By: Hawk Ripjaw (Four Beers) –
Five years after the events of the first Godzilla, King of the Monsters finds the world still trying to recover from Godzilla’s battle with the MUTOs. Everyone’s still really fucking mad that Bryan Cranston died 20 minutes into the first movie, especially Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) and Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga). Their son also died in the conflict, and the loss has torn them apart.
Mark and Emma are now separated, with Mark taking pictures of wolves in Colorado and Emma, in a progressively spiraling depression, cares for their daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) on a military site. Emma has developed a device called the Orca that mimics the sound patterns of Titans as a way to wake up the ones that are hibernating. They successfully wake up the mostly benevolent Mothra, when—oh snap!—Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), an eco-terrorist obsessed with awaking the Titans, shows up and kidnaps Emma, Madison, and the Orca.
The clumsy organization responsible for keeping track of the Titans, Monarch, recruits Mark to help them track down the Orca and save his family. Amongst Monarch’s numbers are Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), Dr. Stanton (Bradley Whitford), Sam Coleman (Thomas Middleditch), Colonel Diane Foster (Aisha Hinds), and Chief Warrant Officer Barnes (O’Shea Jackson Jr.).
Mark complains a lot but agrees to come along if it means saving his daughter, possibly killing Godzilla, and, most importantly, one-upping his estranged wife. They track Tywin to the Antarctic, where he prepares to unleash Ghidorah, the three-headed dragon.
It turns out that Emma and Twyin Lannister are in cahoots, and the whole kidnapping was just a sham. Emma states that humans have pretty much ruined the Earth, and the long-hibernating Titans are the Earth’s way of using a fever to cook out a virus. By unleashing Ghidorah, Rodan, and the other Titans, Earth’s balance can be restored, at the cost of some human lives.
You’d think someone like Emma who’d spent so much time studying the Titans would at least have a base understanding that unleashing prehistoric monsters might, you know, end the entire human race. Ghidorah is bad news. He’s not like Godzilla, who wanders around, tramples some buildings, and occasionally fights for the human race. The first thing Ghidorah does is angrily slaughter most of the Monarch soldiers. The second thing he does is fly to a volcano and start recruiting the remaining dozen or so Titans from slumber so they can destroy the world and everyone on it. Emma has a “Gee, maybe I was wrong” moment and feels sorry for herself for most of the rest of the movie.
Welp, now it’s up to Monarch to find Godzilla and have him defeat the evil Titans. This is pretty funny when you think about it, because the situation essentially boils down to Monarch being like “Hey, we were wrong and Earth is totally fucked and we need your help” and Godzilla just gives this look. It’s the look that says, “Fuckin’ really, guys? Didn’t we just do this a few years ago?” If looks could kill, this movie wouldn’t have any more human characters. Luckily, Godzilla channels that frustration into putting a stop to that dick Ghidorah and ending their millennia-long rivalry.
Audiences spoke, and the sequel delivered. While Godzilla’s actual cumulative screen time in the 2014 was somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-12 minutes, opting for a Jaws-esque slow build to the reveal, King of the Monsters is packed to the Godzilla Gills with spectacle. The monster battles are absolutely insane, as titanic as you’ve ever envisioned them with the monsters rushing towards each other and colliding in a flurry of fists, claws, teeth, wings, and fire. When the monsters aren’t fighting, the camera drinks in all of their glory, instilling a sense of wonder, awe, and sometimes beauty.
Perhaps the film’s greatest achievement on several levels is Ghidorah. This Titan is a stunning CGI creation: each of his three heads has an independent personality, with one being the whipping boy of the bickering others. Ghidorah is smoke and lightning and fury, and the moment he angrily emerges from his prison, you know shit is about to go down.
He’s also the main monster villain of the picture, poised as a behemoth of pure malice and with clear intent to conquer and destroy the world. He’s basically Dragon Voldemort: everyone is afraid of him, he recruits an army of followers, and he clearly specifically has it out for humans.
Bear McCreary, or as I like to call him, BAE McCreary, is on an absolutely ridiculous hot streak. He killed it with the Child’s Play remake, he stirred up emotions with Happy Death Day 2U, and from what I’ve heard, the projects in between are equally awesome, but Spotify is being shitty and wants to ignore the fact that I literally spend more on Internet per month than I do on health insurance. McCreary’s score blows the doors off of the barn with massive, booming pieces punctuated by orchestral strikes and vocal arrangements that drive home the power of the Titans. He also fully embraces the monster’s original theme to great effect.
Fans of the franchise and rich lore of the Godzilla franchise are not forgotten here, either: there is a multitude of callbacks and references to older films, as well as setups for future installments: the Oxygen Destroyer missile is utilized (as it was in two of the original films). That, as well as references to the radiation from the monsters causing massive vegetative plant growth across the planet, set up the potential appearance of the massive demonic kaiju Destroyah. Mecha Ghidorah is hinted at. Ziyi Zhang plays twin scientists Dr. Ilene Chen and Dr. Ling. The latter is present at Mothra’s rebirth and hints at some of the lore in which Mothra has two human surrogates that speak for her. A lot of this is sprinkled throughout the movie and it’s a treasure trove for Godzilla fans.
It’s a consistent pitfall of this subgenre, and here is no different. In trying to create an audience surrogate, King of the Monsters stumbles. It divides its attention between a few too many characters, and by keeping its core family separated for much of the film, doesn’t give them much room to grow amidst all of the action. And really, who’s going to care about this shitty family’s stupid problems when you have ancient monsters traipsing through cities like sand castles, wiping out extras all willy-nilly?
Consider the multitude of on-screen collateral damage, for example the masses swept up in the shockwave of Rodan’s flight over Mexico City? What if one of those nameless casualties was one payday away from purchasing a ring to prove to his lover’s father that he was worthy of her affection?
What I mean is, it’s okay to have human characters to act as an audience surrogate, but King of the Monsters doesn’t do enough to invest the audience in its characters and tie them in turn to the events of the movie. They’re not sympathetic, they’re not interesting, and at best they’re runtime padding and a brief, unneeded break from the next sequence of Titans beating the hell out of each other.
*keys jingling* “Hey, look! Rodan just did a spiral in midair and blew up like six fighter jets!”
Mark does a lot of complaining and being sad about his family. He also says “I told you so” so many times he might be mistaken for a 10-year-old.
Emma does a lot of crying and having internal moral conflicts that should be obvious. Also she’s clearly a shitty person with a haywire moral compass.
Serizawa does a whole bunch of telling the military to believe in Godzilla and waxing poetic about anything else. You could tug on the dude’s tongue and pull out a Facebook meme.
Dr. Vivian Graham (Sally Hawkins) exists for a few minutes of screen time to be the sacrificial lamb to Ghidorah, because the audience needed a reason to believe an evil, pissed off 500-foot-tall three-headed space dragon suddenly liberated from his millennia of Antarctic imprisonment was a threat.
Dr. Rick Stanton (Bradley Whitford) is a dick who does nothing of importance besides provide unfunny commentary on things happening.
Thomas Middleditch got tired of wasting his time on software in California and looks concerned most of the time without doing much of anything else.
I’m going to be completely honest with you here, I spent a good long time trying to figure out who was playing Barnes, and I knew it wasn’t Ice Cube but still couldn’t put my finger on it, and it finally hit me that it was O’Shea Jackson Jr, the Son of Ice Cube, playing the character, and I audibly said “holy shit” in the middle of a Whole Foods and the guy working the fish counter said “I know, right? The scallops are expensive, but they are fresh.”
Mothra and Godzilla are genuinely more dynamic and layered characters than any of the humans. They have arcs, they’re sympathetic, and the finale is exciting and tense because you care about them. Isn’t that weird? The same can’t be said for the humans.
*keys jingling* “Hey, look! Ghidorah shoots fucking lightning from his heads!”
The story has surprisingly little meat on its bones as well, and leans into many of the genre’s tropes. To a certain point, there is unpredictability to the plot. But by the middle of the second act when the pieces for the climax are in place, the finale becomes fairly obvious in where it’s headed. The finale certainly isn’t boring, but it’s pretty obviously sticking to a blueprint. Redemption? Check. Sacrifice? Boy, you know it. “If we kill the main one, the minion ones will stop attacking?” Roland Emmerich, I see you back there. Essentially all of the clichés of the disaster/action movie are in full force here, frequently beat-for-beat.
*keys jingling* “Hey, look! Mothra is a total badass and she’s coming to save the day!”
Look, I fucking love Godzilla. I was never an action figure kind of kid, but I loved the movies, even before I could understand the political subtext of the earlier ones. Seeing these monsters in their fully-realized glory was something really transfixing, and for that alone the movie is worth a watch. It’s just a shame that the rest of it wasn’t on the same level, and that the whole package was as beautifully put together as the original trailer in how it juxtaposed beauty and destruction.
2014’s Godzilla was divisive in its less-is-more slow build to the reveal of Godzilla’s awesome might, and its philosophical musings on nature and where humans land in the hierarchy of Earth. For some, it made for a satisfying sci-fi thriller. For others, it was a plodding bore. King of the Monsters tries to cater to both camps, doubling down on the philosophizing and adding a boatload of titanic monster action. For most of the time, it accurately recreates what an eight-year-old slamming his monster action figures together might imagine. For the rest, it’s kind of hard to care.
It’s huge, loud, and frequently breathtaking. It’s also clumsy, often plodding, a bit overlong, and tries to do way too much. That ambition is admirable, but the movie falls short when it comes to intelligent dialogue and compelling characters. Whether it’s minor extras or people that have had significant screen time, the deaths don’t carry any weight because there was no reason to feel for any of them in the first place.
But those monster battles sure are cool.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) Movie Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every direct call-back to an older Godzilla film.
Do a Shot: every time Serizawa says something dramatic.
Take a Drink: every time Godzilla fires his Nuclear Minty Fresh Breath Beam.
Do a Shot: if you can say “Minty Fresh Breath Beam” five times fast.
Take a Drink: every time Godzilla roars.
Finish Your Drink: when Charles Dance says “Long live the King.”