Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)


Let's address the kaiju-sized elephant in the room, while totally ignoring that there is (kind of) a kaiju elephant in this movie.  I sometimes pay attention to Rotten Tomatoes when it comes to major movies, because if I am going to spend the time to go to the theater and see it (as well as the expense) then I want to know that I am not wasting my time or money.  There's a reason that I, like many adults, are more than happy to wait until we can see movies on the small screen.  However, this is a Godzilla film.

Godzilla is quite important to me, no matter how bad many of the movies can be technically.  I grew up on watching giant monsters stomp cities (as a kid they don't look as much like toys as they do when you're an adult) and beat the living snot out of each other.  There were a couple Saturday morning cartoons I liked, but I was always anxious for 10:00 am to roll around - that was when classic Universal horror films, Ray Harryhausen stuff and Japanese monster films would come on.  I will be the first to admit that I am very forgiving when it comes to these movies, except for the 2008 Roland Emmerich one.  They generally have one job: show monsters fighting while the Japanese (and a few U.S. military guys in ROTC uniforms) use imaginary weapons to try to destroy them.

This is what Godzilla: King of the Monsters promises, albeit not as cobbled together as some of the later Toho productions as they entered the 1970s.  It is also what it delivers, and what the 2014 Godzilla was a bit too light on.  It is what all fans of these movies were expecting.  Unfortunately, the major critics seem to have been either expecting the actors to turn to the screen and give Shakespearian soliloquies between the action, or they were expecting Godzilla, Rodan, King Ghidorah and Mothra to all sit down and have a chat about their feelings and how they should really use their powers to overthrow the patriarchy.

It brings up a question I have had for a long time: if you do not like genre films, why bother reviewing them?  I am sure on a major newspaper or news site that there is staff that knows how to put the film in context and review it from that context, so that the tweed-jacket pipe-smoking 70-year-old they normally have pontificating about "cinema" doesn't have to lower himself to see something the unwashed masses may like.  The same thing has happened here that happened with The Orville: a number of critics said what they thought other critics wanted to hear so they could maintain their credibility, and completely missed the mark.  I'm sure someone is kicking some conspiracy around about Disney paying reviewers to badmouth other company's films, but that's balderdash.  The live-action version of Aladdin ended up in the same sort of situation.  It's the fact that too many people are trying to impress their colleagues (or are watching their phone more than watching the movie, thus leading them to say plots are "confusing") than actually watching and reviewing the movie.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters takes place five years after the events of Godzilla.  Monarch, the organization that is trying to keep the Titans under control, is under Federal investigation and seems to be facing an even newer threat: Jonah Alan (Charles Dance), an eco-terrorist who is taking over Monarch facilities, killing the staff  and using a device called the Orca to wake the monsters up.  He has also kidnapped the creator of the device, Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown).  Russell's estranged husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) is informed of this by Monarch, and is brought back into their fold despite his outspoken desire to kill Godzilla and every single Titan due to the death of his son Andrew during Godzilla's visit to San Francisco.

He reunites with Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and a number of other scientists to find out why Godzilla has become agitated and is headed to Antarctica.  It turns out to be because a Titan called "Monster Zero" is being awakened by the Orca, and of course this happens to be the three-headed dragon known as King Ghidorah.  It turns out that he and Godzilla are ancient rivals for the seat as king of the Titans.  Things progress, more are awakened, and because of some stupid decisions Ghidorah ends up reigning supreme for a bit, waking all the others up (save Kong, who seems to not to be affected by the battle between the two) and causing them to attack major cities around the world.  It turns out the only way to save the planet is for humanity to ally with Godzilla and a newly discovered Titan named Mothra, who traditionally comes to the aid of humanity whenever Ghidorah raises his ugly heads again.

I will agree with the assessment of some of the acting.  While Farmiga is good as always and Millie Bobby Brown gets to be the most interesting human character in her big-screen debut (they decided to forego the mopey teenager thing and just have her be the adult in the room), Ken Watanabe is given little to do beyond exposition and self-sacrifice and Kyle Chandler hams up about every scene he is in.  Still, like I have stated before: no one is expecting the humans in the movie to do more than set things up for the monster battles.  At least there's no little kind in short pants communicating with Godzilla telepathically.  In fact, Brown goes above and beyond for what is expected in a film like this.

This is the third film in the "MonsterVerse", and no matter how it performs at the box office we are still getting Godzilla vs. Kong next year.  His story was already set up by Kong: Skull Island, which, if you are looking for a more human aspect, may be the better bet.  But here is what Godzilla: King of the Monsters promised in every trailer: Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Rodan, Mothra and other special guests.  It's largely Godzilla vs. Monster Zero without sunglass-wearing aliens and the big lizard doing his victory dance.  On top of that, we get a side trip to Atlantis to round things out.

So, yes, most of the battles take place in storms and creepy lighting.  Never once are the fights truly obscured, and the addition of a giant jet called the Argo makes things even better.  My only complaint is that we see the aftermath of Ghidorah and other Titans wreaking havoc in Washington, D.C., but we don't see the lead up or much of the battle.  There may have been time concerns, but this is something that really needed to be seen.  Boston gets pretty banged up and a small town in Mexico gets spectacularly destroyed, but not seeing the King Ghidorah arrive and any other Titans with him laying waste to our capitol, and the battle to hold them off, is a huge missed opportunity.

Director Michael Dougherty knows that this is what audiences are showing up to see, so he wisely keeps the human parts (particularly the family drama) to the basic level needed to provide some framework for waking the monsters up.  We have action from almost the very beginning, with Mothra, in caterpillar form, dealing with Monarch soldiers that decide to take potshots at her.  There are pauses but, even given a runtime just slightly over two hours, the movie manages to not get bogged down.

I know I am a critic as well.  I'd love to say I'm just another consumer but, at this point, I am trying to inform people so they can make a good choice on what to see.  But, and this is a huge but, I concentrate on genre films.  I do like a lot of art films and foreign cinema, as well as many comedies, but I choose to stick with genre.  Even then I would never try to review something like Pitch Perfect; those movies are not made for me in any way, shape or form, and I have no business telling the people they are made for that they shouldn't go see them.  To that end, neither do critics who think that a movie about giant monsters fighting is somehow the nadir of cinema.  The film was made for people like me who get a big smile seeing Rodan burst out of a volcano and, to that end, it is really the first Hollywood Godzilla film to finally get almost everything right.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
Time: 131 minutes
Starring: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Billy Brown, Ken Watanabe, Charles Dance
Director: Michael Dougherty

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