I love Godzilla and I always have. Watching movie after movie from Toho Co featuring a giant lizard rampaging across a city destroying everything in its path while fighting off an equally humungous, ferocious and fantastical creature with little regard for humanity was to me always the source of immense amounts of enjoyment.
However although most people associate the iconic creature as a figure of fun, due in part to the badly made suits and silly special effects which make up the more camp and kiddie friendly films in the epically long running series, the original 1954 movie actually has a very serious side.
As detailed in our in depth review of Godzilla’s first feature in the Science Fiction Rating System podcast (listen HERE) the beast represented a myriad of things to the post-war viewers from Japan’s fear of nuclear power to its feudalistic past and societies reluctance to abandon its ancient ingrained beliefs as the Western world encroached ever closer.
The fear of the West extended to a reluctance to allow Hollywood to get their hands of Godzilla and after years of fighting off an American remake Toho Co finally relented in the late 90’s. The result was a travesty and Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin’s 1998 version of Japan’s most famous monster was as laughable and disrespectful to the source material as the late 70’s carton series featuring the foolish slapstick of Godzilla’s ‘nephew’ Godzooky.
Flash forward to 2014 and many believed, myself included at the time, that Gareth Edwards reimagining had finally brought Godzilla to life properly with cutting edge effects combined with a solid story line. Sadly Edward’s movie does not stand up to closer analysis and although when I thought back to it I envisioned beautify framed shots of awe and wonder, personified in the HALO jump sequence, when I rewatched it again for our podcast (listen HERE) it was a shallow mess containing only flashes of brilliance bathed in banality and Hollywood hogwash.
And so at last we come to Godzilla: King of the Monsters and the apprehension I felt as I sat in an extremely crowded press screening in front of a IMAX screen I hoped would be large enough to contain the hopes and dreams I had of at last seeing a Godzilla movie worthy enough to feature this complex and beloved character who loved nothing more than to mash up metropolises.
Thankfully director and co-writer Michael Dougherty, the man behind Trick r’ Treat and Krampus, has finally managed to get the mix of full on monster fights and an engaging interesting story line right. Best of all he has injected a heavy dose of insanity something that is most definitely needed in a story concerning a bunch of ancient creatures rampaging across the Earth.
Dr. Emma Russell (the fantastic Vera Farmiga from Bates Motel and The Conjuring) works for Monarch, the crypto-zoological agency who have been researching monsters even before the attacks 5 years ago in the first film that revealed Godzilla to the public leaving San Francisco devastated and her young son dead. Now estranged from her husband Mark (Super-8’s Kyle Chandler) she has dedicated her life to preventing such an event happening again by a inventing a machine called the Orca which can control these gigantic creatures using sound waves.
Testing it successfully on the newly emerged Mothra (who as you can probably guess is a mammoth man eating moth) before she can celebrate her success she is snatched along with her invention and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown from Stranger Things) by extremist eco-terrorist Jonah Alan, played gleefully menacingly by Charles Dance.
Sensing trouble the rest of Monarch including Dr. Ishiro Serizawa and Dr. Vivienne Graham (Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins both returning from the 2014 film) contact Mark and set out to stop Jonah who is using the Orca in his crazed plan to release as many monsters as possible in an attempt to save the planet by destroying the thing that has poisoned and polluted it, human beings.
What ensues is a race across the world as more extremely big and brutal beasts, dubbed by the monster hunting scientists as Titans, are broken free by the bad guys to rain chaos and destruction on everything around them. Can Monarch stop the end of the world and is Godzilla part of the problem or the solution?
The effects in this film are fantastic with each of the four main creatures, Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and Monster Zero aka King Ghidorah are brilliantly brought to life. Unlike Gareth Edwards film which repetitively frustratingly teased us rarely showing any real action Michael Dougherty knows what the audience wants and there are some great battles all scored sensationally by Bear McCreary who finally brings back the original Godzilla theme reworking it into his scorching soundtrack.
The cast collected for King of the Monsters seem at odds with such a mainstream action disaster movie however they work wonders. As a morally divided child of divorce Millie Bobby Brown fleshes out what could have been a clichéd character and the Monarch crew including Get Out’s Bradley Whitford and Crouching Tiger’s Ziyi Zhang all deliver.
The always excellent Vera Farmiga somehow brings real believable drama to the ridiculous and unbelievable story which is a true display of her talent. In fact employing such fine actors to say such preposterous things is a stroke of genius and the dialogue only falls at certain furlongs by being too gag ridden in an attempt to offer unnecessary light relief.
Kyle Chandler’s Mark is perhaps the weak link but this is more to do with his gung-ho seemingly super human character. Reminiscent of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s idiotic solider in the 2014 film Mark is constantly leaping into danger even though he is a wildlife photographer surrounded by Special Forces troops. Luckily this is an ensemble movie and Mark’s moments lessen as the movie moves forward and the monster action increases.
There is a real sense of the destructive power these mythical beings wield with some sensational shots from the human perspective of the catastrophic clashes ragging above them. This sense of awe and dread humanity feels at witnessing real life Gods walk the Earth and deciding to destroy it is perhaps the most interesting element of the movie, an idea that was woefully wasted in Edward’s first Godzilla film but made central in King of the Monsters.
The misguided master mind behind the Titans release believes we are a virus and these creatures are the cure that will reinvigorate the planet and return order and balance where mankind has left waste and pollution. This crazy yet creative take not only on Godzilla but also the current hot topic of climate change and our impending ecological doom is fun and fascinating, imbuing the film with a much more interesting perspective than you would expect.
Although far from being perfect Godzilla: King of the Monsters outshines Hollywood’s other attempts offering entertainment and amazing effects as well as an original story which will hopefully please fans of the Japanese original as much as the unconverted amongst the audience.
Pure entertainment from start to finish the third instalment of the Legendary Entertainment and Warner Bros MonsterVerse, which also features Kong Skull Island, seems to show that the more Godzilla movies they make the better it gets and I for one can’t wait for the next instalment, Godzilla vs Kong.