REVIEW: Godzilla: King of the Monsters [2019]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 132 minutes | Release Date: May 31st, 2019 (USA)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director(s): Michael Dougherty
Writer(s): Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields /
Max Borenstein and Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields (story)

“This will not bring him back to us”

Here’s the thing. Godzilla vs. Kong was announced way back in 2015—a year after Godzilla released and two before Kong: Skull Island. Warner Bros. wasn’t taking their time rolling out the MonsterVerse and thus guaranteed we knew the big bad reptile and big bad mammal would eventually square off. So with a writers’ room formed in 2016 to get everyone on the same page as far as how and why that titanic fight would manifest, Godzilla: King of the Monsters was always destined to be a stop-gap from the start. Give us our anti-hero (Godzilla), tease us with MUTOs, take us into the jungle to recognize our idea of “monsters” might have grown out of our fear of relinquishing control, and then rip Pandora’s Box open.

That’s what the studio tasked Michael Dougherty to do and that’s exactly what he and co-writer Zach Shields delivered. He did more than just introduce a slew of new creatures, though (Mothra, Rodan, Ghidorah, and many more in brief glimpses shown wreaking havoc upon the place where they had been dormant for centuries). He also did an excellent job marrying the tone, atmosphere, and drama of Gareth Edwards‘ predecessor. Things are dark and full of dread after what occurred in San Francisco five years earlier and we have a family with a tragic backstory to affix ourselves for the duration. It’s through the Russells that we witness the multiple ways in which we process our grief and the fateful tools with which to save the world.

Mark (Kyle Chandler) and Emma (Vera Farmiga) lost their son in the Bay and have since separated. He left to travel the world and rediscover its beauty while she took their daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) on a quest to ensure young Andrew didn’t die in vain. As a Monarch scientist—Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Graham’s (Sally Hawkins) ace in the hole—Emma has invented technology that processes the sonar waves emanating from these beasts to manufacture a means of communication. If she can find the correct frequency to mimic that of an alpha, she can stop them in their tracks and ostensibly lead them wherever she wants them to go if not fully control their actions. Her “Orca” device is the key to mankind’s survival.

Well, Monarch’s means to accomplish Serizawa’s goal of cohabitation between humans and titans are another’s means of destruction. So Eco-terrorist Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) quickly leaves a trail of bodies to steal the “Orca” and kidnap both Emma and Madison, thus forcing Monarch to seek out Mark and share the bad news. And just like Serizawa found himself flabbergasted when an outsider like Bryan Cranston‘s Brody cracked the code to expose answers, Mark has just the right perspective to shut-up both the militarized (led by Aisha Hinds‘ Foster) and scientific (led by Bradley Whitford‘s Stanton) crews formed to mount a rescue mission. Because he’s an expert on pack mentality, he can predict the monsters’ movements and reveal they might not be so different than our own wild animals.

Jonah uses the “Orca” to speed up the creatures’ wake schedules for his utilitarian quest to reset the balance of nature after humanity royally screwed Earth’s future. A massive beat-down brawl between Ghidorah and Godzilla ensues with the revelation that the former might not be as similar to the other titans as initially thought. And Mark finds himself assisting Monarch on their search for Emma’s talent so he can insure she and their daughter’s safety. A few unsurprising twists and turns result with lapses in judgment causing good people to do bad things and ultimately one more climatic battle must occur to figure out once and for all whom the true alpha is. It’s a very dour undertaking with a mix of welcome and unwelcome splashes of humor.

Some of that comedy is worthwhile via in-the-moment one-liners (O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Anthony Ramos) and some is not (Thomas Middleditch is given a thankless role and feels completely out of place throughout). Whitford toes the line like only he can to earn as many chortles as groans, but I could have honestly done without both since everything is so heavily shrouded in despair with big name deaths and tough choices dealing with incalculable sacrifice. Dougherty is definitely fearless in the way he lets these creatures (humanity’s greed included) annihilate cities without remorse. This isn’t The Avengers wherein NYC will get rebuilt and prove better than ever. This is a purge on which a new civilization must rise from the ashes of millions of innocent victims lost forever.

There’s weight to that and Dougherty doesn’t let us forget it misguidedly forsaking his characters for spectacle. The latter is obviously on display and a huge selling point, but the Russells and Monarch are never far behind. They’re in this fight in ways that even let them lead—wittingly or not. And they’re also discovering brand new information on the fly thanks to hard work and luck whether that means bringing Dr. Chen’s (Ziyi Zhang) eastern legends to life with magnificent splendor or embarking on an uncharted undersea tunnel system to expose ancient cities that bring to mind Atlantis. Add an alien subplot and you’d be right to feel overwhelmed by just how much the filmmakers are throwing at us, but that’s kind of the point. Isn’t it?

I surely think so and as such never felt bored (something I can’t say about Godzilla despite maintaining it’s a better overall film). A few revelations are completely out of left field and the subject matter can’t prevent eye-rolls due to its inherent absurdity, but everything makes contextual sense. Convenience doesn’t have to be bad—it can simply be an avenue to streamline and make certain a two-hour movie doesn’t bloat to three. I say this because location is sacrificed, not character motivation. The contrivances come from always having everyone in the perfect place to do what they need to do. The “why” of those actions, however, is consistently steeped in what we know of their nature. That’s not an easy accomplishment in loud blockbusters such as this.

Loud or not, the art direction is also fantastic. The use of light, scale, and composition on the many fight scenes is pretty unforgettable and right in line with that gorgeous Comic-Con poster painted by Christopher Shy. Dougherty had to make sure his human characters had something to do if only to cut away from the stellar computer animation so as not to dull the sense of awe it creates. The aesthetics therefore prove one more detail of the whole that has me scratching my head as to why this thing has been so savaged by the same critics who showered Godzilla with praise. I don’t even really like monster movies and I can’t wait to see what they do next with this battered and broken world.


photography:
[1] © 2019 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND LEGENDARY PICTURES PRODUCTIONS, LLC Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures Caption: GODZILLA in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
[2] © 2019 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND LEGENDARY PICTURES PRODUCTIONS, LLC Photo Credit: Daniel McFadden Caption: (L-R) KYLE CHANDLER as Dr. Mark Russell, THOMAS MIDDLEDITCH as Sam Coleman, ZIYI ZHANG as Dr. Ilene Chen and O’SHEA JACKSON, JR. as Chief Warrant Officer Barnes in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
[3] © 2019 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND LEGENDARY PICTURES PRODUCTIONS, LLC Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures Caption: KING GHIDORAH in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

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