In 2014, people complained – and are still complaining, actually – that there wasn’t enough Godzilla in director Gareth Edwards’ remake. “He doesn’t show up until, like, an hour into the movie,” people love to whine. Five years later, we get a movie over two hours long where, not only is there an abundance of Godzilla before what feels like the thirty-minute mark, there’s a three-headed dragon, a giant moth, a volcanic Pteranodon, and some other unknown large monsters created solely by Legendary Entertainment because they didn’t get the rights to anymore Godzilla-canon Kaiju. Years of complaints to have your wishes fulfilled and you find even more reasons to complain. Perhaps, humans really should go extinct.
Fast forward to 2019, when Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus director Michael Doughtery gets to helm the newest instalment in what I’ve already dubbed the Large Lads Cinematic Universe. Though the director’s original grounded flair for the horrific is lost underneath a towering CGI spectacle, he succeeds in creating exactly what a film called Godzilla: King of the Monsters sets out to do. Following 2017’s Kong: Skull Island and preceding the penultimate Godzilla vs. Kong, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a movie where creatures bigger than city skyscrapers duel it out in a fiery hellscape version of Washington D.C., as the United States capital burns amidst the roaring flames and cacophony of guttural monster howling (not all that unlike the current political situation in real life). It’s a movie with a simple mission and it executes it near-flawlessly, creating an excessive display of computer-generated indulgence that reminds us it’s the simple things, like giant monsters, that make life worth living.
The movie begins with the wreckage of Godzilla’s San Francisco visit from five years prior, where we meet Emma (Vera Farmiga) and Mark (Kyle Chandler) with their daughter, Madison (Millie Bobbie Brown), unable to find their son Andrew in the aftermath of the destruction. Since then, Emma and Mark’s marriage splintered, and the pair separated; now five years later, Madison and Emma are living in a rainforest in China, working with the government task force Monarch to help track down the other “titans” like Godzilla. Monarch, the existence of which is established in Kong: Skull Island, is a previously-crackpot agency intent on tracking massive, crypto-zoological animals which some believe are the rightful owners of the earth. Now clearly a legitimate and useful agency, different Monarch outposts are stationed around the globe, so that the earth’s titans can be monitored and, hopefully, ideally, be kept contained.
While observing the tumultuous birth of a giant moth called Mothra, an eco-terrorist organisation led by a man named Alan Jonah (Charles Dance, menacing as ever) captures Maddie and Emma and takes them to Antarctica, where a titan named only “Monster Zero” is encased in ice. Monarch enlists Mark’s help to track Maddie and Emma down, but it is revealed that Emma is working in tangent with the eco-terrorists, who believe that releasing the titans is what’s necessary to restore balance to a world ravaged by pollution, and keep humans from enduring a mass extinction. Monster Zero (real name King Ghidorah), is believed to be the rival alpha to Godzilla, and once released by Emma it becomes a race to get Ghidorah killed off so that benevolent Godzilla can reign supreme over the other destructive titans waking up across earth.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is pure French delicacy-level schlock in the finest sense – narrative-wise, character-wise, action sequence-wise. It’s a movie with the purpose of showing gigantic, ungodly animated battles between gargantuan nightmare creatures, and anything else we can receive along the way is merely an unexpected and delightful accoutrement. The lighting and cinematography are often utterly, unironically gorgeous, encapsulating the Kaiju in hazy swathes of clouds punctuated by vibrant smatterings of yellow, blue, and green, somehow accentuating them in a way that unearths the genuine beauty in their ridiculous size. It’s awe-striking – if not also a little too obvious – when a shot of Ghidorah towering atop a volcano places the symbol of the cross in the foreground; a genuine sense of terror imbued from the idea that this is our God now.
The character moments aren’t the greatest thing in the world, but they’re certainly better than they have any right to be, in which a movie the likes of this could easily scrap human tenderness with the half-hearted, B-movie plot progression and character arcs of last year’s The Meg. The human aspects do, at times, feel like they drag the film out to a melodramatic over-two-hour run time that isn’t exactly necessary, but it’s not like any of the actors are under-performing or hamming it up. The fact that they treat the material as deadly serious is sort of unintentionally goofy on its own, but it actually ends up heartfelt at times too. It’s true that in a perfect world, the people of this film would be less imposing in a narrative meant to focus on monster battles, but for what it’s worth, they don’t do a terrible job.
There are other silly little things scattered about that only enhance the experience. There are two zoom-ins on Rodan and one on Godzilla that are straight-up comedy zooms, like something you’d see on The Office when Jim Halpert looks at the camera. There’s the fact that Monarch eventually realises that in order to stop the destruction being caused by all the other Kaiju, King Ghidorah needs to be killed so that the Kaiju will see Godzilla as their compassionate overlord, and which made me write down “You kill the Night King, you kill all the White Walkers” while I was taking notes during my screening. It should also be noted that Bradley Whitford gives the unnecessary and imposing comedic relief performance of a lifetime, championing his “hollow earth theory” like a real-life flat-earther from a Reddit forum.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is not a boring movie. If you find yourself looking at the exit signs in your cinema when the people on screen start talking, it’s a small price to pay for the truly epic duels that ensue later on. It’s a bombastic, gratuitous spectacle that reminds you what makes seeing dumb blockbusters so much fun, and that lowbrow art is still art even if its only intention is to fill you with excitement from seeing an oversized lizard on the screen. Michael Dougherty’s Monster Mash goes above and beyond to create a ridiculous and fun creature feature that all of you are somehow still complaining about. I’m going to watch it for a second time so that I can drown you all out with the sounds of heads being ripped off.
by Brianna Zigler
Brianna Zigler is a graduate in Film-Video and Writing from Penn State University with big plans and not a lot of planning. She is passionate about film and writing about film and also talking about film but can’t really decide which she wants to do with her life, but it’s not a big deal (that’s future Brianna’s problem). She loves horror, absurdism, Twin Peaks, is a die-hard Wes Anderson fan, and currently has almost 250 movies in her watchlist. Her favorite films are What We Do in the Shadows, A Serious Man, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Swiss Army Man, and Suspiria. She met Greg Sestero once and it was weird. You can follow her on Twitter @briannazigs