Published on May 31st, 2019 | by Thomas Weinmaster0
Godzilla: King of the Monsters
What do you know? They made another bad Godzilla movie! For some reason, Hollywood just can’t seem to lock down the key to this mystery.
The fundamental problem with a monster movie always comes down to people. For some reason, we have to bracket city destroying action with a human story. I suppose it makes sense, in order to give the everything proper scale, but how can a personal story compete for screen time with 350-foot tall monsters? The obvious answer is that it can’t.
Whenever Godzilla is off screen, the audience wants him to be on screen, which makes them take a more critical look at the plot lines involving the human characters. In other words, the human story better be very good, or the viewer is going to lose interest quickly. Unfortunately, the human characters in Godzilla: King of the Monsters give us very little to work with. Amazing, pulse pounding fights between Godzilla and King Ghidorah cannot make up for the underdeveloped story, the lazy characterizations, and the confounding decisions our protagonists make. The human story missteps are so distracting that Godzilla: King of the Monsters commits the cardinal sin of monster movies: it’s kind of boring.
The story picks up sometime after Godzilla (2014), and Kong: Skull Island (2017), which makes this the third movie in the Monsterverse, with Godzilla vs. Kong dropping next summer. The shadowy Monarch organization, first introduced in Skull Island, is tracking the Titans, which include Kong, Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Rodan, among some newcomers. They have discovered a technology that allows them to communicate with the Titans, though the exact mechanics of how it works or what it does are never really elucidated. Enter an eco-terrorist group bent on realizing some unexplained shadowy goal, who end up waking all of the Titans all at once, including Godzilla’s arch nemesis King Ghidorah. Turns out that the Titans somehow create plant life in the wake of their clashes and allowing them all out to kill most of the human population will save the earth from the destruction mankind has wrought upon it. This should have opened the door for some kind of environmentalist message, or even further exploration of the idea, but it’s never mentioned again.
Instead, we are treated to some of the most poorly written and cliched characters I have ever seen outside of the midnight cult circuit. This movie makes the writing in Independence Day look like Taxi Driver in comparison. Protagonists run the whole gambit of cliches: alcoholic estranged father, a mother grieving in inappropriate ways for her dead son, a willful young daughter who wants to do the right thing, and a whole cast of talented actors who are used for nothing but delivering tired exposition and one-liners in tense situations. The alternatingly idiotic and self-sacrificing decisions these characters make are undertaken with such reckless abandon that it’s hard to keep up. Even Charles Dance (who you may know as Tywin Lannister) can’t save the proceedings by chewing the hell out of the scenery. We are expected to care about the survival of characters who deliver backstory through tortured monologues and long shots holding old picture frames. I checked my watch at least four different times during scenes of alternating technobabble and melodramatic reminiscing. These sections take valuable time away from massive kaiju brawls, and they seem all the more interminable for it.
Honestly though, nobody wants to hear about the people in a Godzilla movie. They want to know about the monsters. Well, I’m happy to say when the Titans are on screen, it becomes something else entirely. These monsters have never looked or sounded better. All of them have a realistic heft and strength, and Godzilla looks amazing, armed with his new glowing spikes, which illuminate before he spews a plume of blue fire. In close up shots you can even see his hardened scales, and wounds on his body from previous engagements. His muscles visibly strain and flex as he grapples, and his nostrils flare as he struggles to gain the upper hand on Ghidorah.
Mothra’s bioluminescent wings are hauntingly beautiful, and both Ghidorah and Rodan are appropriately menacing. Ghidorah’s different heads snapping at each other like hyenas fighting over a kill adds an unexpected air of authenticity to a usually cartoonish monster. We are also introduced to a number of new Titans, all of whom were interesting and well realized. Clearly the team behind the creatures showed great love and care in their creation, which makes the failure of the other three quarters of the film all the more jarring. Godzilla himself undergoes more character development than the rest of the cast combined, and I look forward to the day we get a fan supercut of these scenes, because they are truly astonishing.
Despite a valiant effort, humanity’s protector Titan has been foiled by shoddy writing and tired character cliches. I really wanted to like this movie, but thirty minutes of thrilling Titan action could not make up for a hundred minutes of eye-rolling dialogue. It’s truly a shame that such amazing special effects and creature work will be overshadowed by an almost bizarrely bad story. Truthfully though, this movie will probably make a boatload of money, and we are now thematically prepared for next summer’s King Kong vs. Godzilla (directed by horror stalwart Adam Wingard), bringing the two most famous movie monsters together for the first time in almost sixty years. However, looking to a hopeful future won’t change the disappointing present, and the truth is that our favourite Titan’s greatest showing to date has been totally defanged by a toothless script.