By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
The epic showdown I’ve been craving since Legendary Pictures acquired the license to play with Godzilla is here! In part two of maybe a trilogy, the world of monsters mankind lives in is filled with hidden agendas and a fear for the future. Our time on Earth may well come to an end. The Titans, monsters capable of mass destruction, will reclaim their territory. Can we live side by side in a symbiotic relationship, as Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) hopes? Or as TOHO Studio’s animated take suggests, will civilization regress to simpler times?
No real continuity exists between these two studio’s works. Legendary’s version is limited. Only a handful of films can be made before the terms of the contract expire. With a bigger budget, fans can see a massively CGI driven apocalyptic take of monsters ravaging each other and the world. Practical effects can only go so far, and motion capture can do a lot more these days. As this sequel takes place five years later, the Monarch organization is ready for the inevitable. In what they know and have uncovered since–humanity better be afraid!
While the first film perfectly delivers the goods of the looming threat, writer-director Mike Dougherty’s idea is to up the ante. After introductions of a new cast are dispensed with, the mad scientist Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) purposefully unleashes devastation. Like Thanos, she does not believe civilization is doing a good job at resource management. With this plot point in place, the tech she made to communicate with kaiju can either make them docile or raze the world. Although her intentions are maligned, the big question is if she will ever see the light.
It takes her ex-husband Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) and daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) to convince her. More time is spent concerning the mother-daughter family dysfunction than that of the patriarch miles away from home. This premise hardly takes away from what fans want—the fight. Instead of seeing humans always running away from the fight ala Jurassic Park, they get into the thick of things. It’s hardly distracting–as even the Toho films do this–but I did not find their plight all that important.
During Godzilla’s fight with the Mutos at San Francisco, the death of one member of the family upsets a natural order which was never fully explored. Flashbacks could have helped explain why Emma and Mark split instead of showing the result. After the loss of their son, she buried herself into her work and he wanted nothing to do with the organization anymore–or the fantastic beasts they searching for. It’s a shame there’s no magic portal to whisk them away. That’s too easy. Instead, the movie has humanity trying to understand their place in the food chain.
In what makes King of Monsters a fun watch is in how intelligent Godzilla truly is. He knows when his authority is challenged and will face these threats (unlike Mark). These beasts are allegories of the human dilemma going on but it won’t be recognized right away. Just how Monster Zero (Ghidorah) was put in ice is a question nobody can figure out. A second watch is not enough since the film packs in a lot to figure out. A prequel about this alien figure can help and that’s best saved for a comic book publisher to explore than another mega-budgeted film.
At least this three-headed dragon’s reimagining is better than Toho’s animated take. He’s meaner, fiercer, and is just as much of a force of nature as Big G. All the advancements in special effects technology are spectacularly used to show just how elemental this dragon truly is. I can see a plethora of computer wallpapers coming when more stills of this movie are released. The effort to make the battles gorgeous is majestic. The only real casualties are with human drama happening concurrently.
The producers deliver the good and bad of what blockbuster films have to represent. They also offer plenty of Easter eggs to satisfy the Kaiju and horror film enthusiasts. As the trailers have indicated, the big four are Mothra, Rodan, Godzilla, and King Ghidorah. I suspected there are more but sadly, none of them got enough screen time for the kaiju fan to care. Although Scylla (the spider) had more time than the others, I’m still wondering why King Kong’s butt got the most notice. I saw Tiamat and Quetzalcoatl listed, and they are not TOHO!
This Monsterverse is better off not bringing in divine figureheads into the fore. Hydras and Cerberus yes, but gods from Babylon or Mesoamerican origins, perhaps not. Lost civilizations and hollow earth ideas aside, it takes away from how some these creatures were borne from how mankind mistreated the environment. I’d rather see Mecha Space Godzilla as his next foe, even though all indications are for a return of the hydra.
3½ Roars out of 5