Michael Dougherty’s monster sequel delivers destruction and mayhem but is not without its flaws
Godzilla’s return to the screen back in 2014 was a triumph. Despite the titular monster being absent for almost 90% of the movie, Gareth Edwards successfully restored the King of the Kaiju to prominence and put monster movies back on the map. Its character-driven storyline opened a doorway to a shared MonsterVerse which quickly sought to refresh the greatest monster in cinematic history, the eighth wonder of the world, KING KONG.
Fast forward to 2019, and director Michael Dougherty has been tasked with not only continuing the legacy and delivering an action-packed sequel to Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island, but also in establishing a platform for the biggest showdown in Hollywood history when Kong confronts Godzilla in 2020.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters | Warner Bros. Pictures
Despite being an avid Star Wars, Marvel and DC Comics super nerd, the classic monster movies of yesteryear hold a special place in my heart. Movies like King Kong (1933), Ray Harryhausen’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, 20 Million Miles to Earth, 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans and Godzilla are some of my favourite movies of all time. So, when Mike Dougherty was tasked with bringing a grander, more action-packed incarnation of Godzilla to the screen I was enthused. His work on Krampus, Superman Returns and X-Men 2 were impressive and the thought of him applying his passion to the MonsterVerse was an enticing prospect. But, passion alone does not a good movie make.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a bold step forward in terms of monster action and destructive mayhem, but for all its colossal posturing, the movie is betrayed by some very bizarre character flaws. From the outset, we are introduced to Dr Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), a brilliant Monarch funded palaeobotanist and creator of the Orca, a communication device attuned to the harmonic frequency of the Titans. Her quest is simple. She intends to use the Orca to open a line of communication with the growing number of Titans which have been slowly emerging from hibernation since 2014. Alongside her is her daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) an academically gifted 12-year-old who shares in her mother’s fascination of the Titans.
Of course, such a device would become a very valuable asset, especially to the mysterious and dangerous Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) and his throng of mercenaries who swiftly move to kidnap the mother and daughter duo. We soon discover his intentions for the device and delve deeper into Emma’s background, as well as the broken relationship she shares with her estranged husband, Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler). Mark is also a fellow scientist and has an equal share in the Orca’s creation until a tragedy split the family apart.
What follows is a race against time with Mark Russell being drafted back into the ranks of Monarch and tasked with the rescue of his family whilst helping to retrieve the Orca before Jonah can use it to awaken more cantankerous Titans. David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins return as their characters from the 2014 film and join the quest to save the world whilst political tensions mount between the US government and Monarch, an agency committed to reaffirming natures balance with the mighty Godzilla ordained as our overlord.
The rest of the cast is made up by Bradley Whitford, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ziyi Zhang and Thomas Middleditch, most of who perform well but they pale in comparison to the real stars of the show. The Kaiju. Where in Gareth Edwards’ original we only saw glimpses of the mighty monsters until the final fifteen minutes of the film, here we are treated to a prolonged look at the awe-inspiring monsters in all their glory, digitally rendered and presented to us in glorious high definition.
However, bigger isn’t always better.
Sadly, the movie is mired by a curious case of close-up fever. So much so, that when the monsters clash on the screen, the camera zooms in so close that you are barely able to comprehend the action as it unfolds. This is more prevalent on IMAX screens than traditional cinemascope and your proximity to the screen will play a part in your experience, so bear that in mind when you select your seats.
Back to the monsters themselves, and I was delighted by the new incarnations of King Ghidorah, Rodan and Mothra. All bring a signature voice to the movie and work tirelessly to pay homage to their original Toho incarnations whilst delivering a contemporary freshness that will tickle every cinemagoer. The monsters are bestowed with individualised roars which resonate through you at every turn and bring a sense of grandeur that was sorely missing from Edwards’ original movie. And leading the line is Godzilla. When the big guy roars, you feel it in every fibre of your being and the screen radiates with his mightiness, but on more than one occasion the story distances itself from Godzilla and allows Ghidorah to bask in the limelight. In fact, throughout the movie, you get the sense that the movie should have been called Ghidorah: King of the Monsters due to his overly generous screen time.
To say that these elements make King of the Monsters a failure would be untrue. In fact, Michael Dougherty has produced a perfectly acceptable movie worthy of taking its place in the MonsterVerse. His efforts have fashioned what will arguably be regarded as the best monster movie in the series to date and will propel the genre forward. That being said, it is not without its flaws. The motives of some of the characters are preposterous at times and the interplay between them is often degraded by stodgy one-liners and outdated anecdotes which make it hard to emotionally invest in their plight. In fact, the only characters spared this complaint are Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) and Alan Jonah (Charles Dance). All three bring their A-Game here and despite their overall lack of screen time both Bobby Brown and Dance deliver infectious performances which leave you wanting more as the credits roll.
The soundtrack score from Bear McCreary is acceptable but is far from a symphonic masterpiece, however, it does deliver the pulse-pounding intensity which was sorely missing from Alexandre Desplat’s less than stellar predecessor, and the inclusion of the original Godzilla theme is always a mark in the plus column. Sadly, what McCreary’s score is missing is a heroic theme worthy of the titular character.
In all honesty, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a breath-taking blockbuster. The movie boasts so many wonderful elements which have been lovingly installed by a seasoned writer/director who clearly has a passion for these behemoths and that is overly abundant on the screen. And yet, the dialogue between the human characters, particularly Bradley Whitford’s Dr Rick Stanton is often so muddled that you cannot see past its goofiness. My beloved King Kong is mentioned several times and is even depicted in several cutaway sequences but is otherwise omitted from proceedings. In the plus column, aside from the irksome close-up fever, the movie looks incredible. The imagery is vivid and crisp, the monsters are rendered to perfection and the sound is deliciously moving. The action is bold and packs a real punch, and the level of destruction is beyond anything seen in the series to date. Kyle Chandler performs admirably and both Millie Bobby Brown and Charles Dance both deliver wonderfully infectious performances which deserve notable praise.
It is these elements alone ensure that Godzilla: King of the Monsters will be a monumental commercial success. Overall, it is a summer blockbuster worthy of the title and it is a spectacle that delivers on so many fronts. Dougherty’s efforts deserve no less, and with KING KONG waiting in the wings to remind Godzilla who the real KING is, the future of the MonsterVerse looks very promising.
And in this universe…. KONG is KING!
Bring on Godzilla vs Kong!
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