Godzilla: King Of The Monsters (USA / Japan / 12A / 131 mins)
In short: Clash Of The Titans
Directed by Michael Dougherty. Starring Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, Charles Dance.
The Plot: Five years after the devastating events in San Francisco, shadowy agency Monarch is discovering more and more titans, giant monsters who could hold the fate of the planet in their claws. Scientist Emma (Vera Farmiga), now estranged from her husband Mark (Kyle Chandler), lost their son in the clash. She believes that the titans, including Godzilla, were the original rulers of the planet and are the dominant species. When she and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) are taken by eco-terrorist Jonah (Charles Dance), she finds a way to bring the absent Godzilla back into the fray. For there is a new alpha male on the scene – the giant, three-headed dragon Ghidorah…
The Verdict: Switch off your brain and bring your earplugs. Godzilla: King Of The Monsters has arrived with an almighty, earth-shaking roar that will test even the most reliable of cinema speakers. This sucker is LOUD. As it should be of course, this being a continuation of the 2014 Hollywood take on the daddy of all monsters – Gojira or Godzilla. 2017’s Kong: Skull Island hinted at Warner Brothers world-building another new cinematic universe. King Of The Monsters builds upon the previous films, but ups the ante considerably. If the first film was more of a playground scrap in San Francisco, then King Of The Monsters is about an extinction-level event that could see humans relegated to a footnote in Earth’s long history.
At the helm of this massive spectacle is self-confessed nerd and Godzilla fan Michael Dougherty. If, as Orson Welles once suggested, a movie studio is the greatest electric train set a boy ever had, then Dougherty is clearly having a blast. Not only does he get the electric train set, he also gets the greatest collection of kaiju in the long-running Japanese series to stomp on it. Ghidorah, Rodan, Mothra and a whole collection of new monsters appear to challenge Godzilla’s position as the alpha male. Dougherty has certainly moved up the ranks from his middling Hallowe’en anthology Trick r’ Treat. Krampus showed that he had a flair for both tension and dark humour. There’s more of the former and less of the latter this time around.
The plot is essentially a re-heat of the first film, that idea of Godzilla balancing out the ecosystem by eliminating anything bigger than himself. The giant, atomic-breathing lizard is not exactly a friend to us puny humans, but he’s not an enemy either. The plot kicks in almost immediately and doesn’t let up until the credits roll 2 almost exhausting hours later (followed by an end credits sting). If you’re looking for subtlety and strong character development here, then you might as well be firing cannon balls at Godzilla. The human characters, based mostly around a separated family, Monarch boffins and the military, are fairly standard types. They’re mostly there to explain the plot machinations and look panicked until the next smackdown. Why cast the classy and imperious Charles Dance, set him up as a potential bad guy and then under-use him? He could stare down Godzilla in an instant. There might be a logic behind it though…
What the film lacks in character development, it certainly makes up for in spectacle. With top-notch visual effects at hand, Dougherty plays out his monster smackdowns with the kind of large-scale, eye-watering destruction that would make Roland Emmerich cry with joy. No sumo wrestler stomping around a model set here. Every dollar is up on the screen. It’s a feast for the ears as much as the eyes, with an immersive soundscape and Bear McCreary’s pumping score to drive it. He also respectfully brings in the original 1954 Japanese Godzilla theme for a heroic salute. Godzilla: King Of The Monsters is flawed for sure, but it’s such big, dumb, popcorn fun that it drowns out any major criticisms with a roar. More to come with Godzilla vs. Kong next year.