Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS
Rated PG-13, 2 hrs 11 minutes
Directed by: Michael Dougherty
There was no greater slap in the face to Godzilla fans everywhere than back in 2014 when director Gareth Edwards’ GODZILLA went to great lengths to hide the eponymous giant monster (confoundingly like the beasts from JAWS and ALIEN) for most of the feature, choosing to focus on fairly uninteresting human drama instead. While director Michael Dougherty’s GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS takes a few cues from Edwards’ regenerated jump-off, it delivers far more satisfying thrills and terrific spectacle when it comes to what fans expect from these kinds of films. Trouble is, a lackluster human element sadly still impedes, throwing a wet blanket on the fire sparked by this new creative team.
Things begin on a promising note: the world is an irrevocably changed place after the devastating battle between the MUTOs and Godzilla leveled San Francisco. One married couple in particular, Mark and Dr. Emma Russell (played by Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga respectively), lost their young son when they were working in the Bay Area for Monarch, the crypto-zoological agency tracking these kaiju. In the years since the tragedy, Mark has turned bitter, letting angst and anger overtake his life. His now-ex-wife Emma and their rebellious tween daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) have grown more curious as to what these “titans” are doing here, looking for solutions to coexist.
Emma has invented a top secret soundwave device that can control the currently dormant titans, all of which are scattered across the planet. However, right as they’re testing the MacGuffin, waking Mothra from her deep slumber, a rogue militia unit led by eco-terrorist Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) kidnaps Emma and Madison and absconds with the device. He and his crew are bent on resurrecting other massive magnificent monsters – like three-headed dragon King Ghidorah, and smoldering, ashy-winged pterodactyl Rodan – with this bio-sonar technology. Now it’s up to scientific minds Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), and Monarch’s top brass Dr. Ilene Chen (Ziyi Zhang), Dr. Rick Stanton (Bradley Whitford) and Sam Coleman (Thomas Middleditch) to bring Mark back into the fold to save his estranged family, not to mention the rest of the world.
Dougherty and co-screenwriter Zach Shields find new, exciting and unique ways to add to our beloved kaijus’ legacy. Not only are there a few new abilities revealed (I won’t spoil who can now do what), the filmmakers utilize iconography left out of Edwards’ previous iteration. Their ability to integrate rousing fan service moments with their new ideas works efficiently and successfully, blending nods to the franchise’s past (everything from 1954’s GOJIRA, to 1968’s DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, to 1995’s GODZILLA VS. DESTOROYAH and many others) with its future. This philosophy is echoed in its score as well, which finds a captivating balance between Akira Ifukube’s iconic compositions and Bear McCreary’s viscerally charged soundscape rooted in culture and mythology.
The picture’s scale and scope is on a whole other level, delivering awe-inspiring widescreen visuals of these fantastic beasts in fight and in flight. Though Dougherty and cinematographer Lawrence Sher’s epic action set pieces capture what Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Rodan and Mothra would look like fighting on a heavy metal album cover, their fire-and-brimstone aesthetic assigns a gritty gravitas to the gorgeous imagery, as it augments the narrative’s ecological overtones. That said, whenever they cut away from these show-stopping monster mash-ups to the humans attempting to take down or flee from these behemoths, the battles are obscured by jittery editing and shaky cam. It’s dizzying – and not in a good way.
What further complicates matters are the characters themselves – specifically each member of the Russell family. Their motivations are sketchy at best, driven mostly by contrivance or convenience. The real monster actually isn’t one of the gargantuan kaiju, but one of the humans, who’s right up there with Thanos in terms of a master plan to cure the ills of the Earth. Mark’s righteous anger at Godzilla dissipates almost immediately, and Emma’s confusing actions are followed by an expository speech dump ten minutes later. Her perfectly curled locks flatten as the run time ticks away, which can only be construed as a metaphor. Madison smashes a perfectly good iPad with a family photo as the lock screen when she could’ve just changed the photo. Her purpose on the whole is solely to aid a male’s arc – i.e. for Mark to be able to re-enact his past traumatic experience during the climax. Plus, their interpersonal family dynamics are not particularly interesting or engaging. This is the biggest surprise, as this film comes from the clever minds behind KRAMPUS, which supplied a subversive take on familial hijinks.
GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS opens on May 31.