Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Director: Michael Dougherty
Writer: Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields
Cast: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe, Zhang Ziyi
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 | Minutes: 132
Release Date: May 31, 2019
No matter how many times Godzilla is rebooted, the Kaiju is revered as one of the most iconic cinematic characters in history. And despite his lack of presence in the 2014 westernized telling, his fame remained as powerful as ever. Mostly because Godzilla is much more than a giant reptile destroying cities with his giant footsteps and atomic flames, but he serves as a reminder of the dangers of what could happen should human arrogance transcend nature. It’s a theme that continues to echo in each new telling, no matter the generation.
Now those themes come into the picture once more in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, in which man’s arrogance and inability to comprehend what they are unleashing is a reflection of the times that we live in today. And yet, even with those dark and very human themes, the sequel still remembers that it is a giant monster movie that sees Godzilla clash with rivals and nemeses like Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. Check out my full review below.
Set years after the 2014 film, the government zoological agency Monarch is attempting to ease Senate fears about attempting to control the Kaijus after what happened between Godzilla and the MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). While Godzilla has not been seen since then, a dangerous group of eco-terrorists led by Jonah Allen (Charles Dance) kidnap Dr. Emma Russel (Vera Farmiga) and Madison Russel (Millie Bobby Brown) so that they can use Dr. Russel’s “The Orca,” a device that allows the user to communicate with a Kaiju using bioharmonics.
Monarch then turns to Mark Russel (Kyle Chandler) in hopes that he can help them find “The Orca,” thereby rescuing his kidnapped family. But one of their missions ends in failure when Allen and Russel unleash King Ghidorah, a three-headed dragon with lightning-based powers who was in a deep icy slumber in the darkest parts of the Arctic. The two justify their actions as a way to curb humanity’s crimes against nature, which include over-population, pollution, and war. By awakening theses Kaijus, their monstrous destruction can be used as a “fever” to cure the human “infection.”
The events that transpire will lead Godzilla to collide with Ghidorah, Rodan, a Pteranodon that can breathe fire, and Mothra, a giant earth-based moth elemental. These four mythical Kaijus vie for supremacy, leaving humanity’s very existence hanging in the balance.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is the kind of film that knows what it is but still can ground itself while also expanding on the mythology. It has enough of those ’90s summer blockbuster movie vibes with giant monsters engaging in fights that cause all sorts of global destruction, which are then juxtaposed against the beauty and serenity of calming music and near-grounded science – this is a sequel with a three-headed dragon after all.
Of course, the scale of these battles is immense. Everything about the monsters and their fights needed to show how small, and possibly insignificant, humanity can be. Even the monster reveals are visually stunning pieces of work. There is a sense of peace, tranquility, and awe when Dr. Ling (Zhang Ziyi) sees Mothra open its wings from behind a giant waterfall. Contrast to the absolute feeling of terror as King Ghidorah perches over an inactive volcano and uses his powers to make it active so that he can release Rodan. Even watching Dr. Ilene Chen (also Zhang Ziyi) see Godzilla shooting a beam of atomic fire into the sky creates a feeling of helplessness as humans are powerless when it comes to even try to stop these Kaijus.
But it is only when these giant creatures fight amongst themselves for the glory of being called King of the Monsters that we fully understand why this film needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible. See, Godzilla or any one of these towering Kaijus cannot be contained to a small frame. It’s almost as if the film requires you to see it on the big screen to get the full effect and understanding of the size and scale.
This is especially true during a few key scenes. Like when Ghidorah constricts Godzilla during one of their fights and takes them to the ocean towards a giant storm. The scene is reminiscent of that of Mad Max: Fury Road when the title character was trying to outrun warboys. And once the climatic fight reaches Fenway Park, the film takes on a whole new feeling of giant monsters fighting for the crown.
The destruction in all of this is massive. Cities are leveled in an instant due to the storms that these monsters create. Entire landscapes are forever changed when some of them come out of hiding when Ghidorah comes calling. And giant skyscrapers are toppled when some of these Kaijus fight in major cities. And there is no sense in hiding them through a blanket of smoke or blur them with cloud cover. These monsters demand to be seen.
For the most part, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a step in the right direction. Co-writer and director Michael Dougherty takes a different approach in bringing the human element into a film about Kaijus by getting a lot of the exposition out of the way very early on. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it lacks a human touch. By doing this Dougherty and co-writer Zach Shields find a way to weave their story into fights between the four beasts.
The heart of the story is Mark Russel desperately trying to save his family at any cost. While the fate of humanity is clearly at stake, there are narrative pieces that help set the film’s pacing so that what you are seeing isn’t just mindless destruction. It does add a little depth to it so as to not make it an entire mindless piece of destruction. So scientists, played by Bradley Whitford and Thomas Middleditch, are tasked with providing the necessary exposition for our characters to help them achieve their goals.
But even the Kaijus themselves have some personality. Again, it comes down to the fact that King of the Monsters knows what it is about, and isn’t ashamed to let these monsters loose very early on. At the same time, humans recognize how powerless they are in the presence of these Kaijus, who have some deep backstories. Set pieces reveal these mythological creatures to be deified as gods long before the technological modernization of man. They act as an expansion of the larger mythology while also paying homage to cinematic predecessors.
And these Kaijus demand respect. Powerful but still lower tier Kaijus know when to bow down to the king. Their strength and presence don’t come anywhere near that of King Ghidorah. And yet, despite their very large and imposing existence, there is something very humanistic about these Kaijus, which we can see in the relationship between Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Godzilla.
One who is familiar with the Godzilla lore will immediately see all of the callbacks Dougherty intentionally put in. But the nods in this are more than that. They aren’t soulless pieces just thrown in there for the sake of being an Easter egg. They organically work themselves into the story and serve a purpose. Some even are updated to add a layer of believability and groundedness.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters gives exactly what the audience came in to see. There is no shortage of Kaiju vs Kaiju action, which has been dialed up to 11 since the 2014 version was released. And yet, the spirit of what Gareth Edwards built in the 2014 film is still very much there, especially in the humanistic stories.
One thing is for sure, this sequel absolutely crushes it, in more ways than one.