VOD film review Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Ivan Radford | On 02, Nov 2019Reading time: 4 mins
Director: Michael Dougherty
Cast: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe, Charles Dance, Sally Hawkins, Millie Bobby Brown
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There are big movies and there are big movies. And then there’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The third entry in the rebooted kaiju franchise builds on 2014’s Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island and does so vertiginously, reaching heights so dizzying it makes The Aeronauts look like The Clangers.
Despite their odd flaw, the previous two films in this would-be GCU (Godzilla Cinematic Universe) share a genuine feeling of fear and wonder, and it’s that, rather than any narrative cohesion, which provides the throughline to this sequel. It is, in every sense of the word, majestic – a glorious celebration of Very Big Things Hitting Other Very Big Things.
Because yes, Godzilla has company this time, and it doesn’t take long for our radioactive lizard to be joined by his companions: King Ghidorah, a dragon with no fewer than three heads, pterodactyl-esque fire-breather Rodan and the quietly powerful Mothra. There are also a horde of new human faces enering the fray.
The Monarch team, which we’ve seen trying to detect the giant monsters of old, are now going against their military orders to destroy them, instead believing that these ancient beings are returning to correct the balance of nature, after humans have ruined the Earth. Returning from that group are Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins as earnest scientists, but the focus is on two former Monarch members: Emma (Vera Farmiga), who has made a breakthrough in sonic communication with (and possibly control of) the beasts, her teen daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and estranged hubby/father Mark (Kyle Chandler), who says he wants to exterminate Godzilla, but only because it killed Madison’s brother years ago.
As they all come together for their own collision, the result is hardly a subtle exploration of grief, but it’s a surprisingly moving one, with each character given more depth than in any of the previous two outings – even Watanabe’s scientist gets a poignant scene that underpins his own philosophical beliefs. (To balance out the dialogue-heavy scenes, there’s fun to be had wih Charles Dance, who swaggers through the emotional debate as a former British colonel with his own commercial interests and savage determination.)
Released at a time when protests are taking place worldwide to save the planet, that grief is also environmental and writ decidedly large, as we see the kaiju lay waste to concrete structures and leave behind lush, radioactive forests. The result is big and, at times (despite the odd clunky exchange), clever, managing to find a halfway house between Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island that delivers on both action and existential commentary. But when people stop talking – and, when Bradley Whitford’s got a superfluous bit-part in the background, you know your film has too many people – it’s impossible not to be dumbstruck by the visual craft at work.
Director Michael Dougherty (Krampus) delivers stunner after stunner as he plays with these monsters like toys in a child’s bedroom, always finding an imaginative way to stage a set piece or resolve a showdown. Cinematographer Lawrence Sher (who, between this and Joker, has made two of the best-looking films of 2019) brings a wondrous blend of colour and scale to the chaos. It’s a masterful demonstration of how to tell story and character through action and how to tap into complex mythology without lengthy lectures. Each blow we witness, crucially, has a tangible consequence and weight to it; that earnestness is wired into every creature on screen, making them more than CGI puppets tearing chunks out of each other.
From Ghidorah framed against a crucifix or Mothra hovering in the clouds, not to mention Godzilla biting the limbs and wings off everything that moves, this a blockbuster with a rare sense of awe. Even when it gets buried by the overstuffed script, that spine-tingling mix of excitement and terror doesn’t take long to resurface. There has been lots of debate recently about whether comic book blockbusters count as cinema or not, but as Godzilla: King of the Monsters rolls its end credits (paving the way for Godzilla vs. Kong), there’s little doubt that this is the kind of spectacle that movies were made for.