OnScreen Review: "Godzilla: King of the Monsters"

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  • Ken Jones, Chief Film Critic

In Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Shia LeBouf’s Sam goes into a Smithsonian Air and Space Museum near Washington D.C. to find an Autobot, and when they leave, they are out in the middle of a field of old aircraft, surrounded by desert and mountains in the distance. Clearly not the kind of scenery around the nation’s capital, or the state of Virginia. This kind of inattention to detail was on my mind as I left the theater after seeing Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

In the final scenes before Godzilla: King of the Monsters launches into its rain-soaked, nighttime mess of a third act, a group of the movie’s heroes have taken a submarine in search of Godzilla to explode a nuclear device on him in order to give him a power boost. They travel to the depths of the ocean only to discover an ancient, submerged city that is the home of Godzilla. The city is amazingly preserved and intricate in detail, until it’s blown up by their nuclear device. They someone navigate their way back up to the surface, and in short order, so does Godzilla, with a deep, giant whirlpool forming from his emergence from the depths. Suddenly, Godzilla stands up, in the deep ocean waters, mind you, and breathes a blue flame of fire into the night sky, standing in water up to his ankles like the miles of ocean depth beneath him was a kiddie pool. That moment encapsulated everything about Godzilla: King of the Monsters; a beautiful shot that makes absolutely no sense.

“But this is a blockbuster action movie about kaiju fighting, why should things make sense?” Fine, except most of the kaiju fighting isn’t really all that great either. And there are a lot of kaiju in this movie. And they have a lot of fighting to do, most of which is visible, some of it is drenched in darkness and rain. Now, aside from the fighting, there are some beautiful, apocalyptic images throughout this movie. Almost every scenes where a kaiju emerges from its slumber, whether it be Rodan from a volcano or King Ghidorah from the Antarctic ice, is an image that could be the stuff of art. There is a shot where an aircraft is entering a storm bank and the silhouette of Ghidorah is illuminated from lightning in the background, it looks great. But this movie is a series of beautifully rendered CGI shots of various kaiju behemoths held together by duct tape and bailing wire by just about every other element of the movie. A dozen impressive still images does not a movie make.

What is driving this two-hour plus slog from one kaiju encounter to the next? Monarch, the secret crypto-zoological organization that has been studying these monsters has a breakthrough with a device that can communicate with the monsters and control their behavior, called the ORCA, that falls into the wrong hands. This starts a scramble to retrieve the device, with the aid of Godzilla, but not until his ultimate nemesis, King Ghidorah is unleashed. A global awakening of the kaiju occurs, but Ghidorah’s presence alters the landscape, as he is an alpha that challenges the alpha status of Godzilla. Cities around the world are threatened as Godzilla and the three-headed King Ghidorah battle for supremacy, with Mothra and Rodan also factoring into the ultimate battle.

I’m not even going to mention the actors who appear in this movie, because none of them are done any favors by the script and the dialogue some of them utter. It’s actually an impressive collection of talented actors, and they are given every cliché in the book for lines. There is a family unit at the center of the story, with both parents on opposite sides of the fight, so to speak, but so much of it is really just emotional shortcuts to storytelling rather than having any actual compelling characters. I felt sympathetic for the actors who managed to have their characters killed off over the course of the movie. Because they human characters feel like they’re superfluous to the movie, they’re superfluous to this review.

There are a few odds and ends that may bring some measure of enjoyment to some people. Fans of the New York Yankees and sports who are sick of the sustained Boston title run this century will take particular glee in the third act. They lay it on very thick that King Kong is out there and that Godzilla vs. Kong is coming in 2020. There is a half-hearted attempt at themes about global warming and improving the planet, but it is all quickly subsumed under the likely trillions of dollars of destruction wrought by these kaiju. It’s ultimately little more than lip service as it the themes pop up again in headlines during the credits. And if you loved what Warner Bros did with Batman V Superman and other movies where their big final fight takes place at night in the middle of a driving rainstorm, then you are going to love the ending of this movie.

I enjoyed 2014’s Godzilla when it came out. This is a major step down. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a series of amazing visuals shots that brings practically nothing else to the table. If you’re interested in just the kaiju fighting, there may be enough here to keep your attention, but not much else. While one character during the movie may say, “Long live the King,” if it weren’t for the fact that Godzilla vs. Kong is already in post-production, I would be saying, “The King is dead.”

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars