Review: “Godzilla” is King of the Perfectly Fine Monster Movies

Should any of you be reading this review as a way of determining whether or not you should see a movie where 400-foot-tall monsters battle for dominance across numerous continents, then maybe you already have your answer. If you’re wondering if you should travel to a theater to see a movie where a dozen humans are on aimlessly running around on the ground trying to stop said monsters from destroying everything around them, then maybe you already have your answer. Still, if you aren’t sure about paying to watch veteran actors reduced to shouting at each other as said characters while said monsters destroy everything around them, then maybe you have your answer. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is cataclysmic, chaotic, monster-based action with frenetic character work in between, and exactly that was teased on many posters and quite epically in trailers, so if by now you have no idea if any of that is for you, then there’s nothing I will write here that will change your mind.

Granted, people who saw the also-epic trailers for 2014’s Godzilla probably thought they would get everything they expected at a base level, while many left sad given how director Gareth Edwards and his team decided to go the subtler route with uncompelling character work in between not-always-spectacular kaiju action. But I can assure you that if your biggest complaint from that movie was the lack of beautifully rendered, intimidating and appropriately scary monsters clashing in unapologetic destruction, then this movie goes to the absolute extremes to deliver that on a – ahem – monstrous scale.

Taking place five years after the events of the last movie, wherein Godzilla and his monster enemies leveled San Francisco, the living humans do what they do best and go looking for more monsters. Soon, one woman, Emma (Vera Farmiga), creates a device that can communicate with other kaijus on the planet, and it doesn’t take long for that device to get into the hands of some nasty folks who wish to use it for their nasty business. I won’t give their dastardly plot away, but let’s just say Thanos would stand up in the theater and shout “Did you all get that! They stole my idea!”

Once the organization that deals with all this monster stuff, Monarch, get word of what happened, they enlist the services of Emma’s ex-husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) to help them track down her, her technology, and the thing he cares most about, their daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown). Of course, in the midst of this hunt, a nary of other monsters are unleashed, including series favorites Rodan, King Ghidorah, and the effervescent angel of a monster, Mothra. The second these monsters all make it to the screen, all I hoped for was the Mortal Kombat voice to come on and scream “Fight!” and commence the rumble.

Indeed, the movie’s ultimate claim to fame will forever be how these showdowns are orchestrated. The monsters themselves are awe-inspiring to look at, both in scale and design. Godzilla is much chunkier this time around, and therefore more imposing. Even Bradley Whitford’s snarky scientist character notices when he shouts the beast has been “juiced up!” As for the newbies, the winged, three-headed Ghidorah is a truly hellish beast, with an evil gaze, a slender, snake-like physicality and a hint of a devilish grin. Think getting three Smaugs for the price of one. Rodan has some breadth to him as well, his ashen, fiery wings looking like something straight from an apocalypse nightmare – but also having a look on his face that sort makes him look like the dope of the monster kingdom. Then there’s Mothra, beautiful Mothra, with a luminous, wondrous glow and a monster call that’s about as graceful as something like that can be. Seeing this creature design on the big screen is worth most of the price of admission alone, but again, if this sort of stuff is your thing, I don’t need to tell you that.

It’s Ghidorah and Godzilla who are the two big rivals, and going back to my Mortal Kombat bit, when the two are finally on screen together (see below) it does feel like a giant “Vs.” symbol should pop up between them along with health bars above. Director Michael Dougherty knows how to film these beats, giving them plenty of space and light to show off their wings and gargantuan standings. This is true when they’re fighting or even when they’re demonstrating their might to the world. There are some incredible shots in this movie that are surely the stuff of monster movie dreams and that bring these icons into the new age with a glorious bang. The damage and chaos they cause are apocalyptic on a biblical scale, and it’s hard not to be awed by the impact.

Ghidorah (left) and Godzilla (right) stare each other down before the showdown.

However, in between all the carnage, we do have to accept the inevitable, which is the plot driven by the very ungargantuan humans. On that note, any hiccups you had with the last movie won’t be much satisfied here, there are about a dozen main and side characters who get screentime, and about 2-3 have anything going for them. There are Emma and Mark, two people dealing with the loss of their sons in very different ways, and Ken Watanabe’s Ishirō Serizawa, who provides the compassion in a story filled with hectic scenarios. Then there’s Brown as Madison, who though being very talented for her age and giving as much to her character as she can, Madison will be best be known as the young girl who can both get into and get out of any incredibly secure facility by simply walking out the front door. I guess when monsters are destroying the world security checks are hardly of any concern.

The rest of the ensemble is fleshed out by very talented people, including Sally Hawkins, Thomas Middleditch, Bradley Whitford, Zhang Ziyi, O’Shea Jackson Jr., David Strathairn and the one and only Charles Dance. As great as they all are, the majority take on the duties needed for any big blockbuster that doesn’t know what to do with the cast. For one, there’s the role of the young corporate suit who can’t seem to find anything to do (Middleditch) and the guy who says stuff like “Thanks for the lift,” and “You gotta be kidding me,” (Jackson). An actor like Dance has the presence to make his villainous character’s constant goings-on about how righteous his plan is seem like art, but not everyone in this movie is Charles Dance. Because of this sad fact, all these characters, and therefore much of the story, blend together in to make a mish-mash of stuff no one will have any reason to care about.

But perhaps this is futile. The monsters are the stars here, and while that doesn’t mean we still shouldn’t expect quality character work and an engaging story, it would only do so much here. The story about characters facing the possibility of having these Titans erasing the world and starting everything fresh is fine in thought, even if the fact the characters have very few meaningful conversations about what’s happening, and the beats that fuel everything are purely frenetic reactions to the destruction around them. In the end, maybe characters who aren’t compelling but also not obnoxious and a story that isn’t totally nonsensical but not terribly smart is about as good as we could’ve hoped for.

For any fans of obliterated cities and impressive monsters clashing, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a movie you should not deny yourself. Go see it on the biggest screen with the best sound system and let Beefy Godzilla, Dastardly Ghidorah, Angelic Mothra and Ditsy Rodan sweep you away in a whirlwind of gorgeous, chaotic action. On the big screen, it’s about as close to biblical end-times action as you’re likely to ever see (at least this summer). However, do not expect to be met with a story that makes you think or characters you’ll be rooting for from start to finish. Maybe one day one of these movies will nail that side of the spectrum as much as the big stuff, but that is not this movie.

Grade: B

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