There’s really no pleasing some people is there?
Back in 2014, Gareth Edwards launched a rebooted ‘Godzilla‘ film onto our screens. It completely wiped away the stain left by the 1998 version and tapped into the mythology and history of the creature right back to his inception in Japan. Godzilla was created to give the Japenese audience its own homegrown creature to cheer for in response to America’s ‘King Kong‘. Whereas the classic American film used stop motion animation to create the giant ape and his adversaries, the Japanese went for a man in a rubber suit. Not quite in the same league. But it worked. Godzilla became a sensation and he went on to appear in many movies over his lifetime in Japan. They did, however, have to sell it to an American audience and so, for its release in the U.S.A, a segment was filmed with acclaimed actor Raymond Burr in what relates to basically a cameo role but to bring in the audience not wanting to see a Japanese creature feature. And, again it worked.
Edwards’ film paid great homage to the Japanese original films by including references and knowing winks to its roots. And, to my mind was a great success. Not only did I love the references to Godzilla lore but Hollywood finally delivered a Godzilla movie I would be happy to pay and see. They designed the creature to perfection and bringing back his traditional ‘proper’ roar, sent me into raptures. Here he was, big as life and taking no prisoners. I was overjoyed. And when, near the climax of the film, his tail started to light up and go from its tip to his head, many people in the movie theatre couldn’t understand why I suddenly started fist thumping the armrest of my seat. Don’t you know? Don’t you understand? HE’S ABOUT TO USE ATOMIC BREATH! A classic Godzilla attack was about to be unleashed on an unsuspecting audience. And it was worth every penny of the admittance fee just to see it on the big screen.
Many people criticized the film for having too much human drama and not enough monsters. That the decision to keep Godzilla’s involvement in the film to only being in half of the film on the screen kept them from enjoying it. Excuse me? Did I hear you correctly? You’re not happy with the film because they didn’t show Godzilla too much? You’re not happy that the film, even though the title character is a humongous monster, had a story to it? That it had a heart under the special effects? That it’s about man vs nature? I remember a film that took the almost exact same approach, where the creature of the title was kept to a minimum on screen and the human angle was played up to almost the same effect. Where again it was man vs nature. What was the name of that film again? Oh, that’s right. It was called JAWS! Jaws took the exact same approach and was lauded as one of the greatest films of all time.
Ok, Godzilla wasn’t in the same league as Jaws, not by a long shot but you can understand what I mean. By taking the less is more approach, Edwards crafted a film that was enjoyable and thoroughly entertaining. And it did the property justice finally, showing that with a bit of common sense and by doing the research, Hollywood could make a decent Godzilla film that not only appeased the hardcore fans, not only entertain the masses but was enjoyed and appreciated in the land of the creature’s birth, Japan.
Now, five years later, we have the sequel, ‘Godzilla: King Of The Monsters‘. And what is the criticism I hear straight away? Too much monster, not enough human drama. Oh boy, you really can’t please some people. Although to be fair, the human drama isn’t that much to be concerned about really anyway. This time around, the human story just bumbles along half-heartedly. And that’s a shame because it could have been so much more and that much better if the writers hadn’t gone down the old classic ‘Throw everything at the wall, see what sticks and we will put that into the movie’ approach. What we do have is an extremely flawed but entertaining film nonetheless. We’ve come to see monsters kicking ass and we get enough of that, believe me. The film could be forgiven for that part alone. What it CAN’T be forgiven for is stealing ideas from other movies and putting them into their own. Watch the film and you’ll get a jumble of bits and pieces from Independence Day: Resurgence, Alien Vs Predator, Transformers, Battleship, The Avengers movies, Aquaman, The Land That Time Forgot, Jurassic World and John Carpenter’s The Thing. In fact, one of the famous and classic lines from that film has been lifted and spoken by a character halfway through the film (You’ll know which one, as it’s the only F word uttered during proceedings). The supposed to be shocking twist and turns are laughable in their stupidity. Yes, the villains do make a solid point, one that’s worth considering but it’s again been lifted from Avengers: Infinity War‘s storyline. And that film handled it so much better than this one does.
The film opens with a flashback to 2014. Dr Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), his wife Dr Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and their young daughter Madison (Alexandra Rabe) are desperately searching for their oldest child, Andrew among the ruins of San Francisco during the battle between Godzilla and the MUTO’s at the climax of the previous film. They are unsuccessful in their efforts. As they continue their search, Godzilla emerges from the ruins after his victory and strides past them on his way back to the sea, an event the family desperately watches. We now move forward five years. The Russells have divorced. Mark’s grief at the death of his son led to him becoming addicted to alcohol and the family is now apart. Emma now lives in Southern China, on a Monarch expedition reserve with Madison (Now played by Millie Bobby Brown, easily the best acting performance in the film). An earth tremor shakes the complex, leading mother and daughter to run to the excavation site. A creature, long dormant and under watch and investigation has awakened and is attempting to free itself. As they watch, the creature emerges from its cocoon. It’s Mothra, another classic creature from the Godzilla universe.
As the site’s guards aim their weapons at her, she becomes afraid and attacks them. Emma has been designing a device that can communicate with the emerging creatures. The device is named ‘Orca’. Yes, the writers even went there with a reference to the boat from ‘Jaws‘. Emma enters the chamber containing Mothra and sets up her device, managing to communicate with her and calming her down. Her device is a success. The facility is then attacked by British commando turned Eco-Terrorist Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) and his team. All the scientists and security personnel are gunned down without mercy with the exception of Emma and Madison, who are taken captive.
Back in the United States, Monarch scientists Dr Ishiro Serizawa and Dr Vivienne Graham (Played once again by the fantastic returning Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins) are testifying in front of a Congressional inquiry regarding the emergence of new creatures, Monarch’s covering up of its sites and containment procedures and the disappearance of Godzilla five years ago after San Francisco. As they are speaking, they get word that the China facility has been attacked and Emma and Madison abducted. Contacting Mark Russell, they move to Monarch’s oil rig base where unbeknown to anyone, they are monitoring Godzilla. Godzilla is showing aggressive behaviour, not at the watching scientists but at an unknown event somewhere in the world. He suddenly launches himself on a journey that the scientists must follow him on.
In Antartica, another Monarch facility is attacked. This facility is housing the deadly creature known as ‘King Ghidorah’, Godzilla’s ultimate enemy, a three-headed Hydra-like creature with a huge wingspan to match. As the Monarch scientists and their military escort race to Antartica, Ghidorah is released and the real human villain of the piece is revealed. As Ghidorah attacks the scientists and military while Jonah and his team escape, Godzilla makes his presence known and has his first battle with the Hydra. After Ghidorah manages to escape, the race is on to stop him before he creates worldwide devastation. And then in Mexico, another creature, the Firebird ‘Rodan’ escapes from his volcanic prison, entering the fray making it an epic monster smackdown for the ages in prospect
Let’s not beat around the bush. The monsters are the stars of the show here and they don’t disappoint us. Ghidorah’s three heads spewing huge bolts of lightning, the huge wings and firepower of Rodan causing devastation wherever he chooses (His flying above the village in Mexico and the resulting destruction he causes just by flying is impressive) and Godzilla’s fighting prowess and atomic breath are all on show and hold us in amazement and awe. The effects are top notch and are totally believable. We can believe we could see a giant moth descending from the skies. We can believe we may see a Hydra fighting with what is essentially a giant lizard with a huge firebreathing bird circling overhead. And we can believe the destruction they leave in their wake. The film is almost like an apocalyptic look at what we have created for ourselves. Ok, the creatures are mentioned as being here and dominating our planet long before we appeared but our actions with nuclear testing and the like have contributed to our downfall at the claws and teeth of these titans. And that’s without an appearance from King Kong himself (He does make kind of an appearance via footage taken from Kong: Skull Island and a mid-credits cave painting). The film does contain an environmental message beneath all the mayhem.
The humans, with the exception of Millie Bobby Brown, are not so fortunate. Kyle Chandler tries hard as the all American action hero with a brain but the script fails all his efforts. I could buy into the desperate father trying to save his child act but he ends up coming across as one dimensional. Vera Farmiga too doesn’t fare much better. As an actress, Farmiga is exemplary but again, she is let down by a muddled script that at first makes her character interesting before succumbing to a tired, well-trodden path and arc her character goes on. The supporting cast is, in reality, only window dressing and there just to fill out the spaces needed. And Charles Dance, I’m sorry but for such a well refined and enjoyable actor, his performance is ‘Last Action Hero‘ bad. And I mean that. For such a nasty, evil villain on paper, he appears to be made of cardboard. He doesn’t phone his performance in, he seems to just fax it as he couldn’t be bothered to lift the handset to dial.
The actors I feel sorry for are Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins. Both are highly acclaimed. Both have been Oscar-nominated in the past. And yet both are reduced to minor and unthankful roles. Yes, they are returning from the original film but in 2014, they played a significant part. Here they are just used as disposable links to the previous events. Both are brought back as continuity but, just like Independence Day: Resurgence, they are…
I mean it-don’t go any further if you don’t want to know!!
Still with me? Ok.
Both are brought back just to be killed off during the events of the film. Hawkins’ death is totally meaningless in the context of the story. One minute she’s on screen, the next, she’s killed off stupidly. Wholly annoying. Watanabe’s death DOES actually have meaning and context and is essential to the film’s storyline in the events to come but both are working thankless tasks. Both deserve better resolutions to their storylines and both deserve a better script.
Some of the camera work is extremely shaky and leaves you confused about what is actually going on during the fight and battle scenes. The camerawork jerks all over the place and takes you out of the film at times. You can’t have that in a film like this. You need to see what’s going on, to be invested on what’s being shown on screen. Here, one minute you’re invested in the film, the next you’re jerked out of it, leaving you confused and wondering what you’ve just missed. Adding to the fact is Bear McCready’s uninspired score. Yes, he did impress me slightly by using the classic Godzilla and Mothra themes but mostly his score would be better suited to a TV movie, one where the special effects budget is $250 and totally forgettable.
The main fault has to lie at the feet of Director and co-writer Michael Dougherty. His direction is adequate without being exemplary but his screenplay alongside Zach Shields leaves a lot to be desired. The action scenes are exciting, the monster battles are worth the price of admission but the story is lazy and half-hearted. And that’s a shame. Dougherty usually supplies and serves up exemplary work but here he seems out of his depth. He has done his research into the lore of the creatures to his credit but the way it’s applied leaves a lot to be desired. And he leaves his title character, the one whose name adorns the film, benched for just under half the film, focussing more on Ghidorah and Rodan than Godzilla. I was looking at this film to be one of the best films of the year. Perhaps my expectations were too high following 2014’s reboot. The film is well-meaning and, don’t get me wrong, is totally worth seeing just for the creatures alone. Young children and Toho enthusiasts will have a blast with the movie as will the undemanding audience member. They will marvel at the spectacle on the screen and young children will fall in love with Mothra, that’s a given. But the rest of the audience will find holes and problems after the first ten minutes.
If the first film was a teaser trailer for what’s to come, then this film is the first trailer. The teaser raises you’re expectations and hopes and the first trailer is less impressive. To put it bluntly, this film is a trailer for next summer’s ‘Godzilla VS Kong‘. As a taster for what we will see next summer, ‘Godzilla: King Of The Monsters‘ is enjoyable enough and raises hopes for what should be the ultimate smackdown and showdown between the cinema’s two best ever creatures. The after credit stinger gives us a small taste of what we may be in for next March 13th. I only hope it is a considerable improvement on this film. While not being terrible or unworthy, what should have been a summer blockbuster highlight is, in reality, a slightly above average film. Without Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe and the creatures to save it, the film would be no better than a direct to DVD movie. And that in itself, would be a tragedy that even the king of the monsters couldn’t come back from. He deserves better.
As I said before, there’s no pleasing some people. This time around, I happen to be one of them.
My Rating: 6/10
Until next time.
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Carl Roberts is a Senior Entertainment/Books and Literature Correspondent for The Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force frequently!