To say that Godzilla King of the Monsters has been my most anticipated film of 2019 is an understatement. I’ve been clamoring for a new Godzilla film ever since the last installment released in 2014. For 5 years now, I’ve read every news article about the status of the sequel, from cast and crew, to the story and the monsters involved. It always seemed like something that might not happen, considering the 2014 Godzilla was labeled as an underperforming disappointment. People blamed it on wooden, unlikeable characters, Godzilla and his fights against the MUTO monsters being teased too much and the final battle being too dark to see anything. Thankfully, rather than panicking and scrambling to reboot the franchise again, Legendary decided to double down with a love letter to the Japanese films that came before with more monsters, more action, more cool military tech and more easter eggs than an only child’s easter basket.
The film begins pretty much exactly where Godzilla 2014 ends, and we meet our new set of human protagonists. We see Mark (Bloodlines Kyle Chandler) Emma Russell (The Conjuring films) and their young daughter Madison searching in the rubble of San Francisco for their son, only to find he’s been killed in the battle between Godzilla and the MUTO. We’re then treated to a time skip of 5 years and we learn that Mark and Emma, devastated by the death of their son, have divorced and haven’t spoken in over 3 years. Madison (Stranger Things Millie Bobby Brown) lives with her mother but secretly keeps in touch with her father via email. Mark is working as a wildlife photographer while Emma is working for Monarch and has been overseeing the study of, what we very quickly learn is Mothra’s egg. Honestly, this is all a bit sudden as we go from learning that Emma is a monarch scientist, to the egg becoming active, to Larvae Mothra hatching in the span of what feels like 3-5 minutes. It’s at this point we learn that this is not Godzilla 2014 anymore and there won’t be any 45 minute build ups to doors closing in our faces. This is barely 15 minutes into the film and the pace is breakneck and stays that way throughout.
Moments after Mothra is born, the containment field meant to keep her in place fails, and she gets pretty pissed. She attacks the labs security forces and Emma scrambles to deploy her new invention, the ORCA to calm her down. The ORCA sends out an ALPHA signal that basically calms down other titans. Almost immediately after Mothra calms down, the lab is taken (with extreme force) by a militant group led by Jonah Alan (Charles Dance of GOT). After executing every Monarch employee, they take Emma and Madi hostage, as well as stealing the ORCA device.
The ORCA becomes a major plot point, both for our heroes and villains. Monarch recruits Mark, telling him that his family has been kidnapped and they need his help, as he helped build the ORCA prototype. Returning is Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (the always wonderful Ken Watanabe) as well as newcomers Dr. Chen (Ziyi Zhang who is always a welcome addition to any film) and Dr. Stanton (Bradley Whitford of Get Out). Mark is reluctant to help though as he saw the potential danger of the ORCA falling into the wrong hands and thought it had been destroyed, as well as his hatred for Godzilla, who he blames for the death of his young son and failed marriage. However, he quickly has a change of heart after a close encounter with Godzilla shows him that Big G might not just be a mindless killing machine, as well as his desire to get his family back. Mark’s struggle is conveyed pretty well and Kyle Chandler is definitely one of the stronger performers in the film. He has a worn down look that really works well for his character.
Meanwhile, Jonah and his forces have made their way to a Monarch base in Antarctica, bringing Emma and Madi along with them. After blasting their way into the base, they arrive in another lab where we see the unmistakable silhouette of King Ghidorah (who Madi immediately refers to as Monster Zero, a cool little nod to his origin film) trapped in a giant wall of ice. They begin to use the ORCA to make another ALPHA signal, which in turn draws Godzilla and Monarch to them as well. Jonah knows of their arrival and his forces ambush them, while Mark gets the drop on Jonah as he is escaping with Emma and Madi. Madi and Emma both refuse to leave with Mark, and in the first major twist of the film, Emma sets off explosives that destroy the ice that has been imprisoning King Ghidorah. Jonah and his forces escape in the ensuing chaos, while Mark and the Monarch crew is attacked by Ghidorah, who immediately vaporizes and group of soldiers. Just when it seems that Ghidorah is going to do the same to the rest of the Monarch gang, Godzilla jumps into action and attacks Ghidorah. It was a bit surprising to see the two titans get into a fight so soon into the film, but the fight is pretty great, albeit brief. It’s a thrill to see classic imagery like Ghidorah wrapping it’s necks around Godzilla, Godzilla ripping off one of Ghidorah’s heads, and the two exchanging atomic and electrical attacks back and forth. Godzilla is eventually thrown into a crevasse and Monarch and Ghidorah flee from the scene.
The next titan to awaken is Rodan, who emerges from an active volcano and proceeds to absolutely decimate the nearly village, as well as Monarch forces. This is easily one of the best action scenes in the movie, as Rodan’s ariel ability is fully utilised. The sheer windforce created by his massive wings during flight sends out shockwaves that rip apart buildings and sends cars and people flying. His aerial battle with Monarch jets is absolutely fantastic, as he bites, grabs and uses his wings to annihilate their forces. The main Monarch jet (a really cool B-52 esque flying fortress) lures Rodan towards the approaching King Ghidorah. The two battle while Monarch retreats and is told by the US military to evacuate and that they will be deploying a new prototype weapon called…. The Oxygen Destroyer. Godzilla fans know that when that thing shows up, playtime is over. The problem is, Godzilla has joined the fight at this point and will be destroyed as well, something Mark is happy to hear. The O.D. goes off with massive force… only for us to see King Ghidorah rise from the ocean, seemingly unharmed by it, while Godzilla sinks to the ocean and we hear his heartbeat flatline.
In a surprisingly schlock-embracing moment, Dr. Chen concludes that Ghidorah’s ability to survive the Oxygen Destroyer attack, as well as regrow it’s severed head, can only be explained by it being of extraterrestrial origin. Things like this are really what makes King of the Monsters fun to watch for hardcore Godzilla fans, as we know Ghidorah was originally sent by aliens to Earth. It’s refreshing to see a movie that while trying to be more realistic and grounded, it still allows there to be fantastical elements here and there. Remember, there were rumors that there wouldn’t be atomic breath in the 2014 film. Thankfully that wasn’t true and it turned out to be one of the most memorable moments in the film.
Ghidorah is awakening other titans from all over the globe and there are 17 in total, including Godzilla. These titans aren’t really shown in full detail much, so those hoping for cameos from other Toho kaiju might be a bit disappointed, though one of them is clearly an homage to Ebirah, and another reminded me of King Caesar. Skull Island and Kong are mentioned several times. We see another MUTO as well. Maybe after another viewing or when the Blu-ray comes out, we’ll really get to see if there are any other hidden easter eggs.
It turns out, Emma reached out to Jonah and has been intending to release all the known titans and claims it’s to re-balance life on Earth. Madi overhears this and begins to turn against her mother, though this whole character arc seems… odd. It’s alluded to that Emma has been brainwashing Madi against her father for the last 3 years and has probably been feeding her ideas about the titans returning to help the world. However, Madison is old enough to have at least thought of the flaws in this plan and her sudden turn against her mother seems a bit lazy and is one of the weaker elements of the film. Monarch concludes that killing the alpha monster (Ghidorah) will stop the other titans from attacking, as their just doing his bidding. They also conclude that Godzilla is the only titan that can defeat Ghidorah. Unfortunately, Godzilla is dead….or is he? The rest of the film really goes full throttle and barrels towards its conclusion, and has mostly been left out of the trailers, minus one major thing that as a lifelong fan and given my personal favorite Godzilla film, should have been my favorite moment in the movie. Unfortunately it was spoiled in the last trailer so it didn’t have the impact it should have. So i won’t spoil anymore of the film from here on out, as I think I’ve done that enough as is.
To see Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Rodan AND Mothra all in the same movie, with state of the arts special effects and a massive budget ($200M) is a dream come true. While Godzilla 2014 didn’t exactly cheap out and had Godzilla facing off against not one but TWO MUTOs, this is a whole other level of fan service. This is almost Destroy All Monsters (but not quite Final Wars) levels of indulgence. Thankfully, they put them all to good use and every monster gets his moment to wreak havoc on screen. My favorite being Rodan’s awakening scene. It is classic Rodan yet MUCH more dynamic and threatening. King Ghidorah is absolutely stunning to see in action, or silhouetted against the sky. His shadow looms over the film from the moment he arrives and it never lets up. We get to see Mothra both in larvae and Adult form and both look great. Honestly, I would have loved a little more time with her, but that can be said about almost all the monsters in the film.
This brings us to Godzilla, himself. While they waste no time getting to him, I couldn’t help but feel he should have been around more in the film. Not to say there isn’t a lot of Godzilla action in the movie, far from it. This is mostly due to the lead foot pace of the film, as it all seems to go by in a flash. Godzilla is definitely the star and feels just as threatening as always. There’s a great, and I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, jump scare involving Godzilla that just shows how the sight of Godzilla still keeps a modern audience on the edge of their seats. There’s also some great lore-building done in the movie involving Godzilla and the other monsters and their place in the world, which seems to be a running theme of the movie. One part of the film I really enjoyed was centered around Godzilla and felt like it illustrated and embraced the God-like nature of Godzilla. It was something new, but fit so well, especially given the scope that King of the Monsters really brings to this new “Monsterverse”.
G2014 Director Gareth Edwards took some flack for the pacing and character issues that plagued the first film (but has since gone onto directing Star Wars: Rogue One, which many fans feel is the best of the new Disney Wars films) but the aesthetic that he established in his film remains largely unchanged in KotM, something that I feel most people will be happy about. Of all the issues G2014 may have, looking good isn’t one of them. King of the Monsters is an incredible looking film. The set design, lighting, cinematography and overall look of the film are all a sight to behold on the big screen. In the age of home theaters, surround sound and 4K TVs, this is the kind of movie that makes me still buy a movie ticket. There are moments throughout the movie, like Ghidorah perched atop a mountain, his wings spread, surrounded by a stormy sky filled with lightning that are truly a sight to behold.
With a larger monster count, thankfully comes a larger budget, and you can see every penny on the screen. Monsters all look fantastic, especially King Ghidorah and Rodan. The sets all look great. There’s a shocking amount of on location sets and there’s very little attempt to hide spotty CGI in smoke and darkness. All in all THIS is exactly how a modern Godzilla movie should look. However, there are a few issues with the film, though small ones.
Plotwise, everything is easy to follow and understand, with character motivations being clear, almost cartoonishly. At no point should anyone be confused about who is doing what and why. However, Emma’s revelation that she wants to re-balance nature is so short sighted and doesn’t seem like something someone who was devastated by the death of a child would come up with. There is little to no set up regarding her mental state that would lead her to such a mad plan. Same with Madi following along with her so blindly, especially after we see her emailing her father that she’s worried about her mom. Honestly, her entire character seems a bit superfluous.
For the most part, the human characters fare well, with Mark, Dr. Serizawa, Dr. Chen and Colonel Foster (played by Aisha Hinds, who I was completely unfamiliar with before) all being standouts. Bradley Whitford seems to be channeling Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner, while Thomas Middleditch is likeable as the well meaning Monarch...person, and both provide some comedic relief, mostly successfully. Vera Farmiga's Emma is a bit of a flat note though, as she goes from single mother scientist to crazed madwoman in the blink of an eye, and nothing about her performance really changes. There was brief moment of confusion as the movie began because Vera has a strong resemblance to Elizabeth Olsen, who starred in Godzilla 2014, and before her character is formally introduced you wonder if she is playing the same character as Olsen. She isn't and the next scene clears it up quickly, but it was a bit jarring for a second. Millie Bobby Brown basically just gives a repeat of her performance from Stranger Things, staring wide eyed, looking grumpy and screaming when needed. Near the end of the film, the constant cuts to her screaming face becomes almost comical, as its almost all we see of her character for the entire film and it happens so often.
The major issue that KotM has is it's inability to allow elongated moments of monster on monster action. It has a terrible habit of constantly cutting from the monster battles (be honest, that’s why we love these movies) to shots of actors either staring in awe, looking in terror, screaming, etc. The entire film, I was fiending for a monster battle to rage uninterrupted on screen, and it never happens. Even the final battle, where all 4 titans are finally all in the same place and ready to finally have their royal rumble, we are still subjected to constant cuts back to our human characters. doing mundane things or getting into a vehicle. Say what you will about the final battle of Godzilla 2014, but once the fight finally started, it was worth the wait. Here it seems like the action is never given room the breathe. The Rodan awakening scene stands out as the humans are directly involved and the cuts to pilots work better than cuts to uninvolved scientists. The monster action we do get is really fantastic, so on one hand, I’m trying not to be too greedy but at the same time I came for monster fights and feel like that should be the focus of the film.
In closing, I feel like King of the Monsters succeeds in ramping up what Godzilla 2014 started and long time fans, as well as newcomers should walk away very happy. The positives like all the nods to past films, the open embrace of more fantastical elements, the incredible monster designs, all outweigh some minor writing and character issues and show a clear love of the source material and the fan base. I can’t wait to see Godzilla vs Kong and where this new Monsterverse is heading.
To quote both Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and Godzilla 2014, “Hail to the king” but remember to “Let them fight.”
8.5 / 10