No monster in movie history sparks more of the imagination than Godzilla. The booming footfalls. The iconic roar. Godzilla is King of all monsters.
This article contains plot points for Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
In the wake of World War II, a new threat had emerged that would change society and national relations forever; the atomic bomb. Out of this modern age, Japan, recovering from two atomic bomb attacks, used its experience to create a film to tell their story. Godzilla (1954) would serve as a cautionary tale—governments were now in possession of a weapon that could lay waste to entire cities, but were the consequences of such an attack being seriously considered? Toho Studios had one theory. What if a nuclear blast awoke a monster thought long extinct, only for it to return and reign havoc and destruction over the entire population of Tokyo or the world? Six decades later, the Godzilla franchise is still roaring right along, reaching 35 movies with the release of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, directed and written by Michael Doherty (Krampus). It’s by far the longest film franchise in movie history.
Despite its dire origins, Godzilla was initially geared towards younger viewers, the campy nature of some of the first movies is evident of that. And because of its campy-ness; was spared any harsh critique. Sometimes reviews of any kind can be overly critical about things that don’t matter. Society has become a culture of film critics. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is not a movie that deserves to be, nor should it be viewed as anything but a popcorn flick for pure movie enjoyment. Moviegoers don’t go to see Godzilla for the Academy award-winning acting or the captivating dialogue. No, they go to see the monsters duke it out while they destroy cities and crush the puny humans. Regardless, the acting is not good. There is something about Kyle Chandler as Mark Russell, animal behavior and communications specialist, that screams I’m trying to act, but nothing is happening! There is just no heart there. The emotion may be present, the facial expressions are there…sort of, but nothing comes out. It’s like that 5-year-old in karate class that so desperately wants to break a board in half but can’t muster up enough strength to do more than move the instructor’s hands.
Chandler wasn’t the only one who had trouble conveying any real emotions; in fact, no one in the cast stood out as having a strong performance. It may be heresy to criticize anything Millie Bobby Brown does since her debut on Stranger Things, but unfortunately, she is another victim of a weak script. How many times does she need to say the names of the monsters to herself as they first appear? It’s done to keep the audience apprised of who’s who. However, it’s too on the nose. Movies do this way too many times. How hard is it for that information to be revealed more naturally in the script? It’s incredibly frustrating. Why not break the fourth wall and address the audience Deadpool-style and say hey everyone this is Mothra and that over there is Ghidora.
Again, looking at any Godzilla movie (and they are movies, not films) through that lens is doing the franchise a disservice. Remember, that’s not why the franchise has lasted for so long. The monsters are incredibly well done. Godzilla, the monster, has come a long way from a man in a suit stomping on miniature cities and tanks. Godzilla is terrifying! There is a sense throughout the movie that Godzilla could either crush/eat anyone he pleases, or turn away. It is the not knowing if he is the friend or enemy that keeps audiences tense. And that roar. That oh so famous roar that is so instantly recognizable. What started as a leather glove coated in pine-tar rubbed on a string of a double-bass violin, played back at slow speed, is now an overpowering screech that will make audiences jump when least expected. Godzilla demands respect, and he will get it. After all, he is the king.
Much like the acting and the dialogue, the story is subpar. The story centers around a device, called ORCA, which is used to calm the monsters or kaiju, and to keep them at bay. The ORCA is initially in possession of Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farminga), a paleobiologist working for Monarch, a crypto-zoological organization that tracks, and examines Titans (Titans = monsters) with a history of environmental activism. She and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) are on an expedition in China when they are taken hostage by an eco-terrorist group led by Alan Jonah (Charles Dance). Russell (Farminga) appears to have teamed up with Jonah while keeping her daughter in the dark. Russell and Jonah both agree to right the destruction humans have caused over their rule, by releasing the Titans and letting them naturally destroy the world so that life can grow back as it should. They also believe that humans and the Titans need to learn to coexist peacefully. Calling the monsters Titans is unnecessary and confusing; it brings to mind another film (Remember the Titans). They’re monsters, call them monsters.
What the original Godzilla movies always did well was make the audience feel pity for the monsters, and that continues here. After their first battle, Godzilla all but appeared defeated (years of Godzilla movies have followed this same arc). Ghidorah (called King Ghidorah for a time) reigns as temporary king with the remaining fifteen or so Titans following his commands very much like a pack leader. And so for a second, it appears the title of the movie is a misdirection. But no, by the end of the film it is crystal clear who the king is. It’s quick, but there is a Kong sighting albeit over his back shoulder and from a distance.
Considering how campy the Godzilla franchise was in the 60s and 70s, it’s easy to accept how naivė the characters were. Folks stood around watching the monsters approach until they were ants underneath the boot of the kaiju. It was a simpler time. Society has since gotten more sophisticated, but folks still get caught standing around watching while Rodan burns Mexico to a crisp. No problem.
Easter eggs littered Godzilla: King of the Monsters throughout the movie. Godzilla going thermonuclear was a reference to a scene in Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995) when a group of scientists had to figure out how to keep Godzilla from becoming a nuclear meltdown. And Jonah discovering the head of Ghidorah in the after credits scene could be a reference Mecha-King Ghidorah first seen in Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah, (1991).
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is an enjoyable movie as long as the monsters are the main attraction. Hats off to Bear McCreary for referencing original music composed by Akira Ifukube—no other film franchise sounds like Godzilla. The mix of impending doom with traditional Japanese music is classic. The effects are beautiful to watch; they have never looked so real to the touch. Real enough that when Ghidorah or Godzilla came in for a close-up, movie or not, it was tangible. Witnessing Godzilla become a walking Chernobyl was enough to cheer for some monster butt-kicking, which is what it’s all about. See Godzilla: King of the Monsters, buy a large popcorn and a soda pop and have a good time.