GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS is an old-school monster smackdown [reviews]

Commentary, Film and Television
State-of-the-art CGI techniques should have ushered in a golden age of movies in which giant monsters fight each other – and thus, the Legendary MonsterVerse is a welcome addition to the cinematic landscape.

Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters delivers a menagerie of skyscraper-sized beasts leveling international landmarks. Unfortunately, it also forces you to spend time with dull humans in dreary bunkers.

As the movie kicks off, world governments are debating what to do about the re-emergence of a race of ancient super-beasts known as the Titans. Secretive government agency Monarch has developed technology to communicate with (and hopefully control) these cryptids – but the department, alas, has been infiltrated by eco-terrorists who believe large-scale destruction to be part of the natural order of things. Complicating matters further is the arrival of King Ghidorah, an outer-space Hydra who threatens to replace Godzilla as earth’s apex predator.

The creature design shows an old-school charm, and the film boasts a number of wicked monster fights and cool shots of iconic cities being leveled. Regrettably, the film succumbs to the bad Hollywood habit of cutting away from glorious carnage to show its human stars gaping in shock and awe.

The cast is actually fairly good, benefiting from the inclusion of Charles Dance as a humanity-hating terrorist and Vera Farmiga as the grieving mother he recruits. Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown gives the film’s strongest performance as the plucky daughter of a rogue Monarch scientist, adding gravitas to her stock character. Unfortunately, they’re saddled with a confusing and often corny script; this is the kind of movie where a stock smart-ass responds to the obliteration of Fenway Park by saying, “it’s a bad day to be a Red Sox fan.” 

The film’s sole intriguing line goes to Zhang Ziyi as a thoughtful Monarch researcher who advocates co-existence with the Titans: “Slaying dragons is a western concept.”

King of the Monsters is at its best when it forsakes technobabble in favour of outright myth, as Monarch analysts draw from classical folklore and hollow earth theories to identify and locate the Titans. I wish it had dug deeper into these out-there elements: its MonsterVerse predecessor, sixties period piece Kong: Skull Island, used Vietnam-era cynicism to add an anti-colonial edge to its familiar story, and a better version of Godzilla could have mined the American obsession with pseudoscience and conspiracy theories.

Ultimately, any movie in which Godzilla and Mothra face off with Ghidorah and fire demon Rodan is a good time; I look forward to seeing the king lizard battle Kong in the next installment.

I was also impressed by the movie’s bold ending, in which an entirely new social order is installed. Stick around for a sequel-setting post-credits scene and a montage of absurd news clippings that could have been straight out of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.

Title: Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Director: Michael Dougherty

Screenwriter: Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields

Year: 2019


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