A film review by Craig J. Koban June 6, 2019

GODZILLA: 

KING OF THE MONSTERS jj

2019, PG-13, 132 mins.

 

Kyle Chandler as Mark Russell  /  Vera Farmiga as Emma Russell  /  Millie Bobby Brown as Madison Russell  /  Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa  /  Sally Hawkins as Dr. Vivienne Graham  /  Bradley Whitford as Dr. Stanton  /  Charles Dance as Jonah Alan  /  Zhang Ziyi as Dr. Chen  /  O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Warrent Officer Barnes

Directed by Michael Dougherty  /  Written by Dougherty and Zach Shields

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS - the third film in Legendary Pictures' self anointed  "MonsterVerse" - is pure and unapologetic creature mayhem and city destruction pornography.  

It comes off of director Gareth Edwards' underrated cinematic universe starting installment, and this new sequel is a bigger, louder, and most definitely dumber sequel to that 2014 entry.  GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS also feels like it's attempting to cram in about five films worth of mythology into one story, which makes the resulting enterprise feel too bloated and overstuffed.  Yet, on a level of pure spectacle and bravura technical craft, the film wholeheartedly delivers; it's silly blockbuster fun, despite some laughable and frequently nonsensical scripting. 

I greatly enjoyed Edwards' take on re-imagining Toho's most cherished creation (and I find that the film gets better with repeated viewings), but many audience members and critics alike cried a resounding - and somewhat unfair - foul for Edwards' creative choices in visually holding back on Godzilla's battles with equally large, skyscraper sized monsters.  I personally found his slow-burn and refreshingly restrained approach in that film - which focused on a ground zero/human perspective of the monster fights - built to huge and satisfying crescendos in the final act.  Still, with Edwards gone for the sequel and the studio listening to many of the complaints about his aesthetic choices, GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS doesn't really hold anything back.  Like KONG: SKULL ISLAND (the middle film in this current trilogy), this GODZILLA sequel cranks the on-screen chaos up to level eleven and doesn't look back.  That will definitely appease those that thought that Edwards' efforts were too restrictive, but will also alienate those that found his work commendably reserved.    

 

 

You may recall in the last GODZILLA that the titular monster laid most of San Francisco to waste defending it against equally powerful and insurmountable creature foes.  We learn early on in this sequel that the devastation of this event has horrendously effected the lives of countless citizens, like paleobiologist Emma (Mia Farmiga), who lost her son during the battle of the Bay City and hasn't fully recovered.  It also caused huge problems with her relationship with her husband, Mark (Kyle Chanlder), and her daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), leading to the former leaving them both.  Flash forward to the present day and Emma works for Monarch, a top secret multi-national organization that tries to keeps tabs of all of the hibernating giant monsters ("Titans") that could re-awaken at any time and cause more problems. 

Emma has reached a breakthrough in communicating with these ancient beasts in terms of developing a complicated machine that can talk to them via specific sound frequencies.  Just as she's celebrating her scientific successes in this area, an evil colonel (Charles Dance) shows up and crashes her party with his own eco-terrorist agenda.  He wants to use Emma's device to wake all of the titans up to destroy the world for their environmental sins.  When Mark gets word of this he springs into action and joins forces with Monarch veteran Dr. Ishiro (Ken Watanabe) in hopes of globetrotting around the world to stop this vile colonel's plan once and for all...and in the process ensure that none of these titans ever come out of their centuries old slumber to destroy the planet.  Well - SPOILER ALERT! - Mark and his squad fail, and three Titans - Ghidorah, Rodan, and Mothra - escape, leaving Monarch desperate to find a dormant Godzilla to help save them again, who hasn't been seen for five years. 

The conceptual monster design work in this film is superb, and director Michael Dougherty (who previously helped pen some of the X-MEN films as well as directing KRAMPUS) and his art department shows great, joyous imagination he executing these classic Toho creations.  I especially liked the introduction of Mothra, shown early in a massive larvae stage before it matures into a surprisingly beautiful, yet frightening winged beast.  Then there's the three headed Ghidorah, which looks like THE HOBBIT's Smaug, except three times more hostile, large, and intimidating.  Like the 2014 GODZILLA, Dougherty understands the need to scale these monsters adjacent to the humans, and great pains have been made here to show them off in all of their gargantuan glory.  It's hard not to be taken in with giddy, childlike glee at the sight of these unfathomably large forces of nature. 

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS also understands why people want to see these types of movies, and no expense is spared whatsoever in showcasing its frequently awe inspiring smackdowns between Godzilla and these other dangerous titans.  The monster madness on display here is frenetic and packs a lot of bass heavy wallop (this is one of the most ear piercingly loud movies I've ever experienced in a cinema), usually all taking place in darkness and under heavy rainfall (this is one of the wettest films that I've ever seen in a cinema).  Now, that's a bit of a doubled edged sword in the sense that, yes, we get a ton of deeply satisfying kaiju fights and moments of sensational imagery, like the way Rodan deals with some pesky F-14 jets or the very first showdown between Godzilla and his much larger opponent in the multiple dragon headed Ghidorah.  The ferocity of these battles is extraordinary, but sometimes the scenes are so dimly lit and covered in such a distracting downpour of rain, not to mention being spastically edited to the point of making out basic choreography of the action rather challenging.  When will movies like this have the monsters fight in bight, sun drenched daylight? 

There's also a legitimate claim to be made that there's maybe too much being crammed into the film, and directly responding to the criticisms of the previous movie with unleashing orgies of beast violence in successive fashion is not entirely an improvement (there's less tension and build up this go around).  This is also an incredibly dull kind of talky expository film, featuring far too many scenes to count with scientists trying to explain convoluted mythology and summarize just what in the hell we are watching on screen.  Tone is pretty inconsistent across the map: Sometimes, GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS is as serious as a heart attack (thank God for Ken Watanabe for being one of the very few actors on the planet that could utter campy lines like "Admiral, we need to keep our faith in Godzilla!" with a straight faced solemnity), whereas other times we have characters (like Bradley Whitford's mostly insufferable Monarch scientist) cracking wise so aggressively they feel like they've been dropped in from a whole other film altogether.   

The human characters presented here are inexcusably bland and interchangeable cardboard cutouts.  Chandler, Farmiga, and especially Brown acclimate themselves nicely (the latter young STRANGER THINGS star arguably gives the most natural and effective performance of the lot considering how little the script does to develop her).  I like Watanabe considerably as an actor with a soft spoken gravitas, but he seems to exist in these films to provide shock reactions to the madness that's transpiring in these films only then to provide sermonizing explanations of said reactions.  Oddly weak is the typically stellar Charles Durance as his former British Special Forces vet turned terrorist that has become so radical that he wants to use the titans to punish humanity for them destroying the planet.  There's a kernel of an intriguing setup here, but Dance is given such woefully limited screen time that he barely comes off as a sizeable and threatening villain. 

Having said all of that, am I being a bit too obtuse when it comes to these films?  Perhaps.  People don't go to movies like GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS for thoughtful characters and an examination of their psyches; they go to see monsters fight, and as an amusement park like thrill ride this movie accomplishes its main end game.  It sure is schlockier than Edwards' GODZILLA, and the manner that it forcefully tries to shoehorn in six decades plus of GODZILLA mythos over the course of a couple of hours in an effort to placate its fanbase is admirable, yet a bit sloppy in implementation.  GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS is also relentlessly assaultive as a sensory experience on viewers, but not in a cynical and soulless manner.  I think my two and a half star review is a healthy compromise; it's a rating of modest affection, but with reservations.  If you want immense monster fights done on an epic scale not before seen, then this movie is for you and deserves big screen consumption.  

It's pretty good monster porn, but if you have sensitive ears bring plugs

 

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