Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a 2019 kaiju film so we’re looking at a science-fiction/horror/action monster-fight flick. And it delivers on that concept – you want four (plus) Kaiju slamming at one another? You got it. Anyone who was grumbling about Gareth Edward’s 2014 Godzilla not having enough of the Big G will not be disappointed this time around. I am a defender of that movie, and I was very pleased by both of the modern American Godzilla outings (screw the ’98 one; still need to see Shin Godzilla). I’m ambivalent on Kong Skull Island, hating it on the first watch but more mixed on a second viewing.
Director Michael Dougherty (who co-wrote this and the upcoming Kong vs Godzilla with Zach Shields) made one of my favorite films Trick r Treat, a wonderful anthology film I watch every Halloween season if possible. With Trick r Treat and Krampus, Dougherty proves to know what his viewers want and gives it to us. Godzilla King of the Monsters provides the expected giant monster battles all over the world with a near continuous series of massive set-pieces featuring the most recognized kaiju of the Godzilla franchise: Godzilla himself, King Ghidorah (aka Monster Zero), Mothra, and Rodan; along with dozens of other Kaiju. It’s huge, it’s grand, and it’s just wonderful.
How all these monsters come together for their battle royale is done well, through a compelling-enough human story. We open in the San Francisco climax of the 2014 film, introducing Vera Farmiga and Kyle Chandler as they try to escape destruction, saving their daughter (Millie Bobby Brown after this scene) and losing their son in the process. Five years later, he’s left the family and Monarch, the shadowy Kaiju-research team of Godzilla and Kong. She’s works for the organization (Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins return), keeping track of the Titans (their name for Kaiju, likely to separate it out from Pacific Rim using the term) creating the ORCA, a device capable of creating an alpha vocal pattern to control the Titans if they wake up. She tests it on Mothra when she evolves from a larval state, only to be captured by Charles Dance’s eco-terrorist. He believes in the Thanos method – the world is broken and unsustainable. He wants to wake up the Titans to reset the world. Of course, he uses it to wake up the three-headed Hydra Monster Zero and Pterodactyl-like Rodan to achieve this. The rest of the humans must globe-trot to help Godzilla take the other Titans down. Also along for the journey are Thomas Middleditch, Bradley Whitford, Ziyi Zhang, O’Shea Jackson Jr, and Aisha Hinds. Tons of humans. Maybe a little too many. Cutting a character or two (Middleditch I’m looking at you), and a few fewer plot points might have made a slightly tighter film, but it’s a minor quibble.
You’re not here for the humans, but the monsters. Fear not, Godzilla ‘14 complainers – we get monsters. So many monsters. The big four have several match-ups in different combinations all around the world. Each of their particular power-sets are well used in battling the others, and Dougherty builds amazing sequences. He brings the camera into the center of the battles, but also pulls back and allows the largess to fill the screen. There is no hiding bad effects or underwhelming choreography with quick cuts or shakey-cam. There are many shots where Dougherty slides the camera through a battle with little to no cuts, displaying a confidence in his delivery. These battles are massive, thrilling, and yes – destruction porn. Damn if they don’t look beautiful too – so many shots could be posters.
Damn do these kaiju look and sound great. Honestly, this is some of the best CG creature-creation I’ve seen. They look real, melding with the live-action world, and there are no moments where they stand out as “nope, that’s fake.” Dougherty has a love in their designs, putting the camera up close and personal with his monsters, no hiding behind quick cuts or blurs. So close, I half expected one of Ghorahs’ heads to burst into the theatre and roast us with lightning. And I didn’t even watch it in 3D. They are helped by incredible sound design. Each time Godzilla roars, I had chills down my spine and a smile on my face. The sounds of the rips, roars, and destruction is fully immersive. It was astounding hear the battle I couldn’t see behind me, or as things move around for the times Dougherty places us between the feet of two battling Titans. I can forsee visual and sound award nominations come end of the year. It’s that good. Hell yes to Bear McCreary’s bombastic score. Many of the cues are from the original scores of the respective films, but Bear remixes and incorporates them for a thrilling score matching perfectly with the action.
Godzilla King of the Monsters was everything I wanted it to be. While the human story may have a handful too many people and steps to it with iffy motivations at points, the monster action makes everything worth it. Kaiju on kaiju fights are every ounce exactly what people are holding onto their butts for. I hope this does gang-busters so Dougherty can finally make Trick R Treat 2.
Shin Godzilla was a lot of fun as well.