ReviewsTelevision & Film

GODZILLA Stomps and Delivers

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
Directed by Michael Dougherty
Screenplay by Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields
Story by Max Borenstein and Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields
Produced by Mary Parent, Alex Garcia, Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, and Brian Rogers
Rated PG-13, 2h 11m 

There’s almost something Shakespearean about a story of a king who gets displaced by a pretender, and then has to fight for his rightful place in charge of all the warriors of the world after an epic battle.

In other words, Godzilla: King of the Monsters delivers fierce monster battles on a scale of epic proportions, a visual feast to roast your eyeballs and make you squee with delight. A bit overcooked in some places, but overall a fun popcorn flick that truly delivers on the promise given to us in the 2014 film.

Godzilla gets more than a scant few minutes in this picture, and the results are sheer chaotic fun.

The setup: eco-terrorists led by Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) invade a facility run by Monarch, the company that has set itself up as the premiere authority on all things related to the “titans” (the kaiju are in that other film franchise…). Along the way, they capture Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and release several titans from their hibernation, wreaking havoc across the globe as the titans all respond to the rejuvenation of the big one: Ghidora, the three-headed dragon of ye olden Chinese legends.

Turns out there’s more to the legends than anyone thought, and it’s a nice bit of world-building inserted into the story here. (Also look for a very solid Easter egg for those who are fans of Mothra.) And the Monarch folks, led by Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Ilene Chen (Ziyi Zhang) turn to Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), who helped his wife develop the ORCA device that has the ability to control (ish) the titans by using specifically pitched sound waves.

Of course, there’s much more to it than that, but we’d be getting into spoiler territory.

Craft-wise, the whole film is well-executed, but special attention needs to be paid to composer Bear McCreary, who incorporates the original themes for both Godzilla and Mothra into his score. The visual effects are very impressive, and I even like the fact that a completely CGI character like Ghidora actually looks like a plastic/rubber model in some places, giving the film a very old school Toho aesthetic.

Now, there are a handful of spots where the monster fights get a little muddy visually. Too much debris, too much destruction, and it gets in the way of actually seeing the monsters. But that can be forgiven as a consequence of some parts of the film being shown at the human point-of-view level, and they don’t always get to see everything when buildings are falling down around them.

The human character moments are put together well, too. And given that Godzilla films are not known for their human stories much, it’s nice to see a narrative thread hang all of this together. Kyle Chandler has the chops to be a leading man, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Friday Night Lights alum gets more opportunity for that in the future.

Bradley Whitford delivers some pretty solid comedic moments as well, and does it in a way that clearly demonstrates it’s a coping mechanism.

Millie Bobby Brown, despite some early concerns from certain quarters, does not dominate the film, nor is her character unrealistic. She’s caught in the middle of a very bad, very weird situation, and given that she’s the daughter of two very talented scientists, she’s clearly smart enough to figure some things out. But she’s not presented as too smart or too talented — she’s not a Wesley Crusher type — and Brown’s performance is just the right balance of teenager in over her head and smart kid doing smart things.

Some twists in this, but again — spoilers.

One twist I was pleased about. When I first saw that our villains were “eco-terrorists”, I figured we were in for a temperamental lecture about how humans are despoiling the planet and we need to go hug the nearest tree post haste. I’m glad that there’s no real Message™ in the film. There’s an environmental-themed subtext, but it’s more about balance than it is about “humans bad”.

Ignore Rotten Tomatoes (easier to do nowadays, really). Ignore the critics. This is a fun movie. It’s a good Godzilla movie. And it nicely sets up what’s coming next when Godzilla has to face off against a certain particular ape…

Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

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