Establishing My Street Cred as a Kaiju Know-it-All
My parents were the type who raised me on all the stuff they watched as kids, aside from the myriad of Disney films the company was putting out in its Renaissance era. I watched Looney Tunes, basically everything ever produced by Hanna Barbera, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, The Three Stooges, and, of course, Godzilla. My earliest Godzilla films were the infamously English dubbed versions of Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, Son of Godzilla, and Godzilla 1985.
Fast forward to today and I’ve seen (and own) every single one of these movies, whether they’re the sad, hopeless commentary on man’s hubris and savagery such as the original film or the campy Godzilla-is-a-friend-to-all types that appeared later. I like some better than others, especially seeing as how I’m not usually the type of person who enjoys watching staged wrestling matches between two guys in rubber suits, but I consider myself a fan on the whole.
Background on the MonsterVerse
When I saw the first movie in what is now Legendary’s MonsterVerse, Godzilla, I was let down. It wasn’t so much that we saw mere glimpses of the actual battles between Godzilla and MUTOs, but rather that the human counterpart was extremely uncompelling. Ford Brody was just a boring, boring character. He was poorly developed, and his wife and son were just as boring as he was! Framing a monster movie as a disaster film is one thing (the original Cloverfield did it quite well), but this movie was slow and tedious. It was also thematically a departure from its Japanese origins, probably because when the Pentagon backs a movie, it has to portray it in a certain way.
That’s not to say that every Japanese film had compelling characters, because they certainly didn’t consistently hit the mark, but it was a poor showing for a film that was meant to launch a new cinematic universe.
Needless to say, when Kong: Skull Island came out, I had to be practically dragged to the theater. However, I came out not just pleased, but excited by what I’d seen! The characters were funny and interesting (even though they didn’t have much time to develop), it wasn’t just a retread of the familiar Kong story we’ve seen a thousand times by now, and I thought it did a great job of linking the world of King Kong with the world of Godzilla — the two characters could definitely coexist.
I was suddenly excited for King of the Monsters, and I wasn’t disappointed!
The Critics can Suck It!
For whatever reason, critics loved 2014’s Godzilla, and I haven’t a clue why. As I’ve already stated, it’s simple, but boring. It has an iconic monster like Godzilla, but the movie isn’t really sure what our relationship with this creature should be. It’s underwhelming, but I can still see where it has some merit — just not enough to earn it the praise critics were dishing out.
Skipping over Skull Island, critics are now panning Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and I have to wonder if they truly understand the franchise.
Best to start off with the negatives and get them out of the way, because this film isn’t perfect. There are very few films this humble reviewer considers perfect, after all.
To start with, it was a bit difficult to tell exactly how our villains came to the bizarre conclusions they did. I get their motivations, just not their thought process. Granted, I believe that Charles Dance’s character will be extrapolated on later, and I look forward to it. Unlike a certain Force Awakens, a mystery box is fine in a franchise like this, and I’d love to unwrap it like a kid on Christmas morning.
Having watched the 2014 Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island back-to-back before going to see this one, I definitely missed seeing battles that took place during full-view of the sun. I understand the appeal of having epic, CGI-filled monster fights take place during night, storms, etc., as it covers blemishes in the computer-rendered creatures, but Kong was a bit refreshing because you could always see the action.
That’s not to say I had a hard time figuring out what was happening, because I thought everything was clear enough to see, but I’d still like a battle that takes place in the sunshine. Although that would take away from Ghidorah’s storm powers…
The only other thing that really jumped out at me was how poorly executed some of the jokes were. Coming into the theater right after watching the often side-splitting banter of Kong, I felt like someone needed to go over the script once more, do some editing work, or just read the jokes out loud before telling the actors to try and pull them off! I usually don’t care for a stream of humor during movies like these (I hate, hate, hate all the jokes in the MCU!), but if you want to do humor, make sure at least some of your audience is going to laugh at it.
Despite what critics say, this film has a lot of good going for it! This film has a lot more in the way of monster fights that we can actually see than the first film did. We’re treated to Mothra, Rodan, Godzilla himself, as well as King Ghidorah! Not to mention teased with some glimpses of new monsters that I won’t reveal here.
The human drama isn’t perfect, and it’s not as simple, but it’s way more interesting the 2014 movie. I actually bothered to take note of the character’s names, whereas I still only know the name of Ford in the original. The other characters’ names never registered, and I only know them as Goal Post, Kid, and The Dad. Oh, I did know Serizawa, but that’s only because I recognized the name as paying homage to the original Japanese film.
I really enjoyed the way the monsters themselves were portrayed, especially the fact that the creatures are actual characters with personalities (more like the Japanese films), not just monsters. They can be benevolent, reckless, malicious, and more.
They are beings that have the ability to wipe humanity off the face of the earth, as well as pretty much ever other creature, yet they can also be out greatest saviors. They are gods, yet they are still animals. Do we wipe them out? Try to live next to them? Try to contain them? Accept our new behemoth overlords? Whereas the 2014 touched on, but mostly glossed over, how humanity should react to the emergence of an ancient super predator with nuclear breath, this film has this issue at its very heart.
On that note, I loved that this film was thematically much closer to the Japanese. Instead of being a showcase for how the military could effectively deal with a giant monster (even they can’t deal with much else…), this was about Nature. It’s frightening, uncontrollable, and deadly; but at the same time it’s beautiful, benevolent, and awesome. Instead of specifically being a metaphor for nuclear holocaust (the original was released very shortly after Hiroshima and Nagasaki got nuked by the only country that allegedly responsibly wields nuclear weapons), they are a metaphor for Mother Nature — like the Titans of Greek mythology.
This paradox that these creatures are both animals and god-like beings in their sheer physical power is the crux of this movie, and after seeing Japanese reactions on Twitter, I can say that, thematically, this movie is on-point.
To be honest, I can’t wait until the next film. This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea (and you aren’t allowed to bring those into the theater anyway), but I highly recommend everyone go see it. It’s an interesting set-up for what I feel will be much bigger, better movies to come, and I certainly didn’t feel that I’d wasted my time watching it.
The characters are much better, the plot is getting more complicated, the themes fit our times and are much more in line with the Japanese ones, and we see the emergence of these creatures as characters, not just predators and monsters.