One of the complaint’s of 2014’s Godzilla reboot was that it didn’t show the monsters enough. Well, I am pleased to say that the new Godzilla: King of the Monsters features many monsters. So many monsters. That’s not to say it’s perfect, or even better than its predecessor, but it does have monsters. Oddly enough, it has fewer monster fights than the last entry, or rather whenever the monsters do fight it cuts away from them to show the much less interesting humans. But it does have a variety of monsters, and it shows them pretty consistently right from the beginning, for better or for worse.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters starts off where the last one ended, with Godzilla having saved the day amidst an absolutely demolished San Francisco. A previously unseen family looks for their child, and realizes that he perished in the wreckage. Flash forward a few years and the parents, played by Vera Farmiga and Kyle Chandler, have coped with their loss in different and separate ways. Farmiga plays Dr. Emma Russell, a Monarch scientist who has decided to further develop the Orca technology used to replicate the sonar of these monsters. Meanwhile, Chandler’s Mark Russell blames Godzilla for their son’s death, and lives on his own photographing wolves. Their daughter Madison, played by Millie Bobby Brown, worries about both of them, and justifiably so. You needn’t have seen the previous entry, although a few characters do return. Ken Watanabe reprises his role as Dr Ishiro Serizawa, who has to testify in front of one of those pesky government tribunals that wants to get rid of all of these monsters, even the helpful Godzilla. Naturally, bad guys show up who want to try to control the monsters, many monsters reawaken, and Godzilla comes out of retirement to show them who the real King of the Monsters is.
Over the course of the sometimes head-scratching plot, the cast members work with what they’re given, some getting more to work with than others. Farmiga and Chandler have an especially rough time as the Russell parents. Dr. Russell starts off as a sympathetic character, but then becomes less and less so as ulterior motives get revealed. On the other side of things, Mark Russell starts off as that annoying guy who interrupts everyone because “he’s seen this beast up close,” but conversely gets more sympathetic as time goes on. The two actors clearly work in the fact that the parents still struggle with their grief. Therapy may have proved more helpful than getting monsters to battle it out to cope with their feelings, but this would have made for a less exciting film. Millie Bobbie Brown excels as Madison, and while she plays a key role in event towards the end, I wouldn’t have minded if the film focused more on her perspective. Ken Watanabe definitely serves as the film’s MVP, as his character has some of the most emotional scenes.
Michael Dougherty takes over directing duties from Gareth Evans, and while he’s up to showing more monsters, he seems much less sure on what to do with them. One of the benefits of showing relatively little of Godzilla in the first film is that it gave the movie a sense of scale. We often saw things from the perspective of the humans, as these monsters loomed terrifyingly over them. The well-intentioned Godzilla still proved intimidating as this massive, powerful beast. On the other hand, Dougherty often directs these creatures from their perspectives, or from afar, putting the movie on their scale and removing that feeling of tension. During the battles, he cuts back and forth from them to the humans, never really showing them in the same plane, which only further removes that feeling.
Another consequence of these cuts is that the film makes it very unclear as to who lives and who dies, whether human or monster. At one point during a battle, one of the monsters steps on some comparatively minuscule people. In the next scene with the humans, someone looks at a picture of a major character, and that character never shows up again. So presumably they got stepped on. According to one rule of visual media, we only know a character dies if we see it happen, and this movie chucks that rule out the window. Many characters die off-screen, made all the more confusing when certain characters in the vicinity of total annihilation show up somehow unscathed while others don’t. In the final battle, one monster gets pierced through the heart while another gets hit by a laser, and wouldn’t you know it the first one lives and the second dies.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters doesn’t convey the same level of intensity as the first, even though it has higher stakes. But otherwise it has lots of monsters, and showcases them liberally. Each one gets a pretty solid introduction, too. Even if the cinematography doesn’t highlight them as well as it should, the special effects make up for it pretty well. We see how each of these monsters interacts with the world around them, from the flapping of Rodan’s wings decimating a town to King Ghidorah’s lightning knocking out aircraft. Seeing them up close has its perks, as we see the atomic energy pulsating within Godzilla and the glowing designs of Mothra’s wings. The script also provides a little bit of lore for each monster, which stays reverential and fairly accurate to the histories of these monsters from the longtime franchise.
I won’t spoil any of it here, but when we finally go get the final showdown, a requisite for any Godzilla movie, the film really shines. When asked how this showdown will differ from last time’s, one character remarks that this time humanity has Godzilla’s back. It still comes down to a fight between monsters, let’s be honest. But with everyone joining in and utilizing everything we’ve seen before, the no-holds-barred finale has spectacle. Another city gets ruined, one I personally know well, and I had an absolute blast seeing some of its most cherished landmarks getting absolutely wrecked. The movie hints that further sequels will expand upon the insufficient plot, but when it comes to the giant titans it holds nothing back. If you come to Godzilla looking for a compelling plot or even some scares, you may get disappointed. But if want to see monsters, you’ll get enough to level multiple urban metropolises.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters proves weak on story but strong on monsters. It doesn’t quite capture the dread of getting stomped on by a huge beast that it’s predecessor conveyed, but it does showcase the many abilities and powers that these beasts have, which may satisfy many.