Following the global success of “Godzilla” and “Kong: Skull Island” comes the next chapter in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ cinematic MonsterVerse, an epic action adventure that pits Godzilla against some of the most popular monsters in pop culture history. The new story follows the heroic efforts of the crypto-zoological agency Monarch as its members face off against a battery of god-sized monsters, including the mighty Godzilla, who collides with Mothra, Rodan, and his ultimate nemesis, the three-headed King Ghidorah. When these ancient super-species—thought to be mere myths—rise again, they all vie for supremacy, leaving humanity’s very existence hanging in the balance.
A question I find myself stuck on as I write this review is: what is the ultimate point of humans in a monster movie? I’m asking myself this as last night I got an early glimpse at Warner Bros. latest monster epic: Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
It’s a movie which works on several levels and fails at many more. Most predominant is the handling of its human cast. A great lineup of Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Charles Dance, Ken Watanbe, Sally Hawkins and Millie Bobby Brown could easily have pushed Godzilla to new territory.
But rather what we saw was 2hrs 11mins of humans reacting to CGI monsters whilst acting out a very loose story.
As for that story, well it functions as connective tissue for the various set pieces in the movie. It also helpfully manipulates everyone (and everything) to be exactly where they need to be to best serve the movie.
Millie Bobby Brown’s Maddison comes off the best here. Many will be left questioning just why Maddison wasn’t in charge of Monarch given that she was able to solve many of the movies problems and essentially becomes its human heroine.
Suspension of disbelief is a necessity when watching Godzilla: King of the Monsters. That point is no more obvious than when watching Maddison running through a baseball field surviving the onslaught of King Ghidorah and Godzilla simultaneously. The girl is fireproof!
Vera Farmiga and Kyle Chandler make for compelling characters early in the movie. Brief flashback sequences are able to give some context to their motivations and these moments gave me hope that Godzilla may rise above the pack to become something more original.
The problem is that from act one, as the action ramps up towards the finale, the humans become less and less important to the story. Early in the movie Farmiga’s Emma notes that “he is where he needs to be, to keep him safe” during a discussion about family. Given that her estranged husband is elsewhere photographing wildlife and her son killed in the Godzilla attack of 2014 we are left unsure as to who the “he” is that she is referring to.
This point is never resolved and that’s atypical of this type of movie. Hook the audience with nuggets of real human emotion before pulling out the rug and giving way to all encompassing action.
A twist featuring Emma’s character and the villain, played by Charles Dance, seems rather out of left field. IT also illicited some awkward laughs from members of our audience. With the flip of a coin our potential heroine because the movies biggest human villain with deranged plot that feels right out of a comic book (yes I’m aware of the irony there).
Though the idea of Emma’s mission to save humanity could be extremely compelling given the right context, it is presented all too simply here. It ultimately becomes a bump in the road rather than a point of success.
Though the action is outstanding and the monsters are epic the ultimate struggle in Godzilla: King of the Monsters is that between the apocalyptic scope and the need for compelling characters.
The movie functions best when it leans in to the monster mayhem and that’s a great thing. I was almost able to forget the cliched drama by getting lost in the sheer spectacle of Godzilla’s third act.
As monster-upon-monster surfaces on Earth I found myself getting more-and-more sucked in to the action.
Godzilla is remarkably compelling for a CGI creation who is only able to communicate through violence and a cinema shaking roar. In low moments we mourned his near passing and in the height of the battle we were ready to jump out of our seats cheering him on.
Through all the exposition and all the violence the titanic monsters become more well rounded than any of the movies human cast. Mothra in particular will be a fan favourite and is one of the most stunningly animated creatures in the movie.
All of the creature work on the movie is exquisite. King Ghidorah is often masked by huge clouds of dust and smoke but his presence looms incredibly large in all his scenes.
Likewise Godzilla looks outstanding. During a scene later in the movie a supercharged Godzilla is like something out of a beat-em-up video game and his special move is unbelievably cool.
All of which leads to my final point: Godzilla: King of the Monsters is frustrating for the rational film fan side of me and extremely exciting for the childish side. When I began this review I seriously considered scoring the film with two scores to try and show how torn I was bust instead I’m going to split the difference.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters ultimately sacrifices great storytelling and characters for spectacle. But in doing so it is still able to craft a fun cinema-going experience which will have even the most sceptical disaster movie fan foaming at the mouth. It’s sheer monster mayhem at its least cerebral but most destructive.
Directed by Michael Dougherty, the sequel stars Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown and Charles Dance and is in cinemas now!