Nothing really sums up the mission statement of this sequel to 2014’s Godzilla reboot better than its theme song. Composer Bear McCreary and System Of A Down singer Serj Tankian have covered Blue Öyster Cult’s ‘Godzilla’, incorporating guitar riffs, traditional Japanese chanting, and lyrics that should be annotating the pages of a comic book – “Oh no, there goes Tokyo/Go go Godzilla!” – and the end result feels like a triumphant salute to Toho Studios’ favourite scaly son.
Director Michael Dougherty (Trick ’R Treat (opens in new tab), Krampus) wears his love of the monsters on his sleeve. And while this film exists in the same world as Gareth Edwards’ reality-grounded ‘Godzilla Begins’ take on the character, King Of The Monsters ups the monster head-count and collateral damage considerably, relishing the excesses of an oversized kaiju movie.
While Edwards’ film took a more reverent approach than Roland Emmerich’s 1997 abomination (opens in new tab), its biggest flaw was how little the titular Titan appeared on screen. After a slooow-burn build-up, too many of the big guy’s appearances were cut short. It didn’t help that Godzilla’s screentime- hogging foes, the MUTOs (massive unidentified terrestrial organisms), were uninspired Starship Troopers knock-offs.
Not only does King Of The Monsters carve out more time for its title star (you see him in all his glory in the first scene), but it gives him a trio of iconic Titans to contend with. It’s tonally closer to the oversized antics of Kong: Skull Island (opens in new tab) than Godzilla 2014: together, the films form the extended MonsterVerse, leading to 2020’s Godzilla Vs Kong. But it’s to KOTM’s credit that it focuses on its own adversaries rather than simply serving as a stepping stone.
If you’re familiar with the original Toho films, you’ll recognise the three additional creatures spreading their wings here as fan favourites Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah. While they’re a far cry from their rubber-suit origins, they stay true to their iconic designs, and provide a much more colourful counterpoint to Godzilla than the aforementioned MUTOs.
Director Michael Dougherty
Starring Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe
Screenplay Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields
Distributor Warner Bros
Running Time 132 mins
There is a semblance of a story that brings all of these beasts together. In the aftermath of the events of the last film, the Russell family face a devastating loss. Skip forward a few years, and estranged father Mark (Kyle Chandler) is photographing wolves in the wild, while mother Emma (Vera Farmiga) has been developing a piece of tech – the Orca – that can communicate with Titans, and caring for teenage daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown). There’s a sprawling human ensemble, especially when you factor in returnees (and new faces) from secretive agency Monarch.
Casting dependable character actors like Farmiga and Chandler helps to create some stakes, but the Russells’ story is never so compelling that you’d rather watch them than Godzilla, even though they’re an improvement on Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s bland military lunk from the first film.
Many supporting players get short shrift. Bradley Whitford’s wisecracks make a refreshing change from the usual monitor-commentary, but Zhang Ziyi and O’Shea Jackson Jr. barely get a look in. Charles Dance’s eco-terrorist’s motives aren’t so much unclear as nonsensical, and another character’s Thanos-esque masterplan doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny. Farmiga, Chandler and Brown put in a worthy effort to give the human aspect some heft, but for this film’s audience they can’t quite compete with the monsters. Happily, KOTM does offer more on that front, and director Mike Dougherty is clearly a Godzilla fanboy, reintroducing the new creatures with infectious relish.
The introductions to the monsters are where KOTM is most successful. When supersized lepidopteran Mothra is coaxed out of her cocoon, there’s a sense of wonder twinned with danger. Three-headed dragon King Ghidorah feels eerily threatening even when he’s preserved in ice in Antartica. And pterosaur-like Rodan makes a dramatic entrance from the mouth of a volcano. Dougherty has a good eye for a set-piece, and doesn’t hold back on the destruction. As Rodan swoops over a Mexican city, terrified bystanders are swept away in the backdraft caused by his wings. And even though Godzilla is once again invested with the pathos, an impressive intimidation display proves that he’s not to be bossed around.
As the scale of the carnage becomes bigger and bigger, the humans feel less and less relevant, but as you’ve probably bought a ticket for monster- mash spectacle, you won’t feel shortchanged. By the time that theme song kicks in, you’ll probably feel exhausted, but you’ll have a monster- sized grin on your face.
This review is taken from the latest issue of Total Film (opens in new tab) magazine