Review: Dougherty's 'Godzilla: King of the Monsters' Vies for Supremacy
by Adam Frazier
May 31, 2019
In the aftermath of World War II, Japan's Toho Co., Ltd. assembled a team of filmmakers – co-writer and director Ishirō Honda, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, co-writer Takeo Murata, and special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya – to create a new kind of movie monster. Originally conceived as a walking metaphor for nuclear annihilation, Godzilla roared onto screens in Honda's genre-defining 1954 masterpiece, Gojira. The film captured the imagination – and embodied the fears – of an entire nation. Now 65 years later, the Godzilla series is fully recognized by Guinness World Records as the longest running film franchise in history with a whopping 35 films starring the titular beast. The latest entry, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, is the next chapter in Warner Bros Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' cinematic "MonsterVerse", following in the massive footsteps of Gareth Edwards' Godzilla (2014) and Jordan Vogt-Roberts' Kong: Skull Island (2017).
Co-written and directed by Mike Dougherty (of the genre cult classic films Trick 'r' Treat and Krampus previously), King of the Monsters stars Vera Farmiga (of The Conjuring series and Up in the Air) as Dr. Emma Russell, a paleobiologist who works for Monarch, a secret crypto-zoological organization. Alongside her fellow doctors Ishirō Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), Sam Coleman (Thomas Middleditch), Rick Stanton (Bradley Whitford), and Ilene Chen (Zhang Ziyi), Dr. Russell studies Titans – giant, God-like monsters that once ruled the Earth. Hopeful that humans and Titans can one day co-exist peacefully, Russell has been working on the Orca, a device that harnesses the bio-acoustics of Titans to communicate with the colossal creatures – and potentially control them.
Things are going great until a group of eco-terrorists led by Alan Jonah (Charles Dance of HBO's "Game of Thrones") kidnaps Emma and her daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown of "Stranger Things"). Using the Orca, Jonah awakens the Titans – including iconic Toho monsters Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah – to restore the natural order and wipe out the virulent disease known as humanity. When the old gods arise to stir up trouble, they must contend with Godzilla, who emerges from the ocean depths to do what he does best: cause a metric shit-ton of property damage and kick a whole lot of ass as the undisputed king of Kaijū.
Dougherty's Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a G-fan's dream come true – an epic, globe-spanning action-adventure with elegant creature designs, impressive special effects, and monumental monster battles. It's the perfect blend of its recent predecessors, Godzilla (2014) and Kong: Skull Island, combining Edwards' contemplative and atmospheric approach with the glitz and gloss of Vogt-Roberts' exhilarating thrill ride. The result is an unabashedly fun monster matinee that honors the key components of the sub-genre while paying reverence to these beloved, iconic characters.
Production designer Scott Chambliss (of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Star Trek Into Darkness) and Academy Award-winning VFX supervisor Guillaume Rocheron (of Life of Pi, Godzilla) deliver a fully realized world for the Titans to inhabit (and destroy). The creatures themselves are beautiful to behold – Rodan, designed by Tom Woodruff Jr. and Amalgamated Dynamics, is a Bad-Ass Fire Demon™ made of volcanic rock with liquid hot magma coursing through its veins and can topple monuments and level cities with a flap of its wings. Godzilla's three-headed nemesis, King Ghidorah, was designed by Legacy Effects (Avatar, Godzilla, Avengers: Endgame) and retains the creature's signature Eastern dragon influence. Seeing the winged serpent in all its golden glory is something to behold, considering this is the first time fans have ever seen the character brought to life on a budget of this size ($200 million).
The star of the show, for me, is Mothra – an ethereal moth that serves as an ally of mankind and a fellow protector of Earth. If Godzilla is the King of Monsters, then Mothra is the Queen; an elegant but immensely powerful Titan who begins her life as an iridescent, silk-spitting larva before transforming into a glorious winged goddess. Should Dougherty's movie, and 2020's upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong prove successful, I hope Mothra gets a standalone movie that delves more into her backstory. Speaking of the MonsterVerse, Warner Bros' and Legendary Pictures' burgeoning new cinematic universe is really coming into its own, with a fascinating mythos built around the Hollow Earth theory and ancient, Titan-worshiping civilizations.
As for the flaws, if you're expecting Dougherty's Godzilla: King of the Monsters to deliver multi-dimensional human characters and a psychologically complex narrative, you're going to be disappointed. The screenplay from Dougherty and co-writer Zach Shields (Krampus) does its best to create some compelling human drama, but the characters are your standard Godzilla movie archetypes – military brass, soldiers, scientists, precocious children – and as such are somewhat generic. I didn't even mention that Kyle Chandler is in this movie – that's how memorable the humans are. Equally generic is the villain's goal of achieving balance by decimating life. From Ozymandias in Watchmen to Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War / Endgame, we've seen this idea executed better. Still, despite these flaws, the movie manages to be thoroughly entertaining and extremely watchable. Besides, my ideal Godzilla movie doesn't even have humans in it at all – it's a BBC nature documentary series devoted to Titans in their natural habitats.
I had a blast with Godzilla: King of the Monsters. It isn't perfect, but for a kid who grew up obsessing over Mothra and all of Godzilla's monster pals, it was downright rapturous to see these iconic creatures on the big screen. Who would've thought that in 2019 a new generation of kids would be able to discover the giant monsters that made me a lifelong fan. These are our modern myths, and there's something comforting in knowing that even 65 years later, the name Godzilla still means something.
Adam's Rating: 3.5 out of 5
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