‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ movie review: how Gojira earned his title

Sure, you might know of Godzilla as the ‘King of the Monsters’, but did you know how he earned that title?

Well, buckle up, because Godzilla 2: King of the Monsters finally explains, in excruciating detail, how Godzilla, referred to throughout the movie by the human characters as an “alpha” monster, an “apex” monster, and indeed, even a “king”, finally earns that title amongst his monster brethren.

And if you think this monster movie sequel is too proud or serious to culminate with a scene of a crab-like monster bending the knee before Godzilla as he roars upon the top of a pile rubble that once was Boston a la Jon Snow in Game of Thrones, well, you’ve got a surprise in store.

While 2014’s Godzilla was a serious-minded affair that focused on the human story while the monsters, only briefly glimpsed, terrorize San Francisco, this sequel is a goofball drama that retains that film’s sense of self-serious while also trying to deliver on a more traditional monster movie front.

On that level, King of the Monsters is a good ol’ monster mash of a movie that isn’t so much of a Royal Rumble as a Tag Team event, with four of Toho’s most famous creations duking it out as Godzilla and Mothra face off against Ghidorah and Rodan for the World Championship title belt – – which, by the way, will need a few more notches added if the newly-corpulent Godzilla takes home the prize.

As those four monsters fight for bragging rights during the finale, King of the Monsters finally earns its title (borrowed from the Americanized Raymond Burr version of the original 1954 movie) and delivers the monster movie goods: there is, oddly, some genuine empathy felt for these battling behemoths as they (presumably) trample millions of innocent Bostonians beneath them.

But wait! The monster mash climax, along with two brief(er) Godzilla vs. Ghidorah battles earlier in the movie, only represents about 20 minutes of this 132-minute feature film.

I bet you were wondering about the ancient history of these Titans, how and why they have re-emerged from their million-year slumber, the delicate structure of their monster hierarchy, how they are able to instantly travel across the world (hollow Earth theory!), how they communicate with each, and how mankind might be able to communicate with them.

Bless them, the filmmakers – writer-director Michael Dougherty and co-writers Max Borenstein and Zach Shields – have helpfully included over 100 minutes of pure exposition in Godzilla: King of the Monsters narrated by human characters to carefully explain these details and many, many more.

That way, when we get to the final four-on-four monster mash climax, we can finally understand the complex anthropological and political machinations behind all the monster action to really know what’s at stake when Godzilla fires his atomic breath into Ghidorah, sending the monster flying through downtown Boston (spoiler alert: he’s fighting for the title of King of the Monsters).

Employed to tell us what’s really happening as monsters are destroying cities across the world (which we glimpse on TV monitors), Godzilla 2: King of the Monsters utilizes characters played by Thomas Middleditch, Bradley Whitford, Ziyi Zhang (as two separate characters!), Sally Hawkins, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., David Strathairn, CCH Pounder, Joe Morton, and others who exist for no other reason than to provide pointless exposition.

Charles Dance, meanwhile, plays a generic baddie out to release the monsters for reasons unclear (“eco-terrorism” is mentioned at one point), while Ken Watanabe, one of the few returning characters from the 2014 movie, actually has some heartfelt scenes with Godzilla but otherwise serves as another exposition dump.

Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, and Millie Bobby Brown, meanwhile, play estranged family members (and monster scientists) who have been personally affected by the monster destruction. The family stuff actually works, Chandler and Brown make for compelling protagonists, and their storyline could have made for fine human drama set against the backdrop of the monster apocalypse in another movie.

That twenty minutes of monster mash action, double or more of the amount of the previous Godzilla movie proffered, might be enough to win over some viewers – and the adorable Mothra really does steal the show.

But it mostly takes place in the background, as the human characters run around looking for each other. At night. And in the rain, through the clouds, underneath the water, filtered through a blindingly bright radioactive haze – techniques employed by the filmmakers in an effort to hide the fact that they did not film actual monsters trampling across the world, but rather CGI creations.

You’ll have to squint to see Godzilla bite off one of Ghidorah’s heads, and if you blink you might not see what becomes of Rodan. That human character who is no longer there, nor mentioned by anyone else? You can assume they were eaten or trampled during the carnage.

Godzilla 2: King of the Monsters is closer than any previous American effort at recreating the original feel of the Toho movies, if that’s the bar you want to judge these things by. But guess what? Those movies weren’t Masterpiece Theatre to begin with, and the Japanese studio is still churning out Godzilla sequels (2016’s Shin Godzilla) much better than this one.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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