Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

The summer is here and the king has returned to the multiplex for another apocalyptic round of sound and fury. “Godzilla: King of Monsters” is the direct sequel to Gareth Edwards’ (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) 2014 American reboot of the Atomic Age science-fiction classic. In response to fan backlash that Edwards’ film played too much hide-and-seek with its’ star behemoth, director Michael Dougherty (“Krampus”) quadruples down on the giant monster action, essentially giving fans exactly what they said they wanted. For some, that’s going to be enough, but “King of Monsters” left me reeling with an old expression drifting through my brain: Be careful what you wish for.

There is certainly nothing wrong with delivering in spades just what your target audience expects to see and Dougherty’s sequel brings all of Toho’s classic monsters to glorious computer-generated life, giving them ample screen time to rumble and destroy digital cityscapes. You get Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, King Ghidorah and even a few extra beasties rampaging across landscapes that range from dark and snowy Antarctica to dark and rainy Boston. What’s missing here, for me, is the aura of mystery and majesty that Edwards’ film patiently evoked that resulted in giving Godzilla’s admittedly truncated screen time a sense of scale and awe.

As far as creating a compelling human story through which to frame the giant monster chaos, Edwards’ film pretty much dropped the ball and “King of Monsters” doesn’t really fair any better. The A-list cast includes Kyle Chandler (Peter Jackson’sKing Kong”), Vera Farmiga (“The Conjuring”) and Millie Bobby Brown (“Stranger Things”) as a broken family still suffering the loss of their young son/little brother in Godzilla’s first siege on America. Charles Dance (“Alien 3”) plays the films’ central human heavy, an environmental terrorist who believes the way to save the world is through effectively eliminating humanity. The human characters in “King of Monsters” are mostly dour, deadly serious and just not much fun to be around. They also often make decisions and take actions that are motivationally bewildering and seemingly random as they stumble from one non-survivable situation to another.

To be fair, the 65-year history of Godzilla cinema isn’t really beloved for its’ charming and relatable human characters. It’s loved for its’ monsters, and “King of Monsters” doesn’t disappoint in giving its’ monsters the personality that the human characters lack. Godzilla is a scrappy, heroic underdog when pitted against the colossal fury of the three-headed King Ghidorah whose three heads seem to have separate brains, bickering with and snapping at each other like a pack dogs fighting over a scrap of meat. Mothra displays a regal majesty and delivers a couple of fist pumping moments of victorious glory when she goes toe-to-toe with Ghidorah and the sinister, leathery red-winged Rodan.

There are three major monster battle set pieces in the film, and they are all appropriately overwhelming with apocalyptic skylines, radioactive blasts, mass destruction and giant monster wrestling. There is even a neck hair-raising homage to the original Toho films in composer Bear McCreary’s original score as he borrows original composer Akira Ifukube’s Godzilla theme at just the right moment when the radioactive legend rouses himself for the final battle.

I’ve seen every Godzilla film ever made from the serious minded, nuclear allegory of the 1954 “Gojira” to the 1998 TriStar disaster, and there have been many ups and downs all along the way. Personally, I’m extremely partial to the Heisei Era (1984-1995) that began with “The Return of Godzilla” and ended with the 40th anniversary film, “Godzilla VS Destoroyah.”  For the most part, “Godzilla: King of Monsters” is the closest Hollywood has gotten to producing a big budget replica of a Toho daikaiju film and that will likely be pleasing to the core fanbase. Still, for old school fans like myself, much of the joy derived from watching these movies was knowing that we were watching grown men in rubber suits duking it out among incredibly detailed miniature sets. There was a tangible, backyard playground quality that doesn’t translate the same way with million-dollar CGI special effects.

Godzilla: King of Monsters” is the big American Godzilla movie you’ve always wanted, but just like when you indulged yourself in too much sugar as a kid and found yourself with an unwanted bellyache, the extended digital spectacle here ultimately overwhelms and exhausts as much as it satisfies. If there’s no such thing as too much in your monster movie appetite, however, never fear. ‘Godzilla VS Kong” is coming soon to a theater near you!

The Phantom of The Ville

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