'Godzilla: King of the Monsters' (2019) Review: Draining the Three-Headed Dragon
If Ghidorah was King, Which Head Would Wear the Crown?
Taking place five years after the events of the 2014 Godzilla reboot, Godzilla: King of the Monsters has a brief flashback of the decimation of San Francisco in 2014 as scientists Mark (Kyle Chandler) and Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) lose their son Andrew to Godzilla’s destructive appearance. The couple eventually splits with Mark retreating to the wilderness and Emma taking custody of their 12-year-old daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown). Emma perfects a prototype she developed with Mark known as the Orca; a device that projects frequencies that can control the monstrous Titans.
Originally working with Monarch, Emma joins forces with an eco-terrorist group led by Colonel Alan Jonah (Charles Dance). Their objective is to restore order to the earth as life tends to flourish after a Titan’s rampage. They bite off more than they can chew when they awaken a golden, three-headed dragon known as King Ghidorah, who awakens the remaining of the 17 Titans (the Orca assists in awakening Mothra – Queen of the Monsters, Ghidorah, and the fire-demon Rodan) lying dormant around the globe. Their only hope is to confide in Godzilla, who is on the verge of death while Monarch’s high-ranking scientist Dr. Ishirō Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) seems to be the only one who believes that he is still on their side.
Humans suck and they are the most bothersome factor of Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The writing of King of the Monsters is so illogically stupefying that it hurts, but the humans are to blame the majority of the time; they wake up the monsters, they make every situation worse, and they scramble to fix matters while dwindling in numbers along the way. Human civilization is an afterthought as unneeded sacrifices barely get acknowledged throughout the 131-minute monster film blockbuster. In giant monster/kaiju movies, why producers, screenwriters, and filmmakers choose to focus on human drama over what people are paying good money to see (i.e. giant monsters clobbering each other) is dumbfounding. In a realistic situation, the government would likely step in and attempt to rectify the situation while likely making it worse due to ignorance but that doesn’t make stupid decisions in King of the Monsters any easier to swallow.
The film also suffers from dark visuals, indecipherable special effect action sequences, and the camera being too close to properly distinguish frequently puzzling monster mayhem. While seeing the film in IMAX is the best way to see the film, it still doesn’t remedy its often sloppy cinematography and expensive-yet-catastrophically-blobby CGI. It’s absolutely disheartening to admit this since King of the Monsters is one of the most anticipated films of the year, especially for Godzilla fans but it feels like a broken representation of what fans love about the Godzilla franchise.
The giant monster carnage that is done right is a Godzilla fan’s fantasy. Mothra has this elegant kind of beauty that works in favor of the humans, Rodan is this terrifyingly chaotic sense of unpredictability, and Ghidorah is basically Godzilla’s equal; the one monster who has the ability to steal the throne from the King of the Monsters. Their battles are legendary with sequences that are throwbacks to the original Godzilla films and a finale that is a perfect tease for 2020’s Godzilla vs Kong. Next to Godzilla, Ghidorah seems to have the most personality with each head squabbling with one another during every battle and the desire to stand at the top of the mammoth-sized mountain of monsters.
Coming back around to the human characters being unbearable in King of the Monsters, Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga are the worst cinematic parents of 2019. Emma willingly brings her daughter along while purposely awakening these towering Titans she fully intends to allow to destroy the world in an effort to not only restore it to how it once was but also do it in the name of her dead son. Meanwhile, Mark selfishly runs into every situation without caution. He wants to be the savior of his family; logic and safety be damned. He is the worst instance of a character flip-flopping motivation in the film and the character you're most looking forward to getting eaten, stomped on, punched in the face, or repeatedly kicked in the groin (we'd settle for a Ghidorah headbutt from all three heads in succession right to the trouser-kaiju).
Despite its best efforts to make every human character something gross and obnoxious for every kaiju to step on in King of the Monsters, somehow Ken Watanabe is able to make a lasting impression despite a terrible screenplay and horrid writing. Even when he has to make insufferable jokes about time/getting a new watch, taking pride in the entire human civilization being Godzilla’s pet, and making the obvious, groan-worthy, and stereotypically racist joke about everything Asian people say being related to fortune cookies, Watanabe adds this element of honor to what would otherwise be an incredibly flat, one-dimensional, and possibly offensive character. The Serizawa character has many issues, but Watanabe is able to be awesome in a floundering sea of suck.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters has a gargantuan mess of a story, monumentally lame dialogue, human characters that you absolutely can’t stand, and special effects that will often get on your nerves. In retrospect though, it’s not like the classic Godzilla films had the best writing or acting in the world. Godzilla was born and flourished in campy and ridiculous goodness. When King of the Monsters gets it right, Godzilla has never been cooler or this awesome (at least on US shores). The visuals during the kaiju brawls are masterful and impressive that will make the Godzilla fan in you roar in approval (when the camera isn’t too close anyway). Even with its flaws and imperfections, Godzilla: King of the Monsters knows how to reign supreme with its fan base and sets a tentpole for not only summer blockbusters but the future of the Godzilla franchise in the domestic market.
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© 2019 Chris Sawin