Godzilla: King of the Monsters Review

One spoiler-free review… followed almost immediately by some very spoiler-heavy observations.

So, yeah, those who know me well know that there was no way I was going to miss out on seeing this one in a proper cinema.

If you’re after my spoiler-free review, it follows below, but once you get to the YouTube Clip, I’ll be going into full-on spoiler territory.

Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is pretty much exactly what you’d expect out of a franchise built around gigantic monsters stomping on everything. This being 2019, they do via digital effects rather than practical ones.

Of course I took Mini Godzilla with me. You had to ask?

While many audiences are probably a little fatigued in CGI terms, Godzilla: King of the Monsters does enough to keep you engaged in its primary monster-stomping action.

You don’t have to have seen Kong: Skull Island or 2014’s Godzilla to enjoy it. Frankly, you’re probably happier if you’ve never seen Kong: Skull Island, but that’s got nothing to do with Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Kong: Skull Island is just awful.

Godzilla films always have a secondary, human-centric narrative, so that we as the audience can relate. This is significantly less well cooked, but it essentially doesn’t get in the way of the action too badly. 

Alex’s rating: 4 Mini Godzillas out of 5.

Spoilery observations:

Look, you don’t get to be King just because some moistened bint lobbed a sword at you. We all know that. But having three lightning spewing heads? Yeah, that helps.

I’ll be honest here. I’ve seen Godzilla (2014), and it was, at best, okay.

I’ve seen Kong: Skull Island, and it was  festering bucket of monkey dung. I’m probably being a little unkind there.

To the festering bucket of monkey dung, that is.

As such, while I’m a big fan of the ol’ scaly fella, my hopes weren’t actually that high for Godzilla: King of the Monsters being all that good, because it’s all part of the same shared cinematic universe, which is clearly the curse of our times.

 I’ve generally liked the Japanese original films from any given era, even the newer ones. Unlike many, I think Shin Godzilla is excellent.

The US interpretations of Godzilla had largely left me wanting.

Especially Godzilla (1998). Don’t even get me started.

There’s a central tension in any Godzilla film between the big stompy monster action and any character-driven narrative.

Godzilla is rather cruelly typecast — he can get angry with the best of them, but never gets offered those deeper romantic roles — and that means filling out the runtime of a feature film has to fall to a more human-centric plot that we, the audience can relate to.

OK, OK, for the earlier films, it’s also because filming people standing around in rooms is WAY cheaper than building more cardboard sets, too.

I was very happy with the Kaiju action in play for Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Not only is it well composited, with some key shots that will make AWESOME posters, but it’s also cut in a way that makes it clear what’s going on.

So many action films these days substitute fast cuts and incoherence for properly structured fight seequences.

I never once didn’t know what was going on, and when you consider that you’re talking about a fight between a massive lizard, a three headed flying dragon and more, that’s pretty impressive stuff.

The underlying family narrative, though, is considerably less well fleshed out.

That’s down to the script more than the actors, with Vera Farmiga having the worst of it. She’s handed the role of Dr Emma Russell, a wildly incoherent mess of a scientist. It’s established later in the film that she knows that Charles Dance’s Jonah Allen is coming, but she acts surprised and as if she’s a hostage.

Why? Because the film wants us to empathise with her, even though it makes NO sense whatsoever. She sacrifices herself later in the movie because…

Well, we’re meant to think it’s a noble sacrifice, but really, it’s a dumb, not-at-all-thought-out sacrifice that really works so that they don’t have to deal with the awkward questions of which particular prison they’re going to throw her into, what with all the deaths she’s VERY much complicit in.

Millie Bobbie Brown’s Madison Russell doesn’t fare much better, swinging between contacting her father out of concern to suddenly having been in on the whole caper to deciding that it’s all too evil with very little time to breathe. She sure can yell at a camera, but you need more than that to have an actual character.

There are some highlights, of course. Charles Dance has essentially no character to work from, but he still steals every scene he’s in. Because he’s Charles Dance, basically.

Ken Watanabe takes the Dr Serizawa role, and any long-term Godzilla fan knows what his fate must be. Still, he plays the role with conviction and certainty, and he’s a joy to watch in every scene he’s in, especially his death scene.

The score is astonishingly good. Sure, I’m a sucker for the Godzilla theme any time of day or night, but it’s backed up with some great compositions for this film alone. 

So good.

GET IT THE HELL AWAY FROM ME.

I mostly liked the Kaiju designs. Godzilla remains the same as he was back in 2014, and that’s fine if a little craggy. King Ghidorah is nicely realised, and I don’t mind one bit that he’s often obscured by clouds. I’m not so keen on the take on Rodan, largely because it looks like he’s been at the steroids.

Mothra, though, is just plain lovely, even in larval form. I’m not ashamed to say that I punched the air when Mothra stabbed Rodan in the final battle with her claw. Not entirely sure why Rodan didn’t stay dead after that one, really.

Also, it’s generally not a good idea to boop Mothra on the snoot.

There’s more than a few less-than-subtle nods to the fact that the next film in the cycle is Godzilla vs Kong.

I’m less enthused about that one, partly because Kong: Skull Island was so bad. Also because I’m not that interested in finding out how they nerf Godzilla so that it’s anywhere near a close fight.

Seriously, Godzilla vs Kong should be shorter than Bambi meets Godzilla above, and about as decisive.

The best Godzilla films are those that I can watch over and over again, and that’s not something that I can entirely say about 2014’s Godzilla. 

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a film I’ll return to, both to take in more detail on a second viewing, but also simply to revel in its well-realised big-stompy-monster action. Sometimes that’s enough.

Images: Legendary Pictures/Toho, used for the purposes of review, yadda yadda.

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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