In American hands, the Godzilla franchise has gone through as much devastation as any of the metropolitan cities that the iconic monster has laid waste to. Roland Emmerich’s attempt was an awkwardly stitched patchwork of better movies. Gareth Edward split the difference with a respectful remake; filtering the bleakness of the 1954 Japanese original, through a flickering documentary aesthetic. The result was an international Spielberg esque picture, favouring harrowing monster encounters over exciting action sequences. The 2019 follow-up is a majestic and bombastic symphony of Kaiju thrills that lives up to its royal subtitle.
In the wake of the San Francisco Godzilla/Muto confrontation, Monarch (the central aspect that connects Legendary’s MonsterVerse together.) continues its search and observation mission of vast creatures, that were once believed to have dominated the planet. They do this amid growing pressure from the American government, who want the company to reveal the exact number of known creatures, so they can be destroyed.
In response, Monarch’s notable Paleobiologist, Dr Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) comes up with a device called the “ORCA.” It’s capable of communicating with the monsters via sonic frequency rays. When Dr Russel and her daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) are kidnapped by an eco-terrorist group, Monarch enlists the help of Emma’s ex-husband- Mark (Kyle Chandler). In a race against time, the organisation have to track them down before terrorist leader, Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) uses the invention to unleash the much-feared Monster Zero (King Ghidorah).
Like the best movies in the Kaiju sub-genre, King of the Monsters effortlessly blends its human story with its monster mayhem. Despite the sheer amount of destruction and carnage, the movie never feels numbing or devoid of humanity. In fact, the film’s central theme of whether or not humans can co-exist with these monsters (dubbed titans throughout the movie.) becomes a grand stage for how Emma and Mark are dealing with the loss of their son. Emma chooses to soothe her pain by building a device that enables humanity and one of its oldest creations to speak to one another. Whereas Mark wants to completely eliminate his pain by getting rid of Godzilla and his fellow titans.
Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga’s performances are authentic and resonating. They play their parts as though they’re in an independent film that happens to feature giant monsters. Aside from one sardonic line delivery, Charles Dance is a surprisingly muted presence. Likewise, Millie Bobby Brown only registers in one moment in the tail end of the film but proves to be otherwise serviceable.
In contrast to cursory glimpses of the creatures in Godzilla (2014), director Michael Dougherty chooses to fully show the legendary cinematic creations in their full glory. With persistent use of low angle and static master shots, the film is directed with awe and wonder of its beastly subjects. At times, it feels as though the filmmakers have stumbled upon an imaginative child’s Kaiju play session, and decided to give it a hefty budget. The film’s most astounding visual moments are King Ghidorah and Mothra entrances. They look like Hokusai and Turner paintings in motion with their detail and dynamic weather.
The film is not without its problems. The secondary characters range from sketchily developed to broadly drawn comic puppets. As one vocal audience member remarked in the lobby after the screening, “I’m not sure the filmmakers know how nuclear weapons work.” I’m inclined to agree. Most problematic is the number of times that characters miraculously survive against a torrent of beastly rage. It’s the stuff of drinking games on a Saturday night. Despite all this, Godzilla: King of the Monsters excels in being a near pitch-perfect monster movie with weight. The fact that it owes more to Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla then Ishirō Honda’s original film is not a bad thing at all.