** This review contains spoilers. You’ve been warned.
This movie had all the makings of greatness written on it. Right from the trailers to the marketing to the very premise of the movie; this movie had it all. It had the potential to be the Inception of Kaiju/Monster & Godzilla movies. Yet this movie comes up short.
After having watched this movie in IMAX, I felt very conflicted inside. It had great actors who give great performances. It had all the monster fights which are probably the best ever seen in a Kaiju movie. However, the movie as a whole seems to be lesser than the sum of its parts.
As a huge Godzilla fan, this review is not a rant on the movie by any means. In fact, I was very entertained by what I had primarily come to watch (The Kaiju Fights !!). You can clearly see that Michael Dougherty has put a great deal of care in to making these ‘Legendary’ (Pun Totally Intended) beasts come to life in the best possible way on the big screen. However, the context of these fights seems to have been drowned out in the process and that is my biggest issue with this movie.
So, let’s get to the details !!
A lot of critics have criticized the movie for a very thin storyline. However, in my opinion, the story of the movie is fairly solid. While taking a story in a certain direction can come with certain limitations and have consequences on the end-product, it can just as well shine if executed very well.
The movie primarily focuses on the Russell family who are heavily involved with the secret government organization MONARCH that studies these Titans (Kaiju). The opening scene of the movie is very post-apocalyptic and rewinds the clock to 2014 when Godzilla destroys a good portion of San Francisco while battling the MUTOs. It also shows Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) frantically looking for their son Andrew in the pile of ruins left behind by the titans. Their son Andrew is then revealed to have been killed by the destruction that is caused during the fights. This then causes a rift between the family and Mark and Emma are separated as a result; leaving behind their daughter Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) to split her time between her parents.
The ongoing family struggle within the Russell family and their association with MONARCH then acts as a plot point to move the story forward. As part of efforts to communicate with and even control the titans, Emma Russell has created a device called an Orca. The Orca is capable of sending out certain frequencies to which all titans respond to; and as a result, the titans could potentially be controlled or manipulated by the humans.
This then turns out to be the major point of conflict as a bunch of Eco-Terrorists led by Jonah Alan (Charles Dance), a retired British Colonel, then kidnap Emma and Madison Russell to gain control of the Orca. Their main goal is to awaken & gradually release all the titans one by one in order to restore balance to humanity.
The Major Issues with The Movie
On a very superficial level, Michael Dougherty gets everything needed to make this movie a success, right. He makes the titans the stars of the movie as opposed to the humans. A major complaint with the 2014 Godzilla movie is that it focuses too much on the human drama and story and that Godzilla hardly gets any screen time. Dougherty gets this aspect spot on by providing long-term fans and general movie-goers alike with plenty of kaiju battles.
Also, he has assembled a great cast of A-list actors with many of them giving top performances with whatever dialogues they have to deliver. However, the core issue with this movie is that the story is not fleshed out enough.
The movie introduces a number of very relevant, profound and interesting themes at the very beginning of the film; much of what is teased in the terrific trailers. These include humans destroying the environment, the human perception of titans and whether they represent good or evil, the on-going tensions between the government and the very agency they fund (MONARCH) to destroy all the titans, the secret origins of these legendary titans and how awakening these titans will restore ecological balance to the planet. Yet throughout the movie, these themes are barely glossed over or are never really explored again.
The movie while introducing a number of titans, also sets up some titans as good and bad. It then eventually uses this as a device to set-up the major villain in all of this titanic madness; HUMANS. In relation to the environmental themes introduced at the beginning of the movie, this is a fantastic idea. Herein again, lies another major issue with the movie. The motivations behind the character’s intentions are not fleshed out very clearly. While one can see the motivations behind the human characters, the depth of this is never really made clear. For example, Emma Russell’s decision to unleash the titans (As seen in the trailers) is linked in some way to a past family tragedy. However, the way this is executed in the movie makes her motivations very muddled and possibly even counter-intuitive. Also, Jonah Alan’s character is not fleshed out properly and almost nothing is known about the reason for his motivations other than the fact that he is tired of humanity’s pointless wars destroying the planet.
The final issue with the movie is its tonal inconsistency. It’s very clear that Michael Dougherty is a huge fan of the original Godzilla films. Perhaps in a sort of homage (Maybe ?) to the original classics, he introduced a lot of cheesy humour in the movie. The humour in and of itself was fine and quite good. For the most part, it landed well. However, this really detracted from the ‘End of Days’ atmosphere that the movie was going for. You would have Rodan or King Ghidorah homing in fast & furious on their jet, and there you have some scientists cracking jokes. Additionally, these scientists were always in a jet or submarine, and despite the threat of the titans lurking nearby, they somehow always appear to be safe and cracking jokes. So, while the stakes are high, they never really make you feel that way. It is not very clear why this decision was taken.
Enough of the bashing…Let’s get to the good part !!
The Magnificent Titans
The Kaiju/Titan fights in this movie are unbelievable. The amount of love and care taken by Michael Dougherty to bring these classic revered Kaiju to life is very clear. This is the best that Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Mothra and Rodan have looked in their entire history on the big screen. The amount of detail put in to make them look so realistic and give them that mythical vibe is astounding. Having seen the movie in IMAX, I can say that the experience is something else. For all its faults, this movie deserves to be watched in IMAX just for the Kaiju alone.
There is a ton of Kaiju fights and a particularly memorable one is the aerial dog fight between Rodan and King Ghidorah. There are also a number of memorable scenes from the fights between Godzilla and King Ghidorah. The highlight of the movie is surely the explosive finale between Godzilla and Ghidorah near Boston’s Fenway Park. As was the case in one of the TV Spots or trailers, there is a reference to ‘Burning Godzilla’. The finale ties in to this and in many ways is similar to Goku going Super Saiyan vs Frieza in Namek and then using the spirit bomb to defeat him.
Godzilla, Ghidorah and Rodan apart, the show stealer is easily Mothra. A question that often pops up in the minds of many fans of the franchise is how a giant moth could stand up to a couple of huge dinosaur-like creatures and a three-headed dragon. However, they manage to make Mothra appear beautiful and deadly at the same time. The transformation of Mothra from its larva stage to its butterfly stage in the waterfalls in the Yunnan Rainforests is a sight to behold in all its luminescent glory. The portrayal of Mothra was a show-stealer in general and a couple of my friends felt the same way too.
Lastly, Dougherty brought out a certain personality in all of the 4 major Kaiju in the movie. They could have just been portrayed as mindless monsters but the way they were portrayed really well especially in the case of King Ghidorah. The motion capture work to portray the unique personalities of all the 3 heads of King Ghidorah was terrific.
Some Other Great Stuff
The sound track by Bear McCreary is a definite highlight of the movie. The chanting in the back-ground during the Kaiju battles really enhances the atmosphere. In general, the visuals and cinematography are some of the best ever seen in Hollywood in recent times. For a movie that relies so heavily on CGI for its core focus, it really hits the mark. The visuals of Boston and Washington DC being totally decimated really conveys the sense of a post-apocalyptic planet.
The actors give good performances with Ken Watanabe’s character Ishiro Serizawa having a truly emotional moment.
Godzilla: King of The Monsters is not without its faults but is still very entertaining to watch. This movie certainly felt like it needed 2 parts as many themes were introduced and needed to be fleshed out. At times, it felt like the movie was jumping from scene to scene without giving the audience enough time to really digest and appreciate the events that had just unfolded.
Michael Dougherty had stated that the original run-time of the movie was closer to 3 hours and that quite a lot had to be edited. This could explain why the story was not fleshed out enough. I was really looking forward to learning much more about the origins of the titans but didn’t get to know much aside from ancient cave paintings. While there are some really cool references to the inner earth, Atlantis (Or something that looked like it) & Godzilla’s resting place, there was certainly scope to explore this in much greater detail. Also, the concept of how the titans restore or maintain the planet’s balance is not explained. Explaining these aspects could have added so much more weight to the Kaiju battles and the character motivations.
Lastly, the overall tone of the movie could have been consistent with the intense & explosive finale. While the movie definitely showed several places in the world getting levelled by the awakened Kaiju and people running away in terror, it skips over these scenes too quickly. Perhaps they could have focused more on the mere helplessness of the terrified humans in the face of this near post-apocalyptic Kaiju madness. This would have elevated the movie to another level.
I certainly look forward to watching this movie on Blu-Ray when it does release. This movie feels more like a 7, 7-ish out of 10 as opposed to the 9 out of 10 that was teased in the trailers and also what I believe to be the true potential of this movie.
All said and done, hats-off to Michael Dougherty for pulling off a movie of this scale and for bringing these legendary Kaiju to life on the big screen !! Thank you, Michael Dougherty, !!
The Post-Credits Scene
One of the fallen heads of King Ghidorah during the post-credits scene appears to have been recovered by some people. This is then offered to Jonah Alan and his band of eco-terrorists. What does this imply ? To long-term Godzilla fans, this is a possible indication that Mecha King Ghidorah or some variation of it could appear in the next Godzilla movie. This could be in Godzilla vs Kong or a later Monsterverse sequel if they decide to continue with the franchise.
Alternatively, it could also indicate that the DNA of the fallen King Ghidorah head will be used to create an even more sinister Kaiju.
However, there is another Kaiju or some variation of it that could appear in a possible sequel. In the movie, the Oxygen Destroyer is used to kill both Godzilla and King Ghidorah. This could lead to the possible creation of the Kaiju named Destoroyah. Destoroyah’s origins are very similar and appears in the 1996 movie Godzilla vs Destoroyah and is one of Godzilla’s deadliest foes.
So, what then of Kong ?
Godzilla vs Kong 2020
At the time of writing this article, Godzilla: King of the Monsters has grossed around $300 million worldwide which is definitely below what the projections for this movie were. As a result, rumours are doing the rounds that Adam Wingard’s sequel will be pushed back to a late 2020 release. The word is that the people helming the project want to ensure that they make an A+ movie to keep the franchise going.
Regardless, there were references to Godzilla vs Kong at the end of this movie. All the different Kaiju that were introduced in this movie are seen moving towards Skull Island in response to some signal. Its not clear what this signal is but is a definite indication that Kong’s home is going to be under some solid threat from lots of Kaiju. There is also a cave painting of Godzilla taking on Kong which indicates that they have battled each other in the past. It will be interesting to see what brings these two protectors of the planet on a collision course.
Considering the mixed reaction to Godzilla: King of Monsters thus far, it will be interesting to see what direction the Monsterverse takes. It appears that they have all the ingredients to make this a long-running franchise. However, they need to get it right at the box-office. Let’s hope that they do for our sake.
In Jonah Alan’s words…. Long Live The King !!