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Entries in Godzilla (1)

Wednesday
May292019

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS

Stars: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang, Bradley Whitford, Charles Dance, Sally Hawkins, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Thomas Middleditch, Anthony Ramos, CCH Pounder, Joe Morton and David Straithairn.
Writers: Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields.
Director: Michael Dougherty.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½

In 2014, director Gareth Edwards endeavoured to take schlockbuster icon Godzilla down the same credibility path that Marvel guided their goofy comic-book properties; the resulting film was beautiful and earnest and a bit dull. Five years later, new-kid-on-the-studio-tentpole-block Michael Dougherty punches up the action (and the decibels) while dumbing down the dialogue in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. If the look of the big lizard and his fellow fantasy titans owes much to Edwards’ eye, the script harkens back to Roland Emmerich’s ear, it being attached to the writer/director of Sony's much-maligned 1998 incarnation.

The sequel picks up four years after the destruction of San Francisco by Godzilla’s wrath. The government agency Monarch is getting drilled by the U.S. Senate for not having found and offered up the head of the big lizard for the damage it had done. What the Senate committee members don’t know is that the Monarch team are not only tracking Godzilla, but have several other ‘titans’ in lockdown at key sites around the world. Scientist Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) lords over one such site, in China; she lost her son in the 2014 San Fran attacks, her husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) to booze in the wake of their tragedy, and clings to strong-willed teen daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown).

Emma is overseer of an audio-pulse generator called The Orca, which streams a frequency that controls her titan, the larval stage behemoth that will ultimately take flight as Mothra. Just as it begins to stir, a mercenary outfit led by the ruthless Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) storms her outpost, stealing Orca, Mothra, Emma and Maddy. With a surly Mark now back on board, the Monarch team – stern lead scientist Dr Serizawa (Ken Watanabe); offsider Dr. Chen (Ziyi Zhang); wisecracker Dr Stanton (Bradley Whitford); and, nerdy bureaucrat Coleman (Thomas Middleditch) – need to retrieve The Orca and save mankind from Emma, who has gone full-Thanos with a plan to wipe the planet of the virus that is mankind and restore the human/titan balance.

The whip-smart mind behind cult items Trick ’r Treat (2007) and Krampus (2015), Dougherty works hard to give all these cast members something to do and say. He has them address each other in a combination of mostly single-line observations or exclamations that largely serve to move the plot from one kaiju-related predicament to the next. There is no character depth or dimension – so cornball is some of the dialogue it recalls the Irwin Allen disaster epics of the 1970s – but it does ensure the real stars of the film are not offscreen for too long.

Most dominant amongst the mythological beasties is the three-headed King Ghidorah, a dragon-like lightning-breather who has it in for our leading man-monster from the get-go; barely freed from his icy tomb, Ghidorah battles it out with Godzilla in one of the loudest and most visually stunning/confusing action sequences in recent memory. We are soon introduced to Rodan, a pterodactyl/hawk crossover-creature who lays waste to a Mexican town when it emerges from its dormant volcano tomb, and the ethereal shimmering wingspan and deadly spikes of the aforementioned Mothra. Each has their own moment in the spotlight, with their human co-stars largely reduced to looking upwards and dodging debris; perhaps best served is Stranger Things’ breakout star Brown (pictured, above), who earns her ‘real world emoting’ badge when given the screen time to do so.

Of course, it’s all about the beast that is Godzilla in any Godzilla movie, and Dougherty and his effects team have conjured a titan who balances a screen persona that is equal part ‘rampant destroyer of cities’, ‘noble ally of the righteous’ and ‘scaly, snarling action hero’. If you’re paying for a ticket to a Godzilla movie, what needs to work most of all is your anti-hero’s rock ‘em/sock ‘em presence, and King of the Monsters gets that right. If Edwards’ big lizard was a bit too precious with the property, and Emmerich’s a bit too flippant, Dougherty respects both the B-movie beats of the big guy’s film history as well as the environmental subtext that Godzilla has always represented.