Godzilla: King of the Monsters (Cert 12A)
US (2019) Dir. Michael Dougherty
There seems to be a recurring cycle regarding the Godzilla franchise between Japan and the US. When the original Japanese incarnation retired in the 1970’s after 20 years, the US made a TV cartoon series prompting Toho to resurrect Gojira in the mid-80’s for a brief run. In 1998 Hollywood made a live-action Godzilla film so terrible Toho was forced to remind us once again how it should be done with the Millennium series.
In 2014, Welsh director Gareth Edwards helmed Tinsel Town’s second attempt at making Godzilla, the result being another divisive if successful outing which saw Toho fire back with the vastly superior Shin Godzilla. Encouraged by the box office takings, Hollywood now brings us this sequel, but this time Godzilla is not alone.
A survivor of the 2014 devastation caused by the arrival of Godzilla that saw her young son die, Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) has been secretly working on the ORCA, a piece of equipment that can communicate with the giant monsters, known as Titans, through their own frequencies. But an Eco-terrorist group headed by Colonel Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) wants to use the ORCA to unleash dormant monsters around the world to destroy the planet and cleanse it of its ecological damage.
Standing as opposition are Monarch Sciences Network, whose founding chief scientist Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) suggests humankind and Titans should co-exist instead of fight to little avail. When they learn that Emma and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) have been taken, Monarch enlist the aid of Emma’s ex-husband and co-inventor of the ORCA, Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) to find them. All this bickering only results in more monsters rising up and Godzilla is humanity’s only hope.
One doesn’t have to look too far for the inspiration behind Godzilla: King Of The Monsters as its roots are firmly planted within the original Toho films featuring a slew of giant beasties all doing battle such as 1968’s Destroy All Monsters and 2001’s All Out Monster Attack. But, as this is a modern Hollywood tale the general themes around which these battles take place have a prevalent social context, and in sticking with tradition, given the original Godzilla from 1954 was a polemic against nuclear weapons, it’s the state of our environment.
Emma’s motives are emotional and based on revenge for her son dying during the 2014 attack, her plan being to cause the monsters to destroy each other using the ORCA. However, she kept this secret from daughter Maddie, whom she raised as a tomboy to toughen her up in case of emergencies, and the others at Monarch, under the pretence that ORCA will calm any creatures they find.
The arrival of Jonah’s team interrupts ORCA having settled a rampaging giant larva that had hatched early, and if you know your classic Kaiju, you know what that larva will evolve into. Meanwhile Serizawa’s Monarch team have secretly kept Godzilla hidden away, trying to build its trust should another monstrous catastrophe occur that man made weapons can’t prevent.
What a coincidence it is that Jonah just happens to have a monster of his own under observation in the arctic that he feels has been asleep for too long and needs an ORCA assisted wake up call. Team Serizawa, with Mark in tow, are aware of this and head to the Arctic base to prevent this from happening, only the delusion of saving the world from itself by destroying it has corrupted Emma’s mind more than she’ll admit to and soon all hell breaks loose.
For those watching this for the Kaiju fights, you get your money’s worth as this film is chock full of them and not all of them involve Godzilla either. As hinted above, Mothra puts in an appearance fighting for the good guys as she always did, whilst on the bad guys side is the pterodactyl like Rodan and King Ghidorah, the three-headed dragon.
In the great tradition of monster battles there is copious amounts of structural carnage in various locations across the globe (but mostly the US because Hollywood) and atomic blasts that reduce anything and everything to dust and significant loss to human life too, including a few selfless acts of sacrifices for the greater good. Most of these scraps occur in the dark but this might to allow the effervescence of the nuclear glows to stand out more.
Yet, it is not all bombast and spectacle, most characters are driven by human instinct, whether right or wrong, from Serizawa’s progressive thinking regarding co-existence to Emma’s revenge driven sophistry. This is measured through the relationship between Maddie and Emma, which peaks and troughs throughout the story, with the headstrong teen unable to support her mother’s toxic actions, eventually forced to take matters in her own hands, with disastrous consequences.
Director Michael Dougherty keeps everything moving swiftly despite the 130-minute run time which does drag a little but the film is never dull. Unusually for a one-dimensional genre, the performances are emotionally taut and rich, lifting the characters above trope status. Vera Farminga and Ken Watanabe stand out for their contributions whilst Zhang Ziyi was underused, but it is Millie Bobby Brown who seems to “get it” more than others her age do.
Whilst monster clashes and collateral disaster set pieces are visually impressive, what will stand out for older fans are the CGI monsters. They have all had a modern makeovers to their designs, some drastic enough to feel excessive (Mothra) others subtle and effective (Ghidorah), but there is still a certain charm to the men in suits romps from yesteryear that CGI just can’t replicate.
Some plot issues and an overcrowded cast aside, it is fair to say that Godzilla: King Of The Monsters makes up for the misfire that was its 2014 predecessor. Let yourself go with this one and you’ll find it’s a hell of a ride, and don’t forget to stay around post credits too!
Rating – ****
Man In Black