The crypto-zoological agency Monarch faces off against a battery of god-sized monsters, including the mighty Godzilla, who collides with Mothra, Rodan, and his ultimate nemesis, the three-headed King Ghidorah. (from IMDb)
In 2014, Gareth Edwards (who would later go on to direct Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) reinvented the king of monsters, Godzilla, for U.S. audiences with a dramatic new take on the character. Going for a less-is-more approach, Edwards brought some seriousness to the franchise, and opted for a more character-driven story over the usual smash-and-destruction approach these films usually take. This strength also became the film's biggest criticism, as it ended up featuring very little of its title character. It's unfortunate, too, because it created two significant problems: the film left fans feeling cheated... and it led, inevitably, to stuffing its sequel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters to the brim with monster action.
To achieve the bigger and more grand spectacle, the story and tone shift greatly to accomodate, and the changes don't always work in its favor. Granted, any film revolving around Godzilla and his assorted monstrous foes is going to be relatively silly. The premise for why 17 titans make their way into Godzilla: King of the Monsters is pretty over the top, but it's sold rather passionately by an accomplished group of actors--even if it's more than obvious that some of them are trying a bit harder than they need to (I'm looking at you, Chandler). Still, one has to be realistic here as well and admit--admidst the weaknesses of either the 2014 film or this one--they're both still worlds above the 1998 travesty.
Horror director Michael Dougherty (Trick 'r Treat, Krampus) takes the reins from Edwards for the sequel, clearly aiming to up the ante with more mature content and violence. I wasn't surprised by the film's levels of devastation, but I was surprised by its frequent use of profanity and blasphemy (especially given the MPAA's description of "some language"). Even Stranger Things superstar Millie Bobby Brown (making her feature film debut here) utters most of the film's 10+ uses of the "S" word, with most of it appearing in her very first shot in the film as she burns food in a pan on the stove. It's frivolous and adds nothing to the story or her character. Then many of the characters drop frequent uses of Jesus's name or the two-fer, "g*dd*mn," which just seems even more unnecessary. And by the time O'Shea Jackson Jr. spits out the film's lone "F" word, it all feels thoughtless and gratuitous. Meanwhile, the violence itself isn't particularly graphic or gory, but some human-on-human violence caught me by surprise. A room full of scientists are gunned down and then a man is suddenly shot in the head, but we see the latter from behind as the bullet breaks glass (so we don't see the impact or the bloody aftermath). In a scene that soon follows, an entire building/area full of people are gunned down just off screen, and while nothing bloody is shown, we see main characters stepping over dead bodies crumpled on the floor. The monster violence itself includes creature heads being ripped off, biting, stabbing, explosions, and more--not to mention the monsters suddenly frying humans into puffs of nothingness. Godzilla: King of the Monsters earns every bit of its PG-13 rating, but the filmmakers seem to have once again forgotten about the younger audiences they've clearly been otherwise marketing to.
Grumpy rants about content aside, Godzilla: King of the Monsters feels like one of those movies where those putting it together decided that the finer details were irrelevant and the grand set pieces were far more important. While the strange motivations behind the characters fueling the mayhem seem kind of weak, some moments felt especially sloppy and almost dizzying, as I genuinely found it difficult to keep track of the means of transportation the main characters were taking at any given moment. One scene will have them seemingly in a base of operations, and then suddenly some--or all--of them are in a plane... or a submarine... or getting into a helicopter, then suddenly appearing elsewhere. I realize the film can only be so long, and to watch the characters switching vehicles each time would grow dull quite quickly, but by the end, it just seemed as though characters were appearing anywhere at any time just for the sake of convenience to the story. Also, there weren't many especially likeable characters, and the ones that you might gravitate toward get a little shortchanged. I thought casting Millie following her success in Stranger Things was a rather brilliant move (especially because she's a stellar actress), but she seems mostly wasted here. She isn't developed very much, and it feels like the film relies more heavily on viewers' association of her with the Stranger Things franchise than creating a fresh emotional attachment to her in this new story. I know already that she's set to appear in next year's Godzilla vs. Kong, and I'm concerned they haven't given viewers much to look forward to with her character--or really any of the other human characters, for that matter.
So what's left? Well, I suppose we really only go to see these movies for the monster action, and I do have to say that, in that respect, Dougherty does deliver. From Godzilla to Mothra, King Ghidorah, Rodan and beyond, there's lots of creature action to satisfy those looking for some good, old fashioned, monster e monster fisticuffs. There are some surprise moments for sure, especially ones that pump up the fans (which I won't spoil here), and those are the ones worth the price of admission for the diehards. I saw this in IMAX format and it's really the ideal way to see this movie; I highly recommend the largest format if you do choose to see this one. The special effects are pretty solid, too. I didn't love how much the film bathes its scenes in orange and/or blue colors, overly saturating them at times (there's evidence of this in the trailers). I feel like it robbed the film of the more gritty, grounded look the 2014 film had, and even managed to make Godzilla look less realistic than he did five years ago.
To expand on my content reflections above, aside from the profanity, there is minimal blood shown in this film. There are a few creature dismemberments--including heads being ripped off--and in one instance, we see a gross-ish moment where a head grows out of the bloody stump on a creature's neck. One monster is impaled in its wing by a claw, and there are endless amounts of building and vehicular destruction. A gigantic explosion takes the life of (at least) one character, while we see other victims get stepped on, crushed by debris, fall to their deaths from a great height (and disappear), or get eaten in a single bite. Aside from the aforementioned shootings off screen, nothing more than a few bloody scrapes and such creature wounds make up the rougher aspects of the graphic content. (The post-end-credits sequence--spoiler warning--shows a dismembered creature head with some scrapes and gashes all over its face, too.) Lastly, there isn't any sexual content, but a couple references are made to the creatures mating, with the worst being the character Mark commenting that the only reason monsters would get together would be to "fight, feed, or..." and he holds his mouth for a moment in a way you'd think he might use another choice word that begins with an "F," before he decides to say "do something more intimate" instead.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters checks off all the boxes for what's expected from a big screen monster fest, but the end result--while satisfying by way of monster versus monster action--falls short of greatness. Its content especially holds it back from being one I'd freely recommend, while that "something special" to elevate it to the next level is just plain missing. As the third entry in Warner Bros.' shared "MonsterVerse" (following 2014's Godzilla and 2017's Kong: Skull Island), I'm a little concerned for the future of this franchise, but while repeat viewings have yet to reveal whether some of these issues lessen or worsen, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is entertaining no doubt, but doesn't quite live up to the spectacle or grandeur its title commands.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 5/31/19)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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