Long Live The King
Set five years after the events of Godzilla, the monster hunting agency Monarch are under public scrutiny for their knowledge of the existence of giant creatures dubbed “titans.” Paleobiologist Dr Emma Russell [Farmiga] is working closely with Monarch on sonar technology to potentially control or subdue monsters. While Emma is working on a new discovery in China, an eco-terrorist organisation, run by ex-military Colonel, Alan Jonah [Dance], storms the Monarch facility and abducts both Emma and her daughter Madison [Brown]. In order to help track the terrorist’s actions, Emma’s estranged husband Mark [Chandler] is brought on board as Jonah and his agenda are revealed.
From the outset, I was quite surprised and impressed at how the pacing wastes no time and rushes along to get straight to the monsters. But this elation quickly faded as the narrative maintains this gait throughout and never eases up to appreciate what’s unfolding. Scrambling from set-piece to set-piece, neglecting the very monsters they sold so heavily in the marketing. See, a lot of critics will dub this film repetitive, cluttered and suffering from too many monsters and on one level, I can entirely understand that but if anything, this movie actually suffers from too few monster bouts and those we get have some genuinely standout moments but even these are littered with stupid or odd directorial decisions but I will expand on that more a little later.
A film of this nature if very much driven by the production design and effect work; all of which, I’m happy to report, are commendable. Bear McCreary’s score is nowhere near as good as Alexandre Desplat’s in the last instalment or even Henry Jackman’s in Kong: Skull Island – both of which emulated a 60s/70s monster pic aural landscape – but by building on the Showa era themes and leitmotifs, it is certainly a rather strong effort. The overall sound design is also great, I missed the guttural Godzilla roar established in 2014 but this is a minor gripe considering the level of talent that has been employed. In a similar way to Aquaman, I was also very impressed at the selection of beautiful, slower wide shots and tableaus peppered throughout the film that felt like the kind of concept art that sells the film but rarely makes it to the final cut. But these pretty and haunting moments also serve to highlight how disappointing the mucky-CGI close-ups can be and while the majority is easy enough to follow, it fails to really convey the scale. Something I wholly applaud Gareth Edwards for doing in 2014 was keeping the view of the monsters from a human perspective, highlighting how helpless we are against these towering behemoths. This sequel largely maintains that but the choice to shoot the fights as if they were regular sized humans wading around a set left the action feeling generic at times and strangely consequence free; which, incidentally, is also what happened in Pacific Rim: Uprising. We lose a sense of terror and wonder and lean into campy Power Rangers visuals; granted, this could be an intentional callback to the older releases but I didn’t feel this landed particularly well. But if I’m honest, that’s always been Godzilla’s problem. The first few instalments strike fear but the series will always devolve into Godzilla recast as a saviour not an agent of balance and we get into more brow-furrowing territory and the human element grows increasingly obsolete.
With the most recent Godzilla releases (including Toho’s Shin Godzilla), there has been a step away from atomic and nuclear fear to one of climate change and human eradication through ecological disaster. The progression of this notion in King Of The Monsters is that our efforts to control and domesticate these forces will always end in folly – specifically releasing Ghidorah then acting surprised when it establishes itself as the alpha species and enacts its own agenda. I, for one, wholly welcome this and have never really understood the complaint that these modern incarnations have been preachy as these features have always been message heavy films with a parallel human component that features sparring opinions, the inefficiency of excessive bureaucracy and crazy technology that man shouldn’t meddle with.
Staying with that point for a moment, the human side of these things frequently gets a bashing. From the marketing, people want to see big stompy kaiju monsters wrestle each other to the ground but the human characters are the ones we spend the majority of the film with. The cast here is a pleasant mix of ethnicity and gender in positions of power and prominence across the board; again, something I fully champion and relish seeing on film. But the characters themselves are furnished with simplistic motivations and remarkably moronic decisions that none of them are especially likeable. And then there’s the dialogue. I’ll readily admit that the lines and their respective deliveries are typical for the genre but even by this standard, anything said aloud is incredibly painful; I’m quietly confident I heard lazy inserts such as, “you better take a look at this” five or six times. Making it worse, there is a strange imbalance across the casting with certain individuals being dispatched rather unceremoniously while others are clothed in immense plot armour that protects them from the most absurd scenarios. In one case, taking a team to land a helicopter to search for one person at the literal feet of the climactic battle between two gargantuan beasts is frankly fucking stupid. But one of the more unusual elements to the cast is that I’m not entirely sure I could point to a single individual and identify them as the lead character. None of the actors massively underperform or standout, everyone simply acts serviceably. One could argue this is because Godzilla is the lead or that the ensemble works so well as a whole that the group services as the driving force but I think those statements may be giving this movie too much credit. In actuality, I think this is just largely a by-product of a jumbled story and messy script with underdeveloped arcs and flip-flopping priorities.
Due to its reduction from a semi-grounded piece, King Of The Monsters is somehow dumber than its predecessor but by the same logic it is also arguably more fun. With that in mind, there will be those who will watch this film and have a blast from start to finish, watching titanic creatures battle it out for supremacy. For me, I am conflicted and this film will join the long line of Godzilla continuations that I somewhat enjoy but can never truly appreciate because that vital fear is lost, substituted for mindless, almost consequence free action.
31st May 2019
The Scene To Look Out For:
Maybe it’s saying something to the nature of how we process “fake news” and the desensitisation of audiences but when a news reporter is glibly explaining that things are looking pretty bad right now, with zero emotion in her voice, you feel someone should have shown the actors footage of journalists reporting on actual disasters because at that point in the movie the fucking US Capitol was on fire! You’d think that would have people just a little worked up.
I was going to talk about Charles Dance and the fact he’s a rather interesting individual with unique motivations is looked over quite a lot but instead, I’m highlighting the more memorable Bradley Whitford for being unabashedly Bradley Whitford and quipping his arse off from start to finish. He was incredibly menacing in Get Out but he’s ride sincere and sarcastic so perfectly that his performance feels effortless. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t give him much to work with but his delivery of even mundane lines elevates proceedings.
“I’ve seen human nature first hand and I’m here to tell you it doesn’t get any better. It gets worse”
In A Few Words:
“In an effort to homogenise properties closer and closer to a standard tone for Legendary’s monsterverse, Godzilla feels lost in a silly, sometimes fun, romp that ultimately fails to impress”