Director Michael Dougherty brings longtime Godzilla adversaries and allies to the big screen for an epic Hollywood monster mash.
It’s been five years since Godzilla last hit the big screen with Gareth Edwards‘ Hollywood reboot of the franchise. Warner Bros. followed up that film with Kong: Skull Island as the next entry in their shared universe of monster films before we finally arrived at director Michael Dougherty’s highly anticipated Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which would see the Hollywood debuts of classic Godzilla friends and foes such as Mothra, Rodan, and Ghidorah. With such a monstrous cast on deck would the film buckle under all the pressure, or would it deliver the goods?
Looking to address some of the major criticisms of 2014’s Godzilla, the film opens during Godzilla’s battle with the two Mutos in San Francisco as we meet the Russell family caught up in the city’s destruction. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) is desperately searching for his son Andrew, while his wife Emma (Vera Farmiga) holds onto their daughter Madison and stares in awe at Godzilla as he passes them by.
Fast-forward five years and we meet an older Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), who is about to email her father, now separated from Emma after being unable to cope with the loss of Andrew. Emma, working for the Monarch organization that monitors and contains the Titans, has just completed work on Orca, a device that can communicate with and command the giant creatures. When a new Titan dubbed Mothra awakens, Emma is presented with an opportunity to test her new device, which succeeds. However, as the creature awakens, eco-terrorist Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) arrives and kidnaps both Emma and Madison.
With their facility taken out, Monarch directors Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) seek out Mark for his expertise on Orca. They need him in order to track down Emma and Madison and prevent the misuse of the device, which could lead to waking all 17 Titans that have been discovered.
With the anticipation of classic monsters like Mothra, Rodan, and Ghidorah making their Hollywood debuts, King of the Monsters is a film that doubles down on the premise of being a creature feature for the ages. To say this film didn’t disappoint would be an understatement on my part.
As a pure exhilarating piece of entertainment, Godzilla: King of the Monsters delivers the spectacle one would come to expect from its title alone. The scale and scope of this film is vast as a globe-trotting collision of titanic forces. Make no mistake, Godzilla and the Titans are the main attractions to this event spectacle and they do not disappoint. All are beautifully realized in this film and each given their time to shine.
Director Michael Dougherty’s first foray into filmmaking of this scale is an admirable effort. Solidly paced, King of the Monsters never experiences any lulls in its story, and despite a runtime of over two hours, the film feels lean with no fat needing to be trimmed. Even as the film introduces and expands the growing lore of its mythology, at no point does it feel dragged down by exposition, as Dougherty evenly spaces out those portions of the film, only explaining things when needed.
On the technical side, cinematographer Lawrence Sher’s use of color is fantastic with the the contrast of blues and greens with reds and oranges for the visuals, while composer Bear McCreary’s score perfectly complements the action on-screen, ramping up the tension and drama to perfect crescendos.
The cast is a solid collection of talent. Kyle Chandler brings the dramatic weight needed for Mark, and Vera Farmiga is perfectly cast as the emotionally distant Emma, while Millie Bobby Brown is great as the child caught in the middle. The supporting cast features returnees Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins, whose roles are expanded in this film from Godzilla as the lead directors of Monarch.
Newcomers Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Thomas Middleditch, Ziyi Zhang and Bradley Whitford form a motley crew of varied personalities that play off each other well. And then there’s Charles Dance, who gives a typically solid effort as the film’s main human antagonist.
However, the film does have its shortcomings. The villain motivations, despite fitting thematically with what’s been established in the previous films, feel tired and uninspired. The rhetoric that humanity is a disease that needs to be corrected is a talking point that virtually every disaster film hammers away at to the point that it feels like the movie’s message is just beating a dead horse. In spite of that sentiment, the actions of the villains do point out that humanity is just as monstrous as the Titans in their own right, but a more original execution on that take would have been preferred.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters isn’t the smartest blockbuster out there, and the expectation that it should be takes away the joy of what a Kaiju film is, but it also doesn’t need to be. The film is an indulgence into monster movie madness and there is nothing wrong with that. Playing to its strength, Godzilla: King of the Monsters hits every sweet spot it aims for and being taken along for the ride is a thrilling experience that needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible. ~Paolo Maquiraya
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