Brace yourselves, fellow Godzilla fanatics: The following review comes straight to you from Skreeonk founder Jon D. Bumpus’ studio press screening, and is intended as a full review with (mild) […]
Brace yourselves, fellow Godzilla fanatics: The following review comes straight to you from Skreeonk founder Jon D. Bumpus’ studio press screening, and is intended as a full review with (mild) spoilers. DO NOT PROCEEED IF YOU WISH TO REMAIN COMPLETELY UNSPOILED!
Where to begin?
The short version of this is: We just grinned like idiots for two hours.
The long version is: Well, wow. It feels as if we’ve all waited a lifetime for this movie, doesn’t it? The end result does not sour such an arduous, almost tedious slog of a wait, either. Michael Dougherty gets it, his fellow writers get it, the actors get it, and holy sh*t do the production team and VFX wizards get it.
If you are a lifelong Godzilla fan, and you want to enjoy this film, you will. Period. Does it have its hiccups? Minor ones, honestly. Should some of the lines have been left out? Yeah, I think so. And did the trailers show too much? Definitely. Ultimately, though, does this entry deliver the modern Godzilla film fans have been pining for since the end of his heyday? Oh, absolutely. And then some.
Firstly, critics at large are not Godzilla fans, so the majority of reviews you see will be from people eager to dissect a Godzilla film as “fluff” or “sub par, b-movie schlop”, of which this entry is not. So to give Michael Dougherty’s love letter to the Toho pantheon a true top-down, you’ll have to excuse me while I drop the press language to convey my experience, instead, as both a film critic and more importantly – a lifelong lover of all things Godzilla.
My main concern entering KOTM was the dialogue, specifically from some of the trailers and stingers. Thankfully, and I mean this sincerely, the dialogue isn’t what the soundbite’y TV spots portray (thank the gods). Are there one liners? Absolutely, but the majority land fine and are sparse enough to not come at the expense of dramatic tension- something even Marvel* could take note of.
*Speaking of Marvel, Tony Stark’s ENDGAME cabin makes a hilarious cameo in this film, given both were shot in Georgia/ATL. But let’s get back to business.
To reiterate, the characters are not mouthpieces, and their actions have very real consequences for both our species, planet, and the Titans. The focus isn’t too heavily on their plights or the monsters, as some critics are lauding. Honestly, it is much more 50/50 than I anticipated, to the point where my only main gripe with the film and studio is that the trailers have shown way, way too much before release. There are a few surprises in store, but a lot of what was used in marketing would have been better left for experiencing within context.
And the context is really quite wonderful, too. There’s no need to get into character spoilers here, but the family trio at the core of this film is fueled by excellent performances from Millie Bobby Brown, Vera Farminga, and Kyle Chandler. Their talent, combined with Michael Dougherty’s wonderful ground-up approach to directing this world, results in action on two entirely different scales that you become invested in. This makes for an experience completely unlike the slog created by GODZILLA (2014)’s emotionless, bland leads of the post-Bryan Cranston acts of that film. Indeed, KING OF THE MONSTERS, in this way, feels more a predecessor to KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017) in tone, vigor, and punch-packing. Is that a thing? It is now.
Returning cast members are given much more to do, as well – Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Serizawa filling the role we all wish he’d had in the 2014 reboot. Again, I want to stick to only mild spoilers here, so it will suffice to say that his character arc is completed with a wonderful sense of historical poetry, as the meaning behind the Serizawa legacy repeats itself to the point that we see this modern incarnation descend to the depths in a diving suit – complete with oversized helmet – to meet Godzilla in much the same grave circumstances as the originals in the 1954 classic, GOJIRA.
Sally Hawkins’ Dr. Graham has about as much to do as she did in 2014, but in her stead we are treated to the lovely addition of Zhang Ziyi as Dr. Chen, a “third generation” Monarch scientist with direct ties to Mothra that will make fans of the iconic monster incredibly happy. She’s a truly talented actor, and her graceful gravitas lends much to the believability of such titanic proceedings.
Our other new additions to the cast are stellar, as well, with the legendary Charles Dance filling in a necessary, albeit stifled, supporting “villain” role. Genuinely, there isnt a bad performance in the film, and though I anticipated disliking Bradley Whitford’s wit within, I was fully onboard by credits rolling. He, along with Aisha Hinds and Thomas Middleditch make for great additions to Monarch that, along with Sir Dance, hopefully should* make their return in next year‘s GODZILLA vs KONG.
But we’re not here to ogle over humans, are we? No, the true stars of the show are the Titans – and oh, are they swell.
We’ve had a long time to enjoy the updated designs and 2019 aesthetics of the Toho Big Four: Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and Ghidorah. But seeing them in action… it is a whole different thing; a whole different level of fantastic.
Godzilla gets some of his best entrances in his entire canon within KOTM, period. The VFX fire on all cylinders for the big guy here, as he’s never looked more real, more present, or more visceral. The updates to his design, most notably the addition of his iconic dorsal spines and more traditional foot shape, help to bring him closer to what fans know and love, as does Dougherty’s decision to revert to his original, iconic roar. His head has been downsized to imply even greater scale, but this is the one aspect I could do without. It works, but so did the head-size of the 2014 design, so it feels a tad unnecessary – but not to the point of being distracting. All of this considered, Godzilla is enormous and intimidating, and you feel it throughout – as do his adversaries. Truly, though, as was the case in 2014, some of his best moments come from his interactions with the human cast.
On this front Mothra shines, too. Her’s was the most polarizing design to fans upon initial reveal through Bandai’s S.H. MONSTERARTS articulated figure line – but I am confident to say that fans will adore her by their exit. Or at least, I did and still do. She is simply gorgeous and phenomenal to behold – her personality, mythology, classic roar, and timeless theme song all intact (oh, that theme song – tear-inducingly perfect, it is). Indeed, she is treated with as much love and respect as the titular King of the Monsters as this movie’s Queen – and was my favorite piece of this entire glorious puzzle.
Rodan, on the flip side, is a total asshole. And I love him for it. Fans of the monster will know he’s always been one – especially within his 1956 introductory classic, RODAN which, to me, stands on equal footing with Godzilla’s own first outing as a timeless piece of Tokusatsu & cinema in general. He was a hesitant prick in GHIDORAH, THE THREE HEADED MONSTER, too, so it felt right to have him serve such a destructive, antagonistic role within a film made as a loving, modern homage to this 1964 Toho outing (that crafted the very idea of a shared film universe decades before Marvel or anyone else, by the by). The only thing that baffles me still is the decision not to use his iconic roar – as Rodan’s unique cackle is only second to Godzilla’s in uniqueness and familiarity. His design is so unbelievably perfect, though, that this feeling is eclipsed by even beginning to think of the splendor that is Rodan within KOTM.
And then there’s Ghidorah. What a presence, he has. Dougherty and his team pulled from the dragon’s full history to craft their take on the destroyer of worlds, “the one who is many”. As we’ve seen in promos, he begins the film trapped in ice, just as he was in GMK (2001). Then, in one of the film’s best reveals, we learn that sure – he may have been discovered frozen in Antarctica – but Ghidorah is not of this world. At all. He is an alien still, just as he was originally – an “invasive species” looking to cull Earth of her protectors so he may bend it to his will. Sound familiar? It should, as it is one of many classic Toho plot-points that Dougherty & co-writer Max Bornstein pulled from to craft their love-letter.
Much of what fans will recognize as similar callbacks have to do with Ghidorah, too, from his brutal encounters with Godzilla to – well – massive spoilers. His design has been updated to a truly terrifying wyvern, (a dragon with wings for forelimbs) as Smaug was last-minute for the second Hobbit film before him. The terrible titan is like the flying demon spawn of a cobra, rattlesnake, hurricane, and the aforementioned Smaug – each swirling together to give the Golden One a sinister serpentine vibe that tokusatsu suitmation wasn’t quite capable of delivering.
Long story short, Ghidorah is incredible to behold – the absolute pinnacle of that VFX can achieve with the character – and a truly terrifying being for the first time in his history. He’s equipped with a few new tricks that tie directly into the plot, too, and boy – oh boy will they play into future films. Did I mention you should stay after the credits if you haven’t seen this movie yet? Because if you haven’t – STAY AFTER THE CREDITS. I will not spoil it here – but let’s just say fans of the Heisei era will be very, very happy.
My favorite aspect of this entry ties all these magnificent titans together brilliantly, though, and it is the mythology Legendary has built. Such a foundation for their Monsterverse is an exceptional choice, one that has this devout student of natural and human history ecstatic. Everything we see, from the fictional cave paintings of ancient Titans to the real-world artistry of past civilizations depicting sea monsters and terrific, terrible disasters caused by hydras and dragons and other beasts of unimaginable power – it all leaves this new incarnation of a giant monster-inhabited world much closer to the genre of Fantasy than Science-Fiction. And this, to me, is what makes a spectacular Godzilla film – and what makes this newest one shine like the best of those that came before it. These aren’t just behemoths of a bygone era: they’re living, breathing titans with minds, personalities, and fascinating mythologies all their own.
The last point I really feel needs to be emphasized is Bear McCreary. The man. The Bear. The Legend. He was the composer for this job a thousand times over, and the immensely smart decision to place classic Toho themes within this film allow it to feel much more at home within our beloved franchise than the 2014 predecessor ever will.
Much like John Williams provided the heart and pulse of STAR WARS, so, too, did the legendary Akira Ifukube for GODZILLA and the majority of Toho’s best-known tokusatsu classics. Godzilla simply isn’t Godzilla without Ifukube’s pulsating, timeless themes – and to see said Big-G rise from the depths to his classic theme courtesy of the most gorgeous modern effects – is truly a wondrous gift. Mothra, too, does the same – and even our climactic battle is to the tune of one of Ifukube’s classic Godzilla marches – and it is simply sublime.
If there is a negative to report, however, it is this: I’ve got to reiterate that Legendary’s marketing team opted to share entirely too much of this film before release. If you’ve watched all the big trailers, teasers, previews, and TV spots – then you have (sadly) seen 75% of what you’ll be paying to see.
All in all, though, I still cannot believe what we just saw worked as well as it does. KING OF THE MONSTERS is, without a doubt, as good as a direct modern update of the Godzilla franchise – from the world-ending goals of the antagonists – to the all-out brawl-fest between our favorite monsters – could ever be. It is everything it needed to be. It is everything the 2014 film was not. And if you want to enjoy it – if you wish to love it – you will. You so, so will.
It is beyond evident that the filmmakers, led by Dougherty, deeply respect and love this property, too – as the entire film is dedicated to the memory of our cherished late Haruo Nakajima-san – an iconic shot of him suited up in Shodaigoji gracing the last frame of the film.
I’m choosing not to spoil some other excellent callbacks to Toho’s pantheon, and sincerely hope fellow fans choose to do the same in order for our comrades to experience what is left to experience of this damn good time unspoiled. ‘Cause holy sh*t. What a ride.
Thank you, again, for having a spot reserved for us Warner Bros. and Legendary, and I cannot wait to see it again.
For mine own and Skreeonk.com’s part, as a lifelong fan, GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS gets a very solid 8/10. Well done, all. Well done!
Jon D. B.
*TLDR: STAY AFTER THE CREDITS – you twit!