The Movie Waffler New Release Review - GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review - GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS

godzilla king of the monsters review
Godzilla battles a new threat.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Michael Dougherty

Starring: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middlemitch, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang

godzilla king of the monsters poster


The past five years have seen the Godzilla franchise rebooted twice, on both sides of the Pacific. Japan's Toho Studios hit the reset button on their greatest creation with Shin Godzilla, which made up for its lack of style with plenty of substance, as much a political thriller as a monster movie. America's Warner Brothers gave us the Gareth Edwards directed Godzilla, which made up for its lack of substance with plenty of style, a love letter to the blockbuster cinema of Spielberg. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a sequel to the latter, but this one lacks both style and substance.

Set five years after the events of Edwards' film, King of the Monsters introduces us to the Russells, a family torn apart as a result of the destruction wrought by Godzilla in San Francisco five years earlier. Unable to process the grief of losing their son, Mark (Kyle Chandler) and Emma (Vera Farmiga) have separated, the former retreating to the wilds of Colorado to study wolves, the latter taking their precocious daughter (we can tell she's precocious because she's introduced listening to '90s alt-rock) Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) off to China to study giant monsters.


godzilla king of the monsters review

There, Emma works for Monarch, the agency that has spent the last half decade keeping tabs on Godzilla and a variety of 'Titans' (read Kaiju) spread around the world (including Loch Ness, though sadly we never see Nessie in action). Hidden away in a mountain and frozen in a cocoon state is Mothra, a giant, you guessed it, moth. When Mothra's hideaway is infiltrated by MI6 agent turned eco-terrorist Alan Jonah (Charles Dance in classic sneering toff form) and his armed thugs, Emma and Madison are taken hostage, along with 'The Orca', a device Emma has created that serves as a beacon for Titans.

Returning from the previous movie are Monarch agents Ishirō (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne (Sally Hawkins, completely wasted here), who recruit Mark to help them track down his estranged wife and daughter, and retrieve The Orca in the process. To Mark's surprise, Monarch can also call on the aid of Godzilla, who has been living quietly underwater for the past half decade. When Jonah (see what they did there?) awakens King Ghidorah, a giant three headed beast that has lain dormant in Antarctica, the stage is set for a tremendous Titan tussle.


godzilla king of the monsters review

There were two main complaints around Edwards' 2014 Godzilla. Many viewers felt short-changed by the limited screen time afforded to the titular Titan. Personally, I didn't have a problem with this as Edwards' film was an origin story after all, and besides, most of Toho's Godzilla movies are just as light on monster action, usually focussing on the exploits of humans at ground level as they figure out how to deal with the monster menace (Shin Godzilla freezes the big guy in downtown Tokyo for the bulk of its narrative). If 2014's Godzilla was essentially Superman The Movie, shouldn't King of the Monsters be Superman II? With the details of this universe laid out in the first movie, shouldn't it now be time to let Godzilla engage in some serious smackdowns with his fellow iconic giant monsters? Yet oddly, we're treated to even less monster on monster action here than the previous movie, and what we do get is obscured through mist and rain ala the first Pacific Rim movie. Edwards' wonderful use of light and colour is replaced by the now de rigeur teal and amber combo, and director Michael Dougherty fails to replicate his predecessors' sense of spectacle and scale. And just as Godzilla is about to wrestle with a villainous beasty, the movie cuts back to its non-entity human characters.

Which brings us to the second complaint regarding Edwards' film - the lack of interesting characters. That movie made us spend most of its running time with a soldier, played in wooden fashion by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, rather than the sort of out-of-their-depth civilian we might more readily identify with (see Tom Cruise's blue collar screw-up in Spielberg's War of the Worlds). King of the Monsters repeats the same issue, with all of its characters either boffins or military types. This can work of course. Look at both versions of The Thing, Shin Godzilla, or something like The Andromeda Strain, where it's enthralling to watch very intelligent characters attempt to come up with a solution. But the characters and their dumbed down techno-babble are so poorly written here that it's impossible to give a toss what happens to them. One character in particular has a baffling arc that sees them go from hero to villain and back to hero again, the film asking us to forget about an early atrocity they played a large part in. Another key character disappears without explanation, as if a death scene was filmed and ended up on the cutting room floor. We get two characters played  by Bradley Whitford and Thomas Middleditch who are essentially Jake Johnson's Jurassic World nerd split pointlessly in two.


godzilla king of the monsters review

In an attempt to draw in the Chinese market, Asian megastar Zhang Ziyi joins the cast, but her role is entirely superfluous. She does have one interesting moment where she talks about how 'slaying dragons' is a western concept, that in Asian culture dragons are to be respected. It's something of a self-own by this Hollywood production, which has a strangely pro-nuke agenda. The original 1954 Godzilla (aka Gojira) preyed heavily on Japan's then all too fresh memory of the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the threat of nuclear annihiliation has run throughout the Japanese franchise in the decades since, brought to an explicitly anti-American level in Shin Godzilla. In King of the Monsters (which takes its title from the US version of Gojira, which shoehorned Raymond Burr into the narrative), a nuclear detonation is portrayed as a force for good, almost as if the movie is America's angry reaction to its villainisation in Shin Godzilla. That Ishirō, this film's one Japanese character, goes along with this plan without a moment's hesitation shows a gross misunderstanding of what Godzilla represents to the nation that created the creature. For Toho Studios, watching what Hollywood does with their creation here must be akin to watching a nanny-cam livestream of your dog being abused by the neighbour who agreed to look after it while you're away.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is in UK/ROI cinemas May 29th.


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