I’d like to start the review by posing an analogy: Why do we go to and love John Wick movies? Is it because of the story or character? Hell no! We go because we want to see Keanu capping people left and right with well-choreographed action sequences of hardcore violence and badassery. And when we get that, we appreciate and shower praise on a film like that because our expectations are met (89% on RT). The filmmakers know consciously what kind of movie we want, and that’s what they give us.
Therefore, if we are going to shower praise over John Wick for delivering what we expect and what it promises, we must do the same for Godzilla: King of the Monsters. For me, this is a perfect summer blockbuster through and through, and the first time an American-made, big-budget Godzilla movie genuinely felt like a real Godzilla movie! In other words, this movie delivers what it promises — on what it’s supposed to be — and more!
We’ve sat through two American Godzilla movies so far (1998 and 2014), and to be frank I wasn’t a fan of either. The 1998 film was just bad — no one was a fan of that. And for me, the 2014 film felt like one giant tease after another, starting from a trailer featuring Bryan Cranston as a lead character, and several shots of the monster, which inevitably led to a movie where (spoiler alert) Cranston dies in like 10 minutes, and the literal amount of screen time we actually got of Godzilla was essentially what was in the trailers! What I thought was going to be a true Godzilla movie instead ended up being a platformer video game of Aaron Taylor-Johnson running from one place to another. So for two hours, I was bored and apathetic to everything.
I’m happy to say, the sequel to the 2014 film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters absolutely knows this and remedies the situation immediately. Director/co-writer Michael Dougherty has lovingly crafted a movie that, from the score (which Walking Dead composer Bear McCreary does such a PHENOMENAL job adapting classic themes from the original films) to the mythology (completely faithful and engaging), demonstrates his true love for the films and the lore that came before it, as the film does everything to stay true to the spirit and roots of what a Toho Godzilla movie should be!
The fun kicks off when a group of terrorists steal a device called the Orca from kaiju-monitoring organization, Monarch (the S.H.I.E.L.D of WB/Legendary’s Monster-Verse), and kidnap one of the organization’s chief doctors, Emma Russell (Vera Fermiga) and her daughter Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown). The group, led by Colonel Alan Jonah (Charles Dance), believes mankind has become a danger to the planet, and wants to use the Orca to awaken all the giant ancient kaiju, called the titans, to purge the planet of humanity and start over. This includes Rodan, Mothra, and the worst and most pivotal of all — an alpha titan called Monster Zero, aka King Ghidorah! It’s up to the rest of the Monarch scientists, lead by Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) and Dr. Ishirō Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) to stop Jonah, locate the Orca, and set loose the only titan that can stop Ghidorah and the other titans from destroying humanity — Godzilla: King of the Monsters!
Off the bat, this movie is just a freaking atomic blast from start to finish! The visual effects and the action with the kaiju battles are completely epic and something that’s been lacking from Hollywood blockbuster cinema on a scale many have tried to replicate but just can’t achieve (e.g. the Pacific Rim films, the previous Godzilla movie, and even Kong Skull Island). Perhaps it’s the notion of seeing our favorite name-brand kaiju fully realized and brought to life in big-budget glory, ala Jurassic Park or Game of Thrones, that does it for me. Or maybe it’s the fact that every time Godzilla powers up his atomic breath, the visual of the act along with the sound design and the payoff just gave me chills every time it happened. Whatever it was, I just found myself enjoying everything that was happening on screen! I loved Godzilla! I rooted against Ghidorah — the false king! And getting to see a gorgeously animated Mothra and Rodan against the backdrop of destruction and flame fully transported me into the world of giants that was unfolding before me. The fights were epic, violent, brutal, and so entertaining! As a fan of monster movies, it’s everything you wanted to see and more, and it doesn’t disappoint one bit! There are at least three huge kaiju-fighting set pieces that were just a breathtaking, thrilling spectacle to behold! Overall, the action was just fun and refreshing for me!
How do the story and the human characters fare? To be frank, I liked both! I don’t care if others don’t, but for me, I, much like the movie itself, know the humans in a Godzilla movie shouldn’t take the spotlight away from the monster himself. At minimum it still managed to at least make them a pretty necessary aspect within the film. Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Ishirō Serizawa is absolutely the homo sapien MVP of the film, and he’s probably got one of the most pivotal and surprisingly emotional moments in it. The rest of the ensemble is also game, with good performances from Kyle Chandler, Bradley Whitford, Vera Fermiga, Ziyi Zhang, Thomas Middleditch, and Charles Dance – all who are aware of what movie they’re in. Millie Bobby Brown, while great, does feel underutilized unfortunately, as do Sally Hawkins (criminally so in her case), and O’Shea Jackson and Anthony Ramos. Nevertheless, Dougherty manages to at least give the ensemble of humans a chance to shine/contribute a part to the overall narrative, which is way more than anything Taylor-Johnson did in the 2014 film. And for me, that’s something a lot of kaiju films don’t do. A movie about Godzilla should feature humans trying to help Godzilla! And that’s what these characters are spending their time doing! So for a movie that should be (and is) primarily focused on the title character, that’s the best you can hope for, and it’s not bad! I don’t need these characters fleshed out just to enjoy and root for Godzilla, and that’s fine!
That said, I know a lot of reviews from snobs will say “the plot is convoluted or confusing” or “the humans are so boring/useless/pointless/one-dimensional” — And, while I respectfully disagree with all of that, more than anything, those critics are missing the point. This is a Godzilla movie! Appreciate that it’s a Godzilla movie! It’s meant to be a movie about monsters fighting monsters and, not only do we get that, but it’s glorious and so very deeply entertaining and respectful to the lore! At the end of the day, the one character we’re supposed to come out loving is Godzilla, and dear god, do we love him! The plot needs to be enough to set up the monster battles, and we get that. The characters have to be in support of the monster battles, and we get that. So seriously, what more can you possibly ask for or want? The movie does its job and does it well. To me it ends up being ridiculous to expect anything else from a Godzilla movie, when we as critics give a pass to a franchise like John Wick despite having basically all the same flaws (I love all the John Wick movies for the record, but do story and character actually matter in those?). Meaning if you didn’t like it because you were expecting a Shakespearean screenplay or a character study from a Sorkin movie, you clearly only have yourself to blame, because why the hell would you go into the movie for the humans?
Is the movie enjoyable and engaging? Is Godzilla in it? Is Godzilla fighting monsters? Are those monster fights both an amazing spectacle and a huge ton of fun? Is it passionately made with an undying love for the material it’s based on? The answer to all of that, in my book, is a resounding YES! And as such, I just couldn’t help leaving the theater with the biggest smile on my face, feeling as if I’d just been taken on a massively enjoyable roller coaster ride! King of the Monsters is the way Godzilla movies should be!
Do yourself a favor, and have a good time like I did!
Overall Score: A-
Godzilla: King of the Monsters hits theaters May 31!