Dir: Michael Dougherty
Starring: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Thomas Middleditch, and Charles Dance
From 1964 to 1988 KPHO-TV5 in Phoenix, Arizona had a television program called “The World Beyond”, it’s the seminal foundation for my young movie loving mind. Where most young people were influenced by Saturday morning cartoons, mid-day western cinema, or the Sunday night family movie…my love for moving pictures started with “The Twilight Zone”, “The Outer Limits”, and “Godzilla” monster movies.
Films like 1973’s “Godzilla vs. Megalon”, 1956’s “Rodan”, 1980’s “Gamera-Super Monsters”, and the monster movie that most affected me, 1968’s “Destroy All Monsters” played critical roles in my development as a cinephile, and ultimately as a genre film fan.
The king of the monsters, Godzilla, has played an extensive role in film history; serving up nearly 40 films ranging from the Toho Studios franchise to the American adaptations of recent years. Director Michael Dougherty, who previously guided two successful horror films “Krampus” and “Trick ‘r Treat”, tries to find balance while bringing the bang and boom to the monster party with “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”.
Monarch, a crypto-zoological agency developed to investigate ancient monsters, has been working towards a peaceful existence between the mighty Godzilla and numerous newfound monsters around the world. Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) has developed a new technology called Orca that can control the monsters; it can calm them, agitate them, or signal them. It doesn’t take long for this technology to get into the wrong hands, unleashing the ancient monsters on the world with only the beast Godzilla and the human Monarch team to come to the rescue.
Gareth Edwards’ “Godzilla” film from 2014 brought the beloved “titan” back to the big screen, though the film was highly criticized for its lack of monster mayhem. But it was this film that signaled the beginning of yet another franchise universe, one filled with giant kaiju.
It didn’t take long for a film featuring another famous monster, “Kong: Skull Island”, to continue the franchise, however this film seemed to find the balance between its monster and human counterparts. Having fun while finding the human elements to add substance to the story.
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is also aiming for balance, in a sense it wants to deliver on everything fans have been waiting for, which is a battle royale of some of the greatest kaiju to be brought to the silver screen, but also find a sense of humanity in the mortals clamoring beneath the bellies of these gods. Unfortunately, the human element of this film is completely lost. We have a wide selection of some talented actors, Ken Watanabe, Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Sally Hawkins, Ziyi Zhang, and Bradley Whitford to name a few, but none of them are every given the development necessary to make them impactful with emotion and motivation. Instead, they are relinquished to roles that really have no more purpose than to introduce the monsters and watch in captivated/shocked awe of the chaos happening.
The story of how all these monsters are conjured and combat is convoluted, but are people really coming for a story? I would hope so, but the one presented here is barely formed. This is unfortunate because there is a wealth of social commentary to mine for a story about a monster born of nuclear destruction, born of war, born of discourse.
The kaiju are plentiful however, the three headed dragon King Ghidora, the winged fire beast Rodan, and the unusually beautiful Mothra all make an appearance. Some are allies and some are foes, but all fight in a collision of debris, dust, wind, rain, fire, and electricity. So much of the action between the “titans” is done in the dark with a wealth of elements masking much of the action, it doesn’t help as well that many of these scenes are done with jarring camera moves and constant motion. The few wide screen, stable shots display the impressive scope of these monsters, it’s picturesque and quite stunning when it happens.
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is searching for balance between its many spinning plates, it is seldom found. Instead, the film shifts heavily from one battle scene, then into a strained family drama, and back again. Yes, there is monster movie mayhem galore, but is that enough? For some it might be.
2.00 out of 5.00