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Review: Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

Directed by: Michael Dougherty

Premise: A sequel to 2014’s Godzilla. Several giant creatures, including, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah, are awakened from their hibernation. Godzilla must fight to reestablish his dominance as Earth’s alpha monster.

What Works: The original Godzilla was a metaphor of nuclear destruction. The 1954 film was a Japanese production made in the aftermath of World War II and the giant monster’s cinematic destruction was a proxy for the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by atomic weapons. 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters updates the metaphor. Building upon its 2014 predecessor, which was about the feebleness of man’s efforts to control nature, King of the Monsters is about contemporary anxieties of environmental catastrophe. The characters make clear and deliberate references to the mass extinction presently upon us as a result of industry and human overpopulation. It’s a smart revision that is germane to the original idea while making the Godzilla mythology relevant to the contemporary audience. The new film also pays its respects to the legacy of this series in ways that ought to please fans of the classic Godzilla movies. This story includes classic Toho monsters including Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah and the music by Bear McCreary integrates references to the scores by Akira Ifukube. The end credits even include a cover of the Blue Oyster Cult song “Godzilla” performed here by Serj Tankian. King of the Monsters has a few spectacular images, especially of Mothra, and those who complained about the lack of monster action in the 2014 movie ought to get what they want in the sequel.

What Doesn’t: The quality of the visual effects is split. For every beautiful shot in King of the Monsters there is an equally muddy or confusing image. Some of the action is hard to decipher. It’s not as cacophonous as the worst of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies but director Michael Dougherty fails to follow basic principles of on screen fights. Superior set pieces like the airplane fight of Raiders of the Lost Ark or the final bout of Rocky II have their own dramatic structure; the fortunes of the hero go up and down throughout the fight, leading to the climactic final blows, and viewers feel as though we’ve suffered through the fisticuffs. The action of Godzilla: King of the Monsters never has that kind of dramatic build up and payoff. It’s just two big monsters slugging it out until they stop. The lack of drama is linked to the lack of characterization. That’s certainly true of the human characters. There are too many people in this movie and everyone’s motives are underdeveloped. It may seem silly to criticize characterization in a Godzilla movie but the filmmakers spend so much time with these people that we’re clearly intended to have an emotional attachment to them. The lack of characterization also extends to Godzilla and his fellow titans. As silly as some of the old Toho movies could be, those rubber monsters had a personality. The digital creatures of King of the Monsters look more realistic but there is nothing alive about them.

Bottom Line: Godzilla: King of the Monsters doesn’t inspire thrills or awe the way the best creature features do. It’s a sometimes impressive special effects show that has big ideas but it doesn’t have any soul.

Episode: #752 (June 9, 2019)