While I may not be the most well-versed Godzilla fan out there (I saw a ton of the Godzilla films as a kid, but the version of O.G. Godzilla I knew the best was the 1956 Americanized iteration with Raymond Burr that seemed to play once a month on a Saturday afternoon on Channel 66 in Chicago), there is always an excitement I feel whenever Big G comes stomping his way onto the big screen—so much so that I even saw Godzilla (1998) on the big screen three times despite my deep-seated loathing of Matthew Broderick. In recent years, we’ve had both Shin Godzilla and Godzilla (2014) to keep monster fans satiated, but with this week’s release of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Michael Dougherty has crafted one of the greatest love letters to Kaiju cinema ever, giving Godzilla aficionados everything they could want from a ginormous battle of the first gods, and so much more.
KOTM picks up in real time, five years after the events of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, as the world has had to come to terms with the existence of creatures that have long been a part of this world much longer than humanity has been around mucking things up. At the center of the story is the Russell family, who suffered a great tragedy in the wake of the events of the 2014 film, with Mark (Kyle Chandler) off studying nature as his means of coping while his ex-wife, Emma (Vera Farmiga), still works for Monarch while caring for their daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown). Despite Godzilla going off the grid, Emma and Monarch have still been hard at work at developing a device meant to help keep these natural monstrosities under control, but a madman named Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) wants to get his hands on the mechanism as a means to bring balance back to the planet. Chaos ensues as Dougherty and fellow screenwriter Zach Shields take us globe-trotting around the world in search of the dormant Kaiju.
Not to take anything away from Godzilla (2014), because it is a film I do enjoy and I don’t want to play an unnecessary game of compare and contrast, but I will say that the way King of the Monsters builds upon the ideas and themes of that story is just flat-out remarkable, and we get a better sense of both the human characters driving this narrative as well as Godzilla and his God-like beastly brethren in the sequel. And while the human stories in KOTM are entertaining and we get characters that we want to invest in as audience members, the real highlight of Dougherty’s sequel is the way the four main Kaiju are treated with a palpable sense of reverence (as they should be), and become the big draw in all of King of the Monsters’ key moments, especially during the breathtaking monster battles that left with me goosebumps on multiple occasions.
These scene-stealing creatures also have a bit of personality to them in KOTM, and I’m not sure which one of the main four Kaiju I loved the most, just because they all enjoy some really great moments onscreen (my brain says Godzilla because, DUH, but my heart says Mothra, and then there’s my more mischievous side that really wants to go with Rodan, because I got a kick out of his scrappy and nasty attitude, so maybe I’m just not meant to choose). But between the design elements of the monsters and how well the film’s aesthetics lean into different aspects of these oversized characters, there’s no doubt that Dougherty knew exactly why these creatures have endured with generations of fans for over six decades now, and finds some very clever ways of hearkening back to several different Godzilla films with his efforts in KOTM, too.
On a visual level, nearly every single frame of Godzilla: King of the Monsters feels like a work of art, with many moments evoking the spirit of Frank Frazetta’s artistic creations (especially during the scenes with King Ghidorah). The way that cinematographer Lawrence Sher captured a sense of scale while shooting imaginary creatures is pretty damn incredible, too, and anyone who worked on KOTM as a visual artist should be commended, because they’ve conjured up some truly magical monster-fied moments in this latest Godzilla adventure that left me with a big smile on my face. Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the positively gorgeous score for Godzilla: King of the Monsters from Bear McCreary, who has done some genius musical work before, but his efforts on KOTM could very well be his greatest compositional creation to date.
I’m still not sure how folks who aren’t into Godzilla movies will feel about King of the Monsters, but for me, the sheer spectacle and sense of wonder that is at the center of this film was something I completely fell in love with, and what Dougherty has achieved here is truly a remarkable feat, and it makes me even more excited about what’s to come from this Monsterverse in the future.
Movie Score: 4/5