Movie Review: Godzilla – King of the Monsters.
Godzilla KotM improves on the formula of the first film in nearly every way, for good or ill.
WB/Legendary make a bold decision to double down on their take of Godzilla. The first film was flawed but fun in places – the human element was distracting but the monster fights were glorious. Rather than reinvent their formula, director Michael Dougherty (Krampus) opts for the nuclear option: make everything bigger, bolder, and, yes, crazier.
The story is a wild-eyed conspiracy theory fever dream while still being a family drama, and the film is jam packed with giant monsters stomping the globe. For fans of the first film, KotM will be a delight. For critics, it will be a turkey shoot. For those in the middle, its strengths mostly overcome its weaknesses to provide an enjoyable ride.
Godzilla – King of the Monsters (2019).
In the wake of Godzilla destroying San Francisco, a family of monster researchers have their life ripped apart. Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and her husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) are both employed by the shadowy Monarch organization, a para-governmental group led by Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), that studies and contains the emerging “titans” like Godzilla and King Kong. On site of the first major battle, they lose their son and traumatize their daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown). The family splits up, with Mark arguing that all monsters should be destroyed while Emma argues that they are the key to reversing human-caused degradation. Things come to a head when a group of eco terrorists kidnap Emma and Madison, and take a device that can coerce the titans out of hibernation – and into open conflict with each other.
Dougherty’s film makes no bones about its pedigree. In the face of criticism that the first film was squandered on a tacky family drama, we get…a tacky family drama, this time welded to every crazy-banana’s pseudo-scientific trope you can find. Atlantis. Bermuda. Ancient aliens. Every cryptozoological monster being 300 feet tall and real. Instead of downplaying the mytho-babble and human element, KotM amplifies it. The same goes for the decision to show most fights through a human surrogate viewpoint, with all of the low-angles, shaky cam, and sudden cuts from the action that this entails.
For all of that, King of the Monsters manages to take the same notes from the first film, turn the speakers up to eleven, and make it work.
Keep the Faith.
Along with plot and story telling elements that return, many of the best parts of the first Godzilla return as well. The monster design is fantastic, with Ghidorah being suitably fearsome and Mothra being unexpectedly gorgeous. The monster fights still feel a bit truncated, but they are much more frequent, frenetic, and exhilarating. The mixing of elements is better, making the pacing snappy and engaging.
Many of the visual techniques that impressed in the original are up-cycled here: we get the gorgeous “falling through the clouds into a hellscape” shot, with a wider focus and larger scale. The low angle shots of people fleeing while the battle happens are better framed and better integrated. You actually feel like the people are not only effected, but that the monsters notice them. The monster-calling macguffin closes the gap by making a plausible device for why the huge titans actually care about our human protagonists.
Viewer Discretion is Advised.
King of the Monsters is not for everybody. The story is ridiculous and requires either buying in early or just shutting that part of your brain off entirely. It’s not nearly as smart as Shin Godzilla. That being said, it’s not as outright silly as many of the early Toho storylines about galactic invaders or time-traveling monster wranglers. It’s crazy and incredible, but at least more consistent than the first film’s hand-waving “ancient protectors, balance nature, let them fight blah blah blah.”
There are still issues with most of the focus being on people instead of giant fighting monsters, though its improved. The orange and grey visuals can exhausting, but bright colors are sprinkled in to act as sorbet for weary eyes. The way the individual fights shake out may feel a bit contrived for those attached to canon or with a particular favorite kaiju, but it never feels ad hoc. The film has to contort itself a bit to accommodate the already announced Kong VS Godzilla film in production. Montage sequel baiting is always annoying, even in this “cinematic universe” dominated time.
Alright, NOW Let Them Fight!
At the end of the day, King of the Monsters was a vastly more enjoyable outing for Legendary’s Godzilla. The fights were better. The story was more interesting, if still loopy. The film is packed with tremendous talent, even if they mostly have to arm wrestle for meaningful screen time. The lore of the monsters is at least presented consistently, regardless of it being a bit silly. The pacing and cinematography are much improved, leading to an entertaining film even when it’s being ridiculous.
The film itself provides an apt metaphor for why this sequel works. Godzilla at one point gets a super-charge by having A NUCLEAR BOMB blown up in his face. King of the Monsters works along the same logic: if you want to overcome the difficulties of this franchise, don’t dial anything down. Blow the goddamn bomb up in your kisser and wait for the inexplicably super charged results.