Released: June 2019
Director: Michael Dougherty
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $170 to 200 million
Stars: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Charles Dance, and Ken Watanabe
Five years after Godzilla first revealed himself to the modern world, the covert organisation known as Monarch has been studying and researching other “Titans” (massive, semi-mythological creatures) around the world. However, when rogue MI6 agent Alan Jonah (Dance) plots to unleash the Titans to reshape the world, Monarch must fight alongside Godzilla to defend the planet.
After a watered down showing in Godzilla (Emmerich, 1998), Godzilla (Edwards, 2014) reintroduced Toho’s classic kaijū creature to a worldwide audience but was far from the fast-paced, action-orientated giant monster movie I was expecting. Rather than take inspiration from some of the later Godzilla films or even from Pacific Rim (del Toro, 2013), Godzilla drew more from Cloverfield (Reeves, 2008) and Edwards’ own Monsters (2010), preferring subtly and atmospheric build up rather than full-on monster action. After making over $500 million from a $160 million budget, a sequel was inevitable and, after King: Skull Island (Vogt-Roberts, 2017) set the stage for the introduction of more of the classic Toho kaijū creatures, the stage is set for Legendary Pictures’ Monsterverse.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a massive film (no pun intended); without wasting any time at all, we are immediately thrown into a world where giant creatures (known as “Titans”) are lying dormant throughout the world under the supervision of Monarch. The world is waiting anxiously for the next Titan emergence, unsure which are here to protect us and which are there to destroy us; this is tied in closely to one of the many protagonists that features in this movie, Dr. Mark Russell (Chandler), whose son died during a battle between Godzilla and an unnamed Titan.
While Russell is therefore very much against Godzilla and all Titans, his estranged wife, Dr. Emma Russell (Farmiga), who has developed a machine (known as the ORCA) that can analyse and emit Titan sound patterns. Alongside their daughter, Madison (Brown), Emma uses the ORCA to awaken and calm the mythical Mothra but they are abducted by the renegade eco-terrorist Alan Jonah (Dance), who wants to use the ORCA to awaken all of the Titans and destroy the world so that the scourge of humanity can be cured.
Like all Godzilla movies, King of the Monsters is let down by its human characters; there are a lot of human characters in this film and I can’t say that I was massively interested in any of them apart from Jonah and the returning Dr. Ishirō Serizawa (Watanabe), both of whom could have easily been featured more prominently in the movie. The family drama between the Russells is nothing you haven’t seen before and contains some truly baffling twists that leave you scratching your head every time the characters stop to spout their exposition.
However, Godzilla movies are always really about one thing: massive monsters wrecking shit and fighting each other. While Godzilla featured the titular character sparingly, which was frustrating for me as a big Godzilla fan but a pretty good introduction to the character for audiences who had never experienced him before, King of the Monsters features him very heavily; now, though, Godzilla ahs to share screen time with three other Titans that will be familiar to any fan of the franchise: Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. King of the Monsters also features a truly epic soundtrack; the classic Godzilla theme is back, bringing a real ominous menace to Godzilla (despite him being a purely heroic character in the Monsterverse), and the classic Mothra theme and song gets featured as well, and the sound and music really helps ramp up the tension and the action in the movie.
Seeing Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah onscreen is amazing and their effects look spectacular; it would just be nice to see them in either full day light, as in Kong: Skull Island, or at least lit up by anything other than a film tint or lightning. King of the Monsters also features a truly epic soundtrack; the classic Godzilla theme is back, bringing a real ominous menace to Godzilla (despite him being a purely heroic character in the Monsterverse), and the classic Mothra theme and song gets featured as well, and the sound and music really helps ramp up the tension and the action in the movie. While the film features far more monster-on-monster battles than its predecessor, it still falls back on the tired trope of these battles taking place at night, in the rain, in the sea, or otherwise somewhat obscured by other plot elements. One nice change, though, is that the human characters are usually right there in the middle of the action so it makes sense to cut back to them and the film never awkwardly and abruptly cuts away from its kaijū action like its predecessor.
It’s a Godzilla movie, so you know he’s going to wreck some serious shit and the trailers already showed that he battles Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. What wasn’t really shown, though, was that there are apparently seventeen Titans across the world, all of which get awakened in this movie but we only really focus on a handful of them. The movie makes many mentions of King Kong and Skull Island to set up the upcoming Godzilla vs. King Kong movie but Kong doesn’t actually appear in any meaningful way here; the other Titans we do see appeared to be original creations to me (one seems to be another MUTO, one is a giant woolly mammoth, one is a giant crab…), which was a little disappointing but then I guess it makes sense to not showcase all of the classic kaijū without a proper introduction. King of the Monsters has some nice throwbacks to previous Godzilla movies; for the bulk of the movie, King Ghidorah is referred to as “Monster Zero”, the Navy uses an Oxygen Destroyer missile to try and kill Godzilla and King Ghidorah, Godzilla ends up needing to be resurrected by a nuclear bomb and takes on a version of his “Burning Godzilla” form (like in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (Ōmori, 1991) and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (Okawara, 1995), respectively), and the movie is basically a remake of Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (Honda, 1964).
Emma turns out to actually be allied with Jonah, which started as a surprising betrayal and then very quickly descended into a nonsensical decision. Like Jonah, she believes that humanity needs to be culled by the Titans so the that world can flourish and recover from pollution and overpopulation and all that usual stuff but, unlike Jonah, you never really feel that she has the same conviction or basis for this belief. I honestly believe the movie would have worked better if Jonah had killed Emma to obtain the ORCA and simply taken Madison hostage, then we could have delved a bit more into Jonah’s twisted world view without having Emma there to make the whole thing seem crazier than it actually is. Aside from this, the Oxygen Destroyer fails to kills King Ghidorah because he’s actually an alien life form and not of the Earth’s natural order; it does, however, appear to kill Godzilla, which allows King Ghidorah to awaken all of the Titans at once and compel them to rampage across the globe. Monarch tracks Godzilla to his radioactive undersea refuge, planning to use a nuke to kick-start his recovery, and Serizawa willingly sacrifices himself to set off the bomb and bring Godzilla back to full power. Godzilla’s emergence following this is truly epic and, for a moment, seems like he may have turned against humanity but, no, he instead uses his newfound strength to team up with Mothra against King Ghidorah and Rodan for a massive final battle.
If you know anything about Godzilla movies and Mothra, you already know that Mothra dies in this battle; seriously, Mothra always dies, generally to transfer her power to Godzilla or to inspire Godzilla to battle and it’s no different here. Godzilla is able to destroy King Ghidorah using its out of control nuclear power (which looked, for a moment, like he was going to meltdown as in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah) and is hailed as the new king of the monsters by the remaining Titans. Over the credits, we get many mentions of another Mothra egg, earthquakes and disturbances on Skull Island, Jonah purchasing one of Ghidorah’s heads, and more Titans awakening across the globe to set up Godzilla vs. King Kong and future Monsterverse movies. Interestingly, the one criticism I have about this movie is that it might have made more sense to do Godzilla vs. King Kong here to help bridge the gap between Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island and do the big Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, King Ghidorah showdown as the third movie as I find the idea that Kong can stand against Godzilla laughable, to be honest. I imagine that the movie will be more about a scuffle between the two Titans before they team up against more monsters escaping from the hollow earth but, my main concern, is that it’s hard to top King Ghidorah, who is Godzilla’s biggest foe….maybe they’ll do Destoroyah though…
If you were disappointed by the lack of monster action in Godzilla, then Godzilla: King of the Monsters is the movie for you. If you dislike human protagonists taking away from giant monster battles, then Godzilla: King of the Monsters may still disappoint but it is inevitable and unavoidable for movies like this to have human plots alongside their monster action. For a movie like Godzilla: King of the Monsters, it’s best to switch your brain off and go along for the ride as, in the end, all that matters is that giant monsters are waking up and Godzilla has to fight them to defend the world and, when it comes to monster-on-monster battles, Godzilla: King of the Monsters has you covered.