Director: Michael Dougherty
Screenplay: Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields
Production Companies: Warner Bros., Legendary Entertainment, Toho Company, Wanda Qingdao Studios
Running Time: 131 mins.
Cast: Kyle Chandler, Vera Famiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, David Straithairn, Thomas Middleditch
Godzilla is not only the most famous kaiju ever to be created, he also has the longest running movie series of any fictional character to walk upon the silver screen. There are now 35 films in the franchise which began in 1954 with Gojira. He’s now been resurrected in the “Monsterverse”, a film series that began with 2014’s Godzilla and continued with 2017’s Kong: Skull Island. Now in 2019, he’s back in the third “Monsterverse” film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters (the title is a call back to the 1956 movie starring Raymond Burr, which was the Americanized version of Gojira).
With the new film, is Godzilla still the king? The answer to that is a resounding yes, and the movie is one of the best kaiju films made.
One of the big complaints about the 2014 film was that there wasn’t enough monster action, that Godzilla was mostly absent from his own movie. Director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat, Krampus) corrects that in spades, as Godzilla makes an appearance just a couple of minutes into the movie. This time around he’s got plenty of company, including Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. All of these giant monsters make up the Titans, who are being followed by the crypto-zoological agency Monarch.
As far as the humans go, the film revolves around the Russell family- father Mark (Kyle Chandler), mother and scientist Emma (Vera Farmiga), and daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown). The family lost a son and brother during Godzilla’s rampage in San Francisco in 2014 and has led to Mark and Emma being estranged five years later. In that time, Mark hasn’t grown fond of the kaiju appearing across the globe, and pretty much wants them wiped out, which is how the US government plainly feels. Emma, meanwhile, continues to work with Monarch, and develops a device called Orca, that can key into a unique acoustical signature for each of the kaiju.
Naturally, someone wants to put Orca to full use in awakening all of the kaiju. Enter Alan Jonah (Charles Dance), whose men promptly shoot up a Monarch outpost and kidnap Emma and Madison. Monarch, in the form of Sam Coleman (Thomas Middleditch), Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Wantanabe), and Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) recruiting Mark, both to help find Emma and to track Godzilla. Mark gets taken aboard Monarch’s mobile unit Argo as the hunt is on.
In the process, three main Titans are awakened- Mothra, Rodan, and finally, in spectacular fashion, King Ghidorah. It gets quickly established that Ghidorah and Godzilla don’t care for each other all that much, both being apex predators, and which leads to plenty of monster action as the two fight it out across the globe. And while the human story is better developed this time around, it’s this monster battling another monster that’s the big draw here. And it is gloriously staged, with plenty of spectacle and massive destruction, all heightened by Bear McCreary’s terrific score (that score, by the way, contains some very familiar themes to long time Godzilla fans).
This movie does not skimp when it comes to the Titans, and they are all fantastically rendered here, each containing their familiar classic design with some newer touches. Mothra retains her mystical nature, and Rodan provides some thrilling moments, include an aerial chase scene with the Argo. But it’s King Ghidorah who gets the center stage to square off against Godzilla, and who once again represents the monster villain as he’s done throughout the Godzilla franchise history. How the two battle it out makes for one of the best kaiju films ever, and completely begs to be seen on the big screen.
When it comes to the human side of things, the film does have some faults. The Russell family is fine, but Dance’s seemingly villain Jonah feels a little undefined, though his motives are somewhat made clear. Watanabe is very good as Serizawa, though Hawkins is relegated to a sidekick role. Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) plays a nice role in Sam, the Monarch representative who becomes Mark’s ally. Other characters seem more to be brief cameos, though Bradley Whitford’s (Get Out) character of Dr. Rick Stanton provides a lot of the film’s humor. Despite the shortcomings, the humans are better defined than in the 2014 Godzilla, and even join in the fight this time.
But Godzilla movies are all about the monsters, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters does right by them. The monster action is both brutal and spectacular, and each of them has their own personality. The final battle is just a thrill to behold, and there are moments when you just can’t help but cheer. Each of Legendary’s “Monsterverse” films have become increasingly better, so one has high hopes for next year’s Godzilla vs. Kong (stay through the credits for a post credits scene). For this year, this is the Godzilla movie fans have been wanting. The King of Monsters is back in a big way. Long live the King!