Shared universes aren’t a new thing (Universal had one back in the 30s and 40s when they teamed up their monsters in several films), but they have recently become a much more accepted and desired route for every major studio. After Kevin Feige put his Midas touch on the Marvel superhero franchise, other studios hastily attempted to build their own shared universes. Jason Blum has found relative success in what’s now known as The Conjuring universe, and DC failed early in their attempt at creating a similar superhero universe, but the tide may be turning with recent critical and box-office hits like Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Shazam!
Even Universal tried its hand at resurrecting their monster universe, but after two failed attempts (Dracula Untold and The Mummy), cracking the Marvel formula has been much harder than expected. And it’s not because of the monsters. If it wasn’t already apparent after watching the post-credit sequence on Kong: Skull Island, Godzilla: King of the Monsters makes it absolutely clear that Warner Bros. has slowly and quietly set in motion its own monster franchise.
And the producers aren’t subtle about it. Even though you don’t necessarily get to see the giant ape (or hear his name) in King of the Monsters, it seems you can’t go ten minutes without hearing some type of reference to Skull Island throughout the film, which also brings on board a slew of Godzilla’s other friends and enemies that could potentially spawn off into their own solo films.
I’m not a Godzilla aficionado by any means; I know most of Godzilla’s nemeses, like Mothra and Rodan, by name only. But director Michael Dougherty (taking the reigns from Gareth Edwards) does a nice job of introducing us to this pack of titans without going overboard on exposition. We’re given just enough information to whet our whistles until each one of them gets their chance to fight (or help) the king for dominance.
The creature designs are all beautifully captured and take advantage of the fact that each one is in some way irradiated with nuclear energy. We saw in Godzilla’s first revival outing in 2014 that his scales light up one-by-one like a video game character charging up before he blows a stream of blue fire of energy at his opponent. But now we get our first introduction to Mothra in all of her glory, lighting her wings up like an angel savior, and Rodan with a hint of flame constantly lighting the edges of his wings. Even Ghidorah has a fancy superpower, able to conjure and build superstorms to hide his overpowering and dominant presence.
Which is basically what King of the Monsters comes down to: a tale as old as time as two warring creatures assert their toxic masculinity across the globe to completely dominate the rest of the pack. Ghidorah wants to wipe all of humanity off the planet while Godzilla simply wants to coexist (and at the same time, keep the human population in check so as not to completely ravish and destroy the world). That’s apparently why nature has woken these giant beasts from their slumber to begin with; so that they can help bring life back to a dying planet.
But what about the humans? Like most Godzilla films (and all giant monster movies, for that matter), the humans play an important role in the film, even if they are simple, one-dimensional characters with one purpose — to unleash hell so that we can get giant monster battles. Here we have Jonah Alan (Charles Dance), a man so desperate to bring life back to Earth, he’s willing to wipe out billions of people to make it happen.
To do so, he must first kidnap Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), who has created a device that can control the beasts to either calm or attack based on the frequency waves it emits. When returning players Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) recruit Emma’s husband, Mark (Kyle Chandler), to help find the Orca and put a stop to Jonah’s plan, it’s a race to close Pandora’s box and save the world from annihilation (and his daughter (Millie Bobby Brown), who was in the wrong place at the wrong time when Emma was taken).
It’s great to see Chandler finally getting his due with top billing as a lead character in a feature film. For decades, Chandler has delighted us with his annoyed charm on television, but, like Scott Bakula or Mark Harmon, could never seem to break into film in any meaningful way. Now he’s front and center, and he does a great job as the frustrated scientist grieving the loss of his son during Godzilla’s last major battle in San Francisco.
The rest of the cast does an outstanding job as well, including Bradley Whitford, who keeps everything light with perfectly timed quips and comic relief. Just because each character is for the most part one-note, and there really isn’t any character arcs to been seen (there is one, but it’s a bit spoilery), doesn’t mean they aren’t fun to watch and, in some sense, relatable, mostly due to the actors’s willingness to go one hundred percent, no matter the circumstances.
Though the plot is simple and familiar, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is an entertaining ride from start to finish. Like the actors, I found myself to be all in, no matter what foolish scientific explanation a character might spout out or the stupidity of a character’s actions. Because, really, what we’re here for is to see giant monsters battle each other for complete supremacy, and in that regard, the effects, the creature design and the action (including the breathtaking destruction of a city as Rodan’s massive wing-span causes the wind to wipe it off the map) are all top-of-the-line. It all leaves you with a great deal of anticipation for the upcoming battle between our two favorite Kings in 2020.
My Grade: A
I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been out of high school for twenty years, the over-the-top, silly characterizations of almost every single supporting character, or because of the blatantly hardcore PC-aspects of the script, but Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, Booksmart, came off as rather tired and false, despite the performances by Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein. C+
What if Superman turned evil? That is the question posed by Brightburn, a very disturbing, grotesque look at a young boy (Jackson A. Dunn) who once crashed-landed in a ship as a baby going through puberty without the warm, compassionate Kent family in his corner. It’s an interesting twist that doesn’t spend enough time giving us a reason why. B
Next week, new movies include Dark Phoenix, The Secret Life of Pets 2 and Late Night. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.