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Saturday, 21 September 2019

Monster Movie Of The Week: Godzilla - King of the Monsters (2019)


Let's be honest: no one in their right mind sits down to watch a giant monster movie and thinks "I really hope there's some deep and involved family drama in this film".

No, they want to see kaiju (I can't call them "Titans", it's too blah in this context) fighting each other, stomping on buildings and blowing shit up with their nuclear breath.

And that's what we get in Godzilla: King Of The Monsters... eventually.

Writer/director Michael Dougherty initially focuses too much on the "human drama", drawing us in to the lives of the Russells, a fractious family of scientists, Mark (Catch-22's Kyle Chandler), Emma (Bates Motel's Vera Farmiga), and their daughter, Madison (Stranger Things' Millie Bobby Brown).

Having lost a child during the battle in San Francisco at the end of 2014's wholly forgettable Godzilla, they've gone separate ways, with Emma working for the not-so-secret monster-monitoring organisation Monarch and developing a device that is supposedly able to calm and even control the giant monsters.

Then, having witnessed the birth of Mothra at a Monarch base in China, Emma and Madison are kidnapped by international eco-terrorist Alan Jonah (Charles Dance).

But it turns out Emma is actually working with him, as they have a plan to use the kaiju to save the world, destroying vast swathes of mankind's pollution- and war-riddled so-called civilisation and letting a new Eden grow in the wake of the monster's passing.

That actually sounds like a pretty good idea, but it's all actually a bit muddled and dreary until about 20 minutes in, when Monster Zero aka King Ghidorah, a gorgeous three-headed dragon, gets released and everyone's plans fall apart.

He's not part of the natural order of things, and is actually a rival apex predator to Godzilla, able to control all the other kaiju on the globe (there are, at least 17, apparently).

From then on, it's largely about the monsters.

The humans run about, like ants, over the globe. Sometimes they're flying, sometimes they're in secret bases, sometimes they're underwater in submarines.

And there's gallons of lore poured all over this, including Easter Eggs relating to the original Japanese movies, declarations about how these beasts were the "first gods" of Earth, a brief trip to the Hollow Earth (wooo-hoo!), and fleeting mentions of Skull Island and Kong (although he doesn't really appear in this movie).

Unfortunately there's still a lot of whiny human nonsense and all the malarkey with the Russell family, who are the "emotional core" of a movie that doesn't need one.

They're all great actors, but I really didn't care. I was there for the monsters not the insignificant specks that were running around their enormous, clawed feet.

Amongst his many powers, Ghidorah can control the world's weather, resulting in much of the film taking place in darkness or storms, which is striking for a scene or two, but gets in the way when it drags on for too long.

This is why Kong: Skull Island remains the best of this meandering franchise to date, because much of the monster fighting took place in broad daylight, making it much more impressive (and easier to follow as a neutral observer).

Thankfully, the third act smackdown - between Godzilla and Mothra on one side and Rodan and King Ghidorah on the other - doesn't disappoint, despite unravelling against a grey palette of rubble and rain.

This is what we had been waiting an hour-and-a-half for.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is the very definition of a popcorn movie, when it works it's because of the sheer spectacle, not because of some high-brow Oscar-baiting insight into the human condition.

Sure, the movie's a bit chaotic, but Dougherty has thrown everything at the wall to see what sticks.

You have to wonder, now Warner Bros appear to have shown all their cards and made a movie about kaiju threatening the very existence of the whole planet, what will they do next?

Seeds were certainly planted in the newspaper headlines and files we got brief glimpses of in the closing credits (with a definite lean towards Skull Island and the Hollow Earth, which pleases me no end).

Stick around for the post-credit scene which reminds that a major character, that we'd completely forgotten about, has survived and still has plans for Ghidorah.

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