If you’ve left Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla feeling like there wasn’t enough monster action to eat up, Michael Dougherty provides so much more of that in Godzilla: King of the Monsters (fittingly enough, whose name is taken from Terry Morse’s American bastardization of Ishirô Honda’s film). But decidedly, you’re also left wondering how much of this feels exciting especially when you’re in the face of nonstop monster action from beginning to end and in that same sense, Godzilla: King of the Monster can be equal parts exhilarating or just overall exhausting. But for longtime fans of the series who were eagerly awaiting to see Mothra or King Ghidorah coming to the screen in an Americanized format, there’s a whole lot that one can eat up at in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Putting it lightly, it’s a film that took notes from the fan reaction to Gareth Edwards’s take but everything that Michael Dougherty does worse in King of the Monsters might also give you a lot more to appreciate about how Edwards approached the start of the MonsterVerse.
Following the MUTO attack on San Francisco in the 2014 film, King of the Monsters picks up on where the future Monarch projects have unveiled the existence of far more titans. Though we also shift our focus over from the Brody family to the Russell family, whose members have all went separate ways following a loss that they had suffered at the hands of the MUTO attack. But they’re made to cross paths once again after an invention they were working on results in the kidnapping of Emma (Vera Farmiga) and Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) for the purposes of waking up all the other Titans, which prompts the disgraced Mark (Kyle Chandler) to work once again with Monarch after having left following the loss of their son. It seems like everything should flow simply from there onward especially as we’re awaiting every big monster fight from one to the next, but with every sense of connection to the humans still feeling so thin, they end up weighing down the impact of the monster fights too. It’s challenging enough for a monster film of such a scale to try and balance out the two so that they can carry the same weight, but it still remains one of the MonsterVerse’s most glaring hurdles.
This isn’t a problem that is exclusive to Michael Dougherty’s take on the beloved kaiju, but even Gareth Edwards’s film had suffered in the same manner – yet Edwards’s film still made clear who you wanted to root for in the battles, because you still saw Godzilla as a looming presence not to be disturbed. But because of this, Godzilla’s screen time was brief at best yet every moment when he appeared onscreen also brought out a feeling of joy because you saw him feeling every bit as big as you could ever want him to feel, while looking at everything alongside human characters that still feel within the conflict. King of the Monsters on the other hand seems to have them feeling secondary to the monster action – of course sticking to what made many films from the original Showa series so recognizable, but their conflicts also bog down the film in the sense that their connections to the kaiju don’t really have much weight to balance out the film’s running time in relation to the monster action either. While you have solid performances from cast members like Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe, or Zhang Ziyi, you also have those who only serve no other purpose but to provide exposition dumps (Thomas Middleditch), the occasional funny one-liner (Bradley Whitford), or just stand into the action (O’Shea Jackson Jr.). With a cast so stacked, it’s easy to wonder how many of the most talented names brought on board are terribly wasted, especially in the cases of Sally Hawkins or Vera Farmiga.
Yet for those who have longed to see their favourite kaiju coming to the screen, Michael Dougherty’s approach is the exact opposite to the approach that Gareth Edwards had created. And to his credit, he still manages to make these moments feel huge – especially when we finally see Godzilla in action once again. Mothra is given a perfect entrance into the film, for her sequences are every bit as gorgeous as you would ever want them to be. But to see Godzilla fighting against King Ghidorah is fun enough the first time you see Ghidorah rising up. Dougherty allows for the many kaiju to have impressive entrances, but even the fight sequences while they can be fun never seem to be used to their fullest potential especially when you have the human storyline coming in to interrupt and even drag the running time even further. But for every moment of wonderful monster action you could ever ask for, whether it be Godzilla’s first fight with King Ghidorah on Antarctica or a face-off with Rodan, it also becomes difficult to tell what’s going on with the action because of how Dougherty presents these moments – often under bad weather perhaps for drama, but also to the point it can obscure the most exciting parts of the action.
In the film’s best moments, it still carries a certain sense of joy that evokes the same pleasures that one would have had from watching any of the original Showa films. If anything, it also feels like perfect fan service for those who have long dedicated themselves to watching the monsters come to the screen in the original kaiju films, even with the original theme being brought back. But even these moments also come at a cost too, for even the film’s serious tone doesn’t gel so well with the sight of great monster fights, even having characters coming in as comic relief don’t quite help that either. It feels especially less earned in this case when you have numerous callbacks to the original film that almost feel baffling, one in particular that came towards the ending of the original film for the purpose of providing a cautionary warning. It still boasts many of the technical accomplishments that were present in Gareth Edwards’s reintroduction to the character for modern audiences after having disappeared from the screen for so long, even providing the mass destruction that one could ever want out of these films in the climax, though to a degree they can get exhausting when it’s hard to tell what happens to the human characters still present amidst the action.
Despite all the film’s gaping issues, I can’t help but admit that Michael Dougherty still has me looking forward to what more can be done with the monsters that he had introduced to the screen. For every moment that I got to see great monster fights, I got to see all of that here, for every sequence where Mothra had showed up was every bit as beautiful as one could ask for. The overall ridiculousness of these films won’t prove itself to be much of a bother for even the best of the original series can only go so far this way, but there’s so much about the actual human story in King of the Monsters that just feels detrimental to the experience of wanting great monster action only because so many decisions made can be either baffling or just uninteresting exposition dumps (every reference to Kong: Skull Island is particularly eye roll-inducing). But it’s the perfect sense of fan service that anyone who had closely stuck with kaiju films could ever want from these films, and having dedicated so much of my own time to the original Showa films earlier, I can’t help but admit that I had a huge smile on my face during that climactic fight sequence. Godzilla: King of the Monsters doesn’t quite have that same patience that Gareth Edwards’s film had, but just being able to see great monster action makes for a satisfying enough ride.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Warner Bros. Pictures.
Directed by Michael Dougherty
Screenplay by Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields, from the characters Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Rodan by Toho
Produced by Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Brian Rogers, Mary Parent, Alex Garcia
Starring Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe, Zhang Ziyi
Release Date: May 31, 2019
Running Time: 118 minutes