Godzilla. One of the most recognizable names in cinema isn’t an actor or a superhero, it’s a massive monster that has starred in 34 films since his debut in the 1950s setting the bar for pretty much every massive creature that has hit the big screen since. His 35th film was slated to be one of his most epic, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”. The third film in Legendary’s MonsterVerse, an extended film universe focused on iconic cinema monsters like Godzilla and King Kong, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” sought to take years of crossovers and world building from the titular creatures previous incarnations and bring it all into one picture as Godzilla is forced to take on numerous iconic foes for supremacy as an alpha Titan. Promising plenty of epic monster action to kick the franchise into a new gear for a new audience, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” or “Godzilla 2” had the lofty task of trying to build on its titular monster’s reputation and push the MonsterVerse forward for future installments including next year’s “Godzilla vs. Kong”. How well does this sequel live up to the hype? Let’s find out. This is my review of “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”.
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters”, which I will refer to as “Godzilla 2” through much of this review, picks up several years after the destructive battle between Godzilla and the MUTOs in 2014. Paleobiologist Emma Russell (Vera Formiga) works for Monarch, the overarching crypto-zoological organization that ties the MonsterVerse together, and has created a device called the “Orca” which can tune into the bio-frequencies of the massive monsters like Godzilla, now called Titans. The device allows for a way to control the creatures by tuning in to their alpha frequencies. However, Russell and her spunky daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) are kidnaped by an organization of eco-terrorists led by former British Army colonel Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) who plan to use the Orca to control the most powerful Titan of all, a legendary three-headed dragon creature called Ghidorah. Emma’s ex-husband Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) joins forces with Monarch to save his wife and daughter uncovering a deeper conspiracy that forces the organization to turn to Godzilla as Ghidorah and a slew of other Titans, including Mothra and Rodan, are released upon the world.
I was actually surprisingly excited to see what “Godzilla 2” had to offer. While I do believe films are supposed to have an artistic edge, it’s always cool just to embrace a mindless action fest from time to time and a monster movie like this should be the perfect source. Thankfully I got exactly what I was looking for on that front. “Godzilla 2” bills itself as a war of Titans with the titular lizard at the center introducing some of the monster’s most legendary foes to the MonsterVerse including Mothra, Rodan, and, of course, Ghidorah. With such a large cast of iconic creatures, I went into this movie expecting it to feel bloated and messy but I was thankfully proven wrong as all four of these legendary creatures sported awesome, updated designs and received adequate screen time to warrant their inclusion. Godzilla specifically receives much more screen time and development than what we got in the first film including some insight into his features and even his origins. Ghidorah specifically is an excellent antagonist for the creature and represents the most extreme of the Titans that, according to the film’s mythology, once ruled over Earth and humanity. His design is delightfully over the top and his powers make him an excellent threat to not only Godzilla but the world in general.
But, let’s face it what we’re really looking for in this movie is monster battles and while it’s not the all-out slugfest it could have been “Godzilla 2” does indeed deliver. Ghidorah and Godzilla duke it out several times, three to be exact, while Mothra and Rodan also engage in battle with not only each other but the other monsters as well. The cool part is “Godzilla 2” goes all in with the destruction of cities and famous landmarks as these Titans face off, playing into the underlying theme of Mother Nature reclaiming the world from the abusive humans who have risen as the dominant species. Even the events of the previous “Godzilla” movie are referenced as having allowed for the Earth to regain its former glory without human intervention in the previously destroyed cities. That’s right, this is a “Godzilla” film with a message continuing the previous theme of humanity versus nature explored in “Kong: Skull Island” while upping the ante from the unbridled destruction featured in the first “Godzilla” by making the Titan invasion a worldwide epidemic of mass mayhem. Of course, the picture keeps the focus squarely on Godzilla and Ghidorah’s conflict as these two challenge for supremacy over their fellow monsters. The final result is an epic, exhilarating, and tremendously entertaining popcorn flick that fully embraces its monster-driven potential and rarely slows down as audiences are presented with some of the most entertaining monster fights put to the big screen.
The visual effects also deserve to be commended as a lot of the action, and the monsters of course, are presented in CGI. While not the most convincing creatures to ever hit the big screen, all the monsters are well designed and feel fully realized. Ghidorah, for example, looks like the massive God he was meant to depict while Godzilla echoes his awesome design from the first movie with a few aesthetic updates. Mothra serves as a beautiful and stunning contrast to the other Titans while Rodan’s design echoes his connection to the element of fire from his past cinematic ventures. A lot of work was put into making these creatures as intimidating and memorable a possible although the same can’t be said for the more original Titans that arrive on the scene in the final act. The battle scenes are also nicely done representing the epic scale of the conflicts and fully embracing the destructive potential of these massive creatures. Overall as a monster movie “Godzilla 2” does tremendous justice to its cast of iconic creatures while adding to their legacies so that modern movie fans can appreciate these monsters in a whole new way.
Where “Godzilla 2” goes a little wrong though is with its human characters and its simple, formulaic script and screenplay. Like most monster movies the filmmakers think that simply including humans in the narrative is enough for us to care about them. While, yes, the humans are important to understanding the overall impact of these monsters on the world “Godzilla 2” doesn’t exactly explore any new ground providing us with the overly used broken family dynamic to give our human heroes reason to even be involved in the story. The first “Godzilla” movie was annoyingly heavy on human backstory with less monster action. “Godzilla 2” feels much better balanced but still hands us a side story with human characters that are hard to invest in on a deeper level because we’ve seen their story before. I will admit there is a neat twist in the middle of the picture that challenges who the true villain is, humankind or the Titans, but by the end of the movie, the fate of the humans delves into action and monster epic clichés that are terribly predictable. The emotional weight of sacrifice or discovery feels watered down when we’ve seen people face these same issues, conflicts or challenges time and time and time again on the big screen. However, there were times where characters were killed off that I truly felt bad for their fates although when you see some of the things these people survive to get to the end it does make you wonder how anyone could really die in this universe.
I can’t really fault the actors here though because most of them do a great job even managing to sell a lazy, formulaic script and screenplay at times. Millie Bobby Brown is the standout human star of the film and, being one of the few who has yet to watch “Stranger Things”, this was my first encounter with her talent and she definitely delivers. The more experienced performers aren’t bad either. Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, and Ken Watanabe go a long way to give life to their characters and even give them their own quirks, personalities, and motivations. What could have, and frankly should have, been a soulless monster movie at least has life thanks to these performers who rise above the simple writing to give even some semblance of depth to the story. While it is hard to really feel for these people at times the actors make their characters feel mostly genuine and human which is enough to make these people much more fleshed out than the average monster flick. Still not enough to escape cliche territory, but enough to warrant recognition for good effort.
All in all “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is exactly what it needs to be, an awesome, fun, thrilling blockbuster that gives fans what they want…epic monster battles and the king doing his thing. Sure it’s mostly mindless action with a cliché script and simple screenplay that leans more heavily on its effects and chaos than anything else, but again that’s what we expected. Hell, it’s probably what a lot of us actually wanted. Even with its bland writing, the performers seem to have fun with it and lift the film above its flaws to at least make things interesting and delightfully ridiculous. This is a picture that could have, and maybe should have, been a whole lot worse but as a fan and a moviegoer I was pleasantly surprised with what I got. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and felt engaged and engrossed even knowing how everything would end since the follow-up has already been scheduled for March of 2020 when Godzilla will take on the legendary King Kong. Even if you go into this movie without expecting a lot of substance or subtlety you might be surprised by just how much it has to say underneath the destruction and mayhem. My final say: “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is a great step forward for a young cinematic universe and a neat, over-the-top epic that does justice to everything before it and builds a solid foundation for what’s still to come.