‘Godzilla: King Of The Monsters’ Review: Bend The Knee

Godzilla is back, and this time he brought some friends. While 2014’s Godzilla was an enjoyable film that helped erase the bad taste of Sony’s 1998 Roland Emmerich-directed debacle, it also laid the ground work for a shared universe for Warner Bros. Kong: Skull Island is also a part of that universe, and now the elements are all coming together in Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters picks up during the Kaiju battle in San Francisco in 2014, as Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) tries to find his family in the chaos. His wife, Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), and their daughter, Madison (Lexi Rabe), have found each other, but their young son is still missing as Godzilla finishes his fight and goes off into the Pacific ocean.

Much like the first film — and another big film this year — Godzilla: King of the Monsters jumps forward five years, and we pick back up on the Russells. Madison is now older and played by Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things), and the elder Russells are divorced due to the loss of the son. Madison lives with her mother, who works for Monarch, the secret monster monitoring organization that’s been working in the shadows in the previous films, and Mark lives a solitary life as a nature photographer.

Emma and Maddy look on

Emma has developed a new technology that will change the world forever, and Doctors Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Graham (Sally Hawkins) are testifying before Congress about Monarch and what it does, since San Francisco is now a pile of rubble and no one has seen Godzilla in five years. Monarch has stations all over the world to monitor for titans, and when an eco-terrorist (Charles Dance) attacks one of the Monarch outposts, it begins a series of events that awakens these epic monsters and threatens all life on Earth.

Godzilla once more has to come back and set balance to the natural world, and humans are caught clearly in the crossfire.

Godzilla vs Ghidorah

Godzilla: King of the Monsters definitely features more of His Royal Highness, and this time includes Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. Director Mike Dougherty (Trick r’ Treat, Krampus), who also wrote the screenplay with Zach Shields, based off a story by both and Max Borenstein, shows great respect for the classic Toho monsters by honoring their origins in fun and unique ways. I won’t spoil it here, but I was a little shocked and very pleased by some of the decisions made in regards to the connections and origins of the monsters.

Dougherty also knows his Godzilla history in other mediums. The epic battles, of which there are many, are shot with a cinematic haze, and they resemble the Godzilla paintings of iconic sci-fi/fantasy artist Bob Eggleton come to life, which was amazing. Godzilla: King of the Monsters needs — NEEDS — to be seen on an IMAX screen for the full effect, as Dougherty shoots these battles to fill the screen, burning the images into your eyeballs so you won’t soon forget what you saw.

Ghidorah attacks

The use of light from the bolt of lightning contrasting with the hazy clouds, without losing the detail on Ghidorah gives this a Bob Eggleton painting feel.

Whereas Gareth Edwards went for the less-is-more direction in his Godzilla film, Dougherty goes the opposite way. These monsters are clearly the stars of the film, and they are used in perfect ways to propel the story forward for almost two acts.

Unfortunately, Godzilla: King of the Monsters begins to unravel late in the second act as major logic problems begin to rear their ugly heads. And yes, I’m aware I’m discussing logic issues in a film about giant monsters fighting through populated cities, but some of these infractions are just too big to ignore.

Monsters changing city locations with zero context, and even the human characters going through some arcs that feel completely unearned really took me out of the film at a time with I should have been all in. It’s almost like an hour of film was cut out, as the confusing jump is jarring.

By the time we get to the third act, which again makes zero sense how we got there, the audience must choose to just check out of the story and just enjoy the epic Kaiju battles, or hang onto these myriad issues and let it ruin the experience. I was able to do a little of both.

Ghidorah is angry

Watching Godzilla: King of the Monsters made me feel like an 8-year-old kid again, watching afternoon monster movies on my local NBC affiliate, but the logic issues pulled my 46-year-old brain completely out of it. I literally felt torn sitting in my seat and finally decided to just give up and bend the knee to the king.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters has some pretty big problems, but it doesn’t sink the film as a whole. The draw of seeing Godzilla battle Ghidorah and other huge monsters all over the world keeps this film as a must-see for Kaiju fans, but just know going in that it becomes nonsensical at the end. If you can overlook these issues, you are in for one epic battle after another, and what you see and hear will stick with you after the credits roll. Just don’t think about it too much.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is rated PG-13 and is in theaters on May 31. There is a post credits scene, so be sure you stay until the very end. All images courtesy of Warner Bros.

Godzilla reigns supreme
out of 5

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