Tokyo tormenting terror Godzilla is back in Legendary’s Godzilla: King of Monsters, but can the filmmakers overcome the monster problem with previous ‘Zilla films; the lack of a satisfactory plot?
“There weren’t enough monster fights.”
That’s the first thing I heard coming out of the last Godzilla entry into Legendary Pictures’ ‘Monsterverse’ series of films — Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (2014). Clearly, it’s a complaint that the executives at Warner Brothers and Legendary heard quite a bit too.
It’s certainly one gripe that can’t be levelled at the new entry in the franchise, Godzilla: King of Monsters, directed by Michael Dougherty. The director, who also co-wrote the movie, removes the rather faceless and bland ‘MUTOs’ from the first film and replaces them with some of Japan’s most famous ‘Kaiju’.
So alongside Godzilla, we get Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah, some allied with the titular atomic reptile, some antagonistic. There are also hints towards another ‘Titan’ lurking on Skull Island — no doubt training for his showdown with Godzilla in next year’s ‘Godzilla Vs Kong’ (hell, he’s got a huge ‘reach’ disadvantage to compensate for).
The film lays the groundwork for future movies but not so much that it takes the audience out of the film, as Universe building films like Batman Vs Superman did. There’s also no “Mothra? Why did you say that name?” moment, which is a plus.
So the big question is are the monster fights good in this new effort and are there enough of them?
Thankfully, yes. The battles are catastrophic and massive as we should expect. The destruction of Boston during the final battle makes the end battle of Man of Steel look like a drunken brawl outside a Wetherspoons on a Saturday afternoon, and it fits better in this film.
Ghidorah is wonderfully menacing and imposing, so impressive that we genuinely wonder if the titular character can overcome him. A fear that Edwards failed to realise well in the creature’s 2014 outing.
One thing Dougherty doesn’t capture quite as well as Edwards is the sense of scale that he embued to Godzilla in that film. We never quite get a scene of the magnitude of Godzilla coming ashore on Waikiki beach in that film — the scale of which was breathtaking.
Perhaps it’s churlish to complain about this. With more Kaiju to juggle, it’s perhaps unavoidable that the impact of these creatures’ size would be lost a little. One scene, in particular, with Rodan soaring over a Mexican city his backdraft sucking civilians and military alike into the air is impressive. It’s a real pity we don’t see more of this.
Dougherty does avoid the framing of monster battles on television screens and from behind closing doors as used by Edwards. Whilst that choice was stylistically pleasing, not many of us go to a monster movie for impressive filmography.
Amongst the rubble and carnage, the filmmakers have managed to imbue the titans with some personality. Each of Ghidorah’s three heads has its own quirks, with the middle one serving as the dominant force, biting and dragging at its subordinate heads when they displease it or attempt to snatch a crafty bite of seared soldiers.
Unfortunately, the human characters are about as well rounded as this. Whilst a complement for golden dragons from beyond the stars, a two-dimensional character isn’t what we want for the human players in this drama. It’s a crime when working with the impressive cast that this film has.
The human-centric storyline is simplistic at best, motivations are barely explained and characters seem to turn on a dime with very little foreshadowing. We certainly don’t root for any particular character. The plot is standard “eco-terrorist threatens the world… man doesn’t understand nature…the arrogance of man” fare that we’ve seen a hundred times before and a hundred times better.
Charles Dance as the leader of the eco-terrorists and “type-a villain” is utterly wasted, and Kyle Chandler is a sucking void of charisma so large I believe that a nuclear submarine disappears into it at one stage in the movie.
Ken Watanabe as Dr Ishirō Serizawa, is a welcome holdover from the previous film and provides the film with its small moment of pathos.
Many fans will be looking forward to Millie Bobby Brown’s star turn in the film, unfortunately, she’s saddled with a pretty stock character. Hopefully, her fans will get a bit more to enjoy when she returns in ‘Zilla’s throwdown with Kong in 2020.
As a fan of previous Godzilla fans and his original Japanese incarnation, it’s difficult for me to be highly critical of the film. Just the orchestral score of the Godzilla theme, making its welcome return, can send me back to Friday nights watching the Toho films on late-night channel four. But I don’t think the ability to endow warm feelings of nostalgia should excuse the film’s failings.
The parts that work, work well. And the parts that fail, the human element and plot, have been failings in the big-guy’s movies for as long as they’ve existed. The problem is, the filmmakers have had five years to correct these flaws, it seems in the rush to address the major flaw in Godzilla — lack of monster action– other elements like a lack of engaging characters have been ignored.
This leaves Godzilla: King of Monsters something of a bi-headed beast.
Fans will get huge waves of enjoyment from it, it is, after all, probably the closest a Hollywood blockbuster will ever come to replicating those early Toho movies. But non-fans and those unmoved by giant creatures smashing cities to pieces may find themselves unengaged and uninterested.