explain to us what is happening with the monsters. An old rule of filmmaking is “show, don’t tell”. That is a lesson largely forgotten by the writers and director of this movie.
All of the actors in this movie turn in adequate performances. I tend to be a little more forgiving for performers in science fiction movies as they are often acting against special effects that they cannot see at the time of the filming. Vera Farmiga does well enough as Emma Russell but at times seems strangely subdued even though her character serves as something of an antagonist for the family. She is capable of more as evidenced by her work in The Conjuring series. Millie Bobby Brown is the highlight of the trio playing the Russel family and turns in a remarkably strong performance given that she was about fourteen years old during filming. Of all the actors, she brings the most humanity to the story.
The visuals are where Godzilla: King of the Monsters falls a little short. Do not get me wrong – the sets are detailed and the futuristic vessels used by the humans look like high tech ships that could be available in the near future. The monsters have delightfully updated designs but there are precious few moments in the movie when we can sit back and admire the detail of these creatures. Just about every time a monster is on screen it is either night time, under water, there is smoke everywhere or there is some kind of atmospheric interference that obscures its body. I do not know if this was intentional – perhaps to hide the detail of the CGI models in the age of 4K and 8K television screens. It just gets a bit dreary to look at over time. Mothra’s grand reveal was done behind waterfalls. Some monsters spend almost all of their screen time being seen through video monitors on the set which has a distorted quality. I don’t think this is a bad looking film by any means but there are no monster battles that show off these magnificent titans in all of their scaly glory on a clear day.
While the plot can be a little ham-fisted and the film is downright dreary to watch at times, Godzilla: King of the Monsters has a lot of fun moments for fans of monster films. It is certainly the best Western Godzilla film ever made.