Falling somewhere between the quality of the modern Planet of the Apes trilogy (very good) and the latest King Kong film (poo), the reimagined Godzilla films are yet another reboot that we may not have asked for, but kind of enjoy anyway.
It’s been five years in movie time and real time since 2014’s Godzilla–long enough to wonder if it was a sequel someone forgot to release while people were still paying attention. But the broken family at the center of King of the Monsters has been dealing with PTSD since then. Scientist mom Emma (Vera Farmiga) has been soldiering on with her work with the mysterious entity Monarch, coming up with a machine called Orca that will supposedly communicate with the Titans (aka monsters like Godzilla). Estranged dad Mark (Kyle Chandler) has been off the grid photographing wolves. Meanwhile, tween daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) stays with mom, trying to get her to acknowledge the elephant in the room: the dead son who died in the Godzilla attacks in San Francisco five years earlier. Godzilla hasn’t been seen since, but Monarch has their collective eye on well over a couple dozen of the beasts lying dormant around the world.
Lo! Just when a dormant Titan stirs, Emma and Madison are kidnapped by nefarious soldiers led by the always-evil Charles Dance. They want the Orca machine to wake up ALL the beasties, with the idea that the Earth is so screwed from human destruction and misbehavior that nature’s Titans will be the ones to reduce it to rubble in order for the planet to regenerate and survive. Or something. Needless to say, this one three-headed winged beastie dubbed Monster Zero turns out to be an asshole Alpha beast who doesn’t play well with others. The only one that might beat him is… Godzilla! Who may be on our side!
Seriously though, you have a lot of very good actors (also including Oscar nominees Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe, plus Bradley Whitford mastering the art of don’t-give-a-crap scene-chewing) trying their best with a dorky script and staring at green screens in shock and awe. There is the usual extremely earnest multi-ethnic, multi-cultural cast, none of whom really stand out (Whitford is trying his hardest though). There is the usual passel of soldiers, good and bad, who apparently have no issue being thrown into the heart of danger to go look for one teenager in a landscape of urban destruction. And there is the usual muddy-science, that is explained with the thoughtful removal of glasses for emphasis, that makes just enough sense to move the plot forward.
While King of the Monsters easily half an hour too long, I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed the true stars: the Titans. The action often takes place in the dark and the rain, making it oh-so-much better to see them breathing fire, or starting to glow with a wacka-wacka-wacka bullroarer sound before going (literally) atomic on each other. Mothra is gorgeous, Monster Zero is cool and relentless, and I have to admit I giggled with glee when winged beast Rodan emerged spectacularly from a spewing volcano in Mexico. This is the stuff of kiddie nightmares and it looks fantastic. As for Godzilla himself? He is a righteous badass… Indeed, he is King of the Monsters. Now if they could just kill off some of those pesky humans earlier…
You have to admire the full-on fanboy geekiness that director Michael Dougherty feels toward Godzilla as he enthusiastically references event the most minute differences between all the various incarnations of the beast, from classic Toho Godzilla to the most recent incarnations (though no one really seems to acknowledge the Matthew Broderick/Roland Emmerich debacle from 1998). You just hear the love and passion that he put into this. I also enjoyed the glimpes of creating the various titans using motion capture of actors doing the faces of, for instance, all three of King Ghidorah’s heads. There are quite a few featurettes among them: “Monsters 101,” “Evolution of the Titans,” “Monarch in Action”, “Monsters Are Real”, plus a focus on the it-girl Millie Bobbie Brown, deleted and extended scenes, audio commentary from Dougherty, producer Zack Shields, and actor O’Shea Jackson, Jr. (who is another who charmingly geeks out on Godzilla).