Review: Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

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Someone looks pissed: Warner Bros/Legendary Entertainment

I’m not going to say the general critical consensus on GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS is grossly unfair – each to their own. I thought it was halfway decent, but only if I didn’t think about it too much. Come for the monsters, the visuals and some much better performances than you might expect. But is there enough in this whole package to make it worth all the effort?

Five years after titanic nuclear lizard Godzilla surfaced to fight other unnatural monsters, cryptozoological organisation Monarch discover more ancient titans in hibernation around the world. Their research into the creatures’ communication and hierarchy releases Ghidorah, Mothra and Rodan and leaves humanity in need of Godzilla to restore balance before the proverbial reset button on life on Earth is hit.

You probably came for the monsters beating the crap out of each other, and the movie provides. My favourite moment of titanic smackdownage was Godzilla rugby-tackling Ghidorah through a skyscraper. There are four main monsters this time, all drawn from Toho Studios’ back catalogue. ‘Zilla himself, arch-alpha/hydra Ghidorah, hypnotic super-moth Mothra and fiery pteranodon Rodan. They’re all given origin scenes, paired off and smashed together in a variety of entertaining ways…eventually.

The main problem with Gareth Edwards’ film was that the human characters we had to follow whenever Godzilla wasn’t on screen (which was nearly always) were really boring. This time the humans are better, not necessarily because they’re any better-written (they’re not) but that much of the cast really go for it. Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobbie Brown and Ken Watanabe all take their characters on interesting journeys though I can’t say Kyle Chandler and Charles Dance keep up with them by staying firmly within their acting comfort zones. And poor Sally Hawkins! One of the only returning players from last time gets a couple of inconsequential lines at the beginning then isn’t in it anymore.

Usually all I ask for to give a large-scale monster blockbuster at least a pass are a few really memorable images of fantasy creatures doing their thing. While King of the Monsters has frames that are too overcrowded or smothered in CG rain or ash, when Michael Docherty slows down for long enough to look up in awe, we get some achingly beautiful images. Mothra’s bioluminescent descent from the heavens, Ghidorah’s three heads silhouetted against stormy skies…

A special mention should go to Bear McCreary for his sublime score, one I may buy even if I never watch the movie again. It nods to earlier Toho movies, draws from a rich collage of cultural influences and gives everything the right grand and foreboding feel.

Monarch makes little to no sense as an organisation, but I don’t think we’re supposed to overthink them; like SHIELD, they’re just a plot device. Our heroes’ whole plan is cracking a nut with a hammer, or more accurately cracking a nut with a nuke. And then another nuke. I’m not really sure what message we’re sending if nuclear weapons start and end a problem, but whatever. The film doesn’t have much faith in humanity at all, which is in-keeping with the wider Godzilla franchise. Unfortunately any deeper thematic dive is aborted whenever the monsters resume their clash or a human does something really stupid, and both happen often.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a marked improvement on the 2014 reboot but is still a way away from being a truly satisfying movie. Epic monster confrontations and beautiful shot compositions don’t save it from being too long and loose and not quite deciding what it’s trying to say. Big monsters fighting just because is fine. Big monsters fighting as metaphor is better. Big monsters fighting as half-baked metaphor is just frustrating. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Bong Joon-ho, Danny Boyle, the Coen Brothers, Nicolas Winding Refn, Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Taika Waititi and Edgar Wright. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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