Godzilla: King of the Monsters – Movie Review – A colossal monster mash up.

It’s no secret. I loved Gareth Edwards’s 2014 Godzilla and I still do til this day. It’s a masterpiece of scale that features breathtaking visuals and a well tuned sense of suspense and build up. That build up was a controversial aspect, because many felt the titular monster didn’t appear enough. Well Godzilla: King of the Monsters feels like a direct answer to those complaints.

The narrative picks up five years after the events of the previous film, with Monarch scientist Dr Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and her daughter Maddison (Millie Bobby Brown) being kidnapped by a group of eco terrorists, who aim to gain control of a new device she invented that will change the way humans can interact with Godzilla. Once new titans start to rise and threaten the existence of human life her ex husband, Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) and Monarch realise they must make Godzilla their ally in order to save the world.

Whilst the story is admittedly not that strong, it plays much better when you view it from the perspective of a B-Movie, or a live action anime featuring an onslaught of Kaiju mayhem. The characters at times make questionable decisions that only seem to exist, as a method to bring the audience to the next monster match up. The grounded reality established in the first film has been adjusted to a more sci-fi driven world, where for example there’s a secret underwater base and a McGuffin that is capable of communicating with the monsters. The more I think about it, the more I notice the story and the established world falls in line with some of Toho’s classic movies from the 60’s and onwards. I do believe this was an intentional choice on the filmmakers part to honour the legacy that came before it, by keeping the plot fairly simple albeit a little over the top, instead of focusing heavily on logic and other things to make the narrative more serious as a whole. One aspect that absolutely didn’t work for me is the humour. I didn’t laugh once, despite the many attempts through out. The one liners and jokes just weren’t that inventive which is a shame, because they could’ve made some of the longer dialogue scenes more entertaining.

The great news is everything audiences will be paying to see, absolutely delivers ten fold. The monsters are showcased in all their glory through out the film and they invoke a sense of wonder and awe each time you see them. Each one comes with their own distinct characteristics and abilities which makes it easy to find things to love about all of them. By this point Godzilla is viewed as Earth’s protector but his relationship with the humans isn’t that simple during the first half. One of the best scenes in the film featured Godzilla approaching the Monarch underwater base, with the aim of intimidating everyone on the inside. It’s a wonderfully tense moment that made me question Godzilla’s motives and whether he was coming to protect or destroy. Mothra is simply beautiful to look at, she has been brought to life with so much grace and attention to detail, which made her scenes feel incredibly majestic. How they utilise her within this story is perfect, and fans of her will be extremely pleased with how she’s handled. Rodan is lethal and a clear dominant force in the skies, hurtling over cities and causing mass destruction due to the whirlwind of air and fire that comes from his wings. His key action sequence showcased him making great use of his powers in order to dispatch a squadron of jets. It is truly exhilarating. The interesting thing with Rodan is he is a neutral, who is looking for an alpha to bow down to, which means the side in which he stands on is never truly set in stone.

That brings me to the last of the four titans, King Ghidorah. From his first scene he is introduced as an intelligent and intimidating threat. Magnificent in size with a devastating array of abilities. The artistic design of Ghidorah makes it impossible not to admire him. A golden three headed hydra that conjures up humongous storms as he travels. He’s described as an ancient rival of Godzilla and through the action set pieces we witness how much havoc and damage he can cause, even to Godzilla himself. A creative choice was made to allow three different actors to perform motion capture for each of Ghidorah’s heads. This was an effective choice because it makes the three separate personalities very noticeable. The main head is the most aggressive and the clear leader of the three, whilst one of them is fierce and the other one is a little curious. When you see them in action you’ll understand what I mean and it totally works. It gives the terrifying monster a lot of personality.

The majority of the cast were all fine in their roles. The script may have overpopulated the story with characters though, because a large majority of them fall to the side quite quickly and don’t get a whole lot to do. I like what Millie Bobby Brown brought to the role of Madison. She handled her moments of drama well, and showcased great emotional range when it was needed. I can certainly see her becoming a big movie star in the future. Vera Farmiga did feel a little wasted here, because Dr. Emma Russell is one of the characters I have the most issues with. Her motivations seem a little all over the place, and there’s places they attempt to go with her that were just all too predictable. Dr. Mark Russell portrayed by Kyle Chandler was also fine. He did make the emotional strain of his family relationship felt, but he lacked the charisma needed to carry a film of this nature as a lead. It was nice to see Ken Watanabe return as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa. He gets a lot more to do in this film than the last, and he has a pivotal scene with Godzilla that I thought was beautiful.

Michael Dougherty has a clear love for the legacy of this franchise and it shines through with his direction. At times he does struggle to keep the energy flowing through the dialogue scenes, but that’s mainly due to the dialogue in the script (which he co-wrote) being very exposition heavy. But once he gets to unleash the monsters he feels right at home with all the carnage. His work alongside the director of photography, Lawrence Sher is for the most part astonishing. There’s some wonderful perspective shots of humans on the ground with the colossal monsters fighting around them, and moments like that really drew me into the intensity of the action. Most of the time they stage the monster sequences with a fantastic sense of grandeur, which really takes your breath away. Their work wasn’t perfect though, as there were a few times where the shots could’ve been framed better to capture the monsters fighting, as it was a bit of a struggle to see what was occurring sometimes. That being said I must say hats off to them for the final shot of the film, which looks like a stunning piece of art.

Bear McCreary’s pulse pounding score is a thing of beauty. He splices his own original music with interpolations of the classic Toho themes for these monsters. It’s something that fans will appreciate greatly, but even if you aren’t familiar with the original themes, they’re utilised at the right moments in order to get you amped up for the action. The sound department deserve a lot of praise. During the monster battles there can be a lot of audio occurring at once, but the sound mix is superb. They made sure to heighten and balance the sounds of the Monsters amongst the destruction that was occurring around them. The overall sound design was fantastic too, which each monster carrying their own assortment of recognisable noises and roars.

This instalment expands upon the mythology of Legendary Pictures’ Monster Verse in some very satisfying ways, and the filmmakers accelerate the world building of this cinematic universe with great success. There are far more callbacks to the previous Toho movies than I had ever expected. These range from Easter eggs and references, all the way to surprising plot points from the older films, that have been merged within this story. There is also a post credits scene which you’ll want to stay for. It’s nothing crazy but the implications it provides for where the future of this franchise will go, is definitely something that fans will be excited for.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters honours the 65 year legacy of the franchise and delivers an exhilarating experience that demands to be seen on the biggest cinema screen you can find. The spectacle is grand, the visuals superb and the monsters are utterly breathtaking.

★ ★ ★ ★

(4 Stars out of 5)

-T. Graham.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters – Starring Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Charles Dance and Ken Watanabe.

Directed by Michael Dougherty.

Now showing in cinemas.

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