Legendary Pictures continues their Monsterverse with the second outing of their version of the Big G’s – with him going face to face (or face to face and face and face) with the other Big G – Ghidorah.

Cast and Crew

Kyle Chandler as Mark Russell
Vera Farmiga as Dr. Emma Russell
Millie Bobby Brown as Madison Russell
Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa
Zhang Ziyi as Dr. Ilene Chen and Dr. Ling Chen
Bradley Whitford as Dr. Rick Stanton
Sally Hawkins as Dr. Vivienne Graham
Charles Dance as Jonah Alan
Thomas Middleditch as Sam Coleman
Aisha Hinds as Colonel Diane Foster
O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Chief Warrant Officer Barnes
David Strathairn as Admiral William Stenz
Anthony Ramos as Staff Sergeant Martinez
Elizabeth Ludlow as First Lieutenant Griffin
Jonathan Howard as Asher Jonah
CCH Pounder as Senator Williams

Story by Max Borenstein and Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields
Screenplay by Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields

Music by Bear McCreary

Directed by Michael Dougherty

The Premise

Following the events of the 2014 Godzilla film, the world is reeling at this new age of monsters they find themselves in, and is holding the organization Monarch (who was tasked with researching these Titans) responsible. Monarch’s existence, though not their operations, has also become of limited public knowledge. Dr. Emma Russell, a researcher at Monarch, has been working on a device that would allow humans to communicate with the Titans – after she and her husband Mark lost a son in the destruction in San Francisco, and ultimately separated – Emma and their daughter Madison staying with Monarch, while Mark has thrown himself into his wildlife research in the field.

However, shortly after Emma’s successful field test of her control unit on recently hatched Mothra, the Monarch facility is attacked by a group of terrorists lead by Jonah Alan, with the goal of using her invention to cull the human population. To do this – they take Emma and Madison hostage, leading Monarch to bring Mark onboard to track down the device, and ultimately his wife.

Note: Once again – as with Kong: Skull Island and with Godzilla (2014), you will need to check the Square Cubed Law at the door. You have to fundamentally take into consideration the idea that this is a world where Kaiju exist. If you can’t suspend your disbelief for that, then you will bounce off this movie hard, and you might as well save yourself the cost of a ticket.

There is a post-credits stinger.

High Points

Since Godzilla (2014) took care of the heavy lifting of introducing, well, Godzilla, Monarch, and other elements of the world, this movie is able to go from there and make their interpretation of a “Godzilla Movie” – as in Godzilla films after the original, along with figuring out how to make that concept work. This means that the movie has (as mentioned in the premise), a human plot with an amount of camp that takes itself just seriously enough. The fundamental McGuffin of the film, the ORCA – a device that allows for communication with Kaiju – fits with a lot of how Godzilla films have generally viewed technology. It’s not inherently good or evil, it all depends on the intent of the hands that use it.

There’s also a lot of fanservice here done right. For example, composer Bear McCreary weaves Akira Ifukube’s Godzilla March and an instrumental version of Yuji Koseki’s Mothra Song into the film with tremendous effect. Mothra’s Theme, in particular, is used as a leitmotif for the character throughout the film, while the Godzilla March is saved for absolutely the perfect moment in the film.  The Argo, the airship that Monarch uses while chasing down various Kaiju, channels the Super X without actually being the Super X (if they want to bring that up later). The Oxygen Destroyer comes up in the course of the film as a possible weapon against the Kaiju rampage. That sort of stuff.

Also, Monarch’s secret underground base, “Castle Bravo”, reminds me a lot of NERV HQ in Tokyo 3, which might be a shout out to Hideaki Anno, director of Shin Godzilla.

The Big G himself gets a lot more expressive moments in this film, and the visual effects team definitely takes advantage of the fact that we’re not just dealing with mo-cap/suit actors, and is able to have some great moments of face acting. Similarly, this is the best-realized version of King Ghidorah to date – with each of the three heads being fully mobile, and with each having their own personality.

It’s also clear that Dougherty picked up the criticisms about how under-used Jing Tian was in Kong: Skull Island, and gave Zhang Ziyi more lines. She doesn’t get as many reaction shots as Jing Tian did, but she does get more to do in terms of the story besides standing in the shot and reacting to stuff.

As JD pointed out in the comments for the review of Kong: Skull Island, adding Kong to the mix here would make the movie over-crowded, and it’s to this film’s benefit that he’s not present – but he and the events of that film are definitely not forgotten in this film’s story.

Low Points

Some of the work for how the Kaiju fit into the world with each other takes a step down – this is not a fault of the design team or the writers – and more an issue of having to follow up on the work done for Kong: Skull Island. That film did a tremendous job establishing a Kaiju ecosystem after the 2014 Godzilla film used animal behavior to design the relationship of the MUTOs. Here, introducing a wide variety of Kaiju very quickly ultimately fails to give them enough time to set up how they operate in the wild.

Also, I mentioned that in the first film Sally Hawkins didn’t have much to do as Vivianne Graham. She still doesn’t have much to do here. On top of that, while Ken Watanabe has more character beats, the handful of jokes he gets in the film fall flat.

Finally, this is a single beat, but it had me rolling my eyes. At the Antartic base, right after Ghidora has woken up and broken out of his icy tomb, a group of soldiers, who have been attached to Monarch, line up and open fire on him with assault rifles. As soon as they lined up, the first line that came into my head was this line from Blazing Saddles.

I realize this is the heat of the moment in the story, but it feels like the logical conclusion to draw – “Our guns won’t work on this, just run“.

Scores

Originality: This film builds off of the world established in the first two Legendary Monsterverse films by a lot, along with finding ways to make elements of the classic Godzilla mythology fit in organically to this world of Kaiju. 3/6

Effects: The animation of the characters is again, excellently done, with King Ghidorah playing as a very calculating, intelligent, dangerous and sadistic menace. Ghidorah has, in the Godzilla films, always been one of the Big G’s most dangerous opponents, and the effects in this film do an excellent job of setting up this role. 5/6.

Story: The story feels, as mentioned under the high point, this universe’s interpretation of a classic Godzilla story, with various entities attempting to use the Kaiju to their own ends, and ultimately failing (sort of). 4/6

Acting: The cast of this film is tasked with selling what is, ultimately, both ludicrous and awesome (in the classic sense of the word). Fortunately, the strengths of these movies are that they have consistently assembled a cast who are able to pull this off. That is not an easy thing to do, and they do it well. 5/6

Production: Having seen so many B-science fiction movies, including some of the lesser Godzilla films, really helps to appreciate the extra steps they went for this film. It’s clear that this movie was designed with the intent of setting up not only the next film – Godzilla vs. Kong – but also with the hope that Toho will appreciate their work enough to permit them to make more movies after their fourth outing. Also, King Ghidorah’s roar is pretty good as well, and makes for a nice villainous counterpart to Godzilla’s roar. 5/6.

Emotional Response: As with many of the later Showa and Heisei Godzilla films, this film’s plot is, on paper, ludicrous. At no point while watching the film did I feel that, nor did I feel the audience around me checking out of the film. It helps that everyone in the film is played by being invested in the plot of the movie, aided by the fact that when the person who came up with this plan is called on their BS, the argument isn’t “This plan is dumb and you are dumb for coming up with it,” it’s “This plan is monstrous, and you are a monster for coming up with it.” Yes, in this film, that means “Man is the real monster,” but that beat feels earned. 5/6

Overall: Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a movie that probably does one of the things that not many of the Japanese Godzilla films did – exploring how the emergence of Kaiju would change the world, almost to an extent that the Pacific Rim films haven’t, in part because those films threw us into the deep end, after the war had been fought for a while, instead of seeing the world change. If Legendary Films only gets 4 movies, it’s my hope that what Toho takes from these films is that in their next Godzilla film, they let that world take further and further steps away from ours as the series goes on. 6/6

In total, Godzilla: King of the Monsters gets 33 out of 42.