by Jason Delgado
Godzilla: King of the Monsters intends to be what its title implies, having the giant lizard-like kaiju battle to take his metaphorical crown back as the baddest monster on the planet. Pacific Rim and even the franchises’’ previous entry, Kong: Skull Island, have stolen Godzilla’s thunder over the last few years by upping the ante for massive creatures (and robots in Pacific Rim’s case) throwing epic smack downs with each other. Intentions are all well and good, I wanted to be an NBA superstar, but it’s hard out there on the court for a 5 foot- 6 inches tall white guy who can’t jump. Let’s just say that Godzilla and I both came up a little bit short.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters follows a family that is still reeling from the events of the 2014 version of Godzilla, a film that was criticized for “too much plot and not enough Godzilla” by some fans. This movie intends to rectify that by upping the Game of Thrones, “Battle of Winterfell” like dark camera action. Is this a way to skimp on CGI costs, or is it purely a stylistic choice that is going on these days? Either way, I guess I’m old school in wanting to be able to fully see everything on-screen with proper lighting.
Old man diatribes aside, a big chunk of the 132 minutes of this film are spent on a broken family, hashing out their issues with each other. I don’t know about you, but that’s not exactly my idea of Summer popcorn movie escapism. Godzilla is the embodiment of our nuclear fears, born out of the tragic real life ashes of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. That’s how the impetus for the character began anyways in the 1954 Japanese original film. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is more about the breakdown of the nuclear family, than the fear of what the effects of another atomic bomb would bring (if you want to see an excellent piece on true nuclear fallout, watch HBO’s Chernobyl). The character of Dr. Emma Russell, played by the brilliant Vera Farmiga of Bates Motel fame, even advocates for the destruction brought on by the monsters, as a way to bring balance back to the Earth’s ecosystem. Thanos anyone?
I was excited for Godzilla after I attended a panel for it at WonderCon, which brought the arena- sized house down. I realize now that they showed us a great deal of the action footage, leaving out the tedious plot. At the time of this writing, 40% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes enjoyed Godzilla: King of the Monsters, while 89% of the audience gives it the old thumbs up.
So what’s the reason for the huge divide? Do certain movie-going audiences only care about action, plot be damned? I’m going to throw one name out there and you can decide…Michael Bay. I don’t need to take shots, because you already know what I mean. Some people like junk food now and again too, which is fine, as long as man doesn’t live on Michael Bay alone.
My gripe is why not have the best of both worlds? Plot and action, like “cats and dogs living together – mass hysteria,” as Dr. Peter Venkman would say. It used to be a novel idea, but we just saw Avengers: Endgame do it successfully. The story doesn’t have to be Chinatown, but at least make it something worth watching between the gigantic CGI set pieces.
I used to love watching the classic Japanese Toho Godzilla films as a kid. What boy doesn’t like seeing that kind of mass destruction caused by a dinosaur-like creature? Like the classic Blue Oyster Cult song of the same name says, “Oh no, there goes Tokyo, go go Godzilla.” There’s a soulless remake of that song during the end credits, which is the way I view the plot and characters of Godzilla: King of the Monsters. There are some cool Easter eggs for classic fans such as myself, one having to do with Mothra, and a few other surprises along the way.
Minor spoiler alert: The aforementioned Vera Farmiga is typecast as the “psycho” mom. Millie Bobby Brown from Stranger Things mostly has a lot of reaction shots to “strange creatures.” Thomas Middleditch from Silicon Valley is the awkward guy who throws out lame jokes. See a pattern here? The list of talented actors in this film goes on, Ken Watanabe is given a bigger role here than the 2014 film, and Charles Dance gets to show off a couple different layers, but for the most part, they aren’t given enough interesting material to work with in my opinion.
The action is cool though. I wonder how many people would be happy with a “WonderCon” cut of the film, 30 minutes of just pure Godzilla action. My hope for that film is if they’re not going to work on an engaging plot, at least make it mindless fun like Kong: Skull Island was, instead of dragging me down with family issues.
Tip: Stay through the end credits of the film for a teaser which may be a setup for the next film in the franchise – Godzilla vs. Kong which is already in production.