“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” should go a long way towards ending any debate over whether Western movie productions can make a “Godzilla” movie worthy of the name.
Yes, the film follows an all-too familiar formula for both giant monster and disaster films.
Yes. the plot beats between the monster battles are full of none-too-subtle messaging about the environment and interpersonal melodrama.
But savvy audiences should know they’re going to get that going in. This one’s got it where it counts — it’s a fun, over-the-top summer popcorn movie that delivers on the monster fights and global mayhem.
What’s it about?
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” unfolds roughly five years after the events of 2014’s “Godzilla.” In that film, the big guy revealed his presence to the world, fighting off monsters in battles that left San Francisco and Las Vegas in ruins.
Since then, Monarch, the secretive agency charged with monitoring and studying Godzilla and other “Titans,” as the public comes to call them, has diligently continued their work, but the world’s governments are getting antsy. They want to know just how many Titans there are and why they shouldn’t just be destroyed to avoid any more cities getting leveled.
But before the U.S. government can do anything rash, someone beats them to the punch. When the beasties slumbering inside hidden Monarch facilities around the world start stirring, Godzilla himself re-emerges, sensing the threat of an old and implacable foe.
But the big guy’s colossal strength and blue laser breath may not be enough to save the world again. He’ll need a little help from the planet’s other longtime apex-predator: humans.
You know, the ones who were talking about destroying him literally minutes before? No effort to spare the irony here.
There’s quite a bit in the script for “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” about restoring balance. Restoring environmental balance, restoring the natural order, cleaning up the mess humanity has made of the world, etc.
Oddly enough, the way this film improves upon its predecessor also can be chalked up to restoring “balance.” The 2014 film, for all its ambition and reverence for the classic 1950’s Godzilla films that inspired it, lacked balance.
There was too much heavy-handed world-building mumbo-jumbo and not enough monster mayhem. Too much of the silly humans running around doing stupid things and not enough Godzilla punching and frying other monsters.
Writer/director Michael Dougherty (“Krampus“) does a much better job this time keeping things balanced. Yes, you’re still likely to shake your head at some of the stupid things some of the human characters do here. Oh, and the continuing theme of humanity’s arrogance and ridiculous self-importance in the natural order, there’s plenty of that, too.
But audiences in equal measure get plenty of monster movie clashes, rendered gloriously as only today’s motion-capture CGI can do. Fans of the original Japanese films will no doubt get the most out of the monster reveals and battles, some of which even feature musical score cues inspired by past works.
But what about the humans, you ask? What about that huge ensemble cast toplining this big-budget extravaganza, some of who return from the 2014 film?
Dougherty does a better job with them, as well, though it was a low bar. Specifically, fan favorites Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins get a little more to do this time, while stars Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, and Millie Bobby Brown make the most of stock roles done countless times in disaster movies.
One subtle but important improvement Dougherty makes does involve the human cast — specifically the women. Watch for just how much the prominent female characters here actually drive the plot, rather than just being along for the ride to react.
Also, “Get Out” star Bradley Whitford is a one-liner machine here. Godzilla may be king of the monsters, but Whitford is king of the droll delivery and provides much of the film’s intentional comic relief.
All that said, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is definitely worth the time to check out in theaters. Go big with this one — on the biggest screen and most immersive sound system you can find.
Seeing this “king” and his adversaries brought to life this way deserves no less.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Starring Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., with Ken Watanabe and Ziyi Zhang. Directed by Michael Dougherty.
Running time: 131 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of monster action violence and destruction, and for some language.