‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ review: Phenomenal titan clash

Godzilla: King of the Monsters takes VFX terror and awe to a skyrocketing high. Those who are out for blood (and radiation) should see this on the biggest screen possible.

Any sensible moviegoer should know that Godzilla is the star of any given Godzilla show. Human characters naturally play second fiddle to the story. After all, the roots of this franchise has always occupied a B-level form of entertainment. You don’t go to this movie looking for Shakespearean character depth. The whole point here is to watch monsters beating the heck out of each other. Right? Hence, it does not bother me that King of the Monsters’ top priority is to showcase more epic monster fights. Actually, this is a course correction to the shortcomings of its 2014 predecessor when it comes to adrenaline department.

Once again, the sequel hails Godzilla as Earth’s unlikely defender. The monster’s intention for saving humanity has always been unclear – the film though offers a quick reasoning that titans are Earth’s “last line of defense” against alien invaders. One of which is the fabled King Ghidorah – a three-headed, beam-blasting dragon which serves as Godzilla’s primary rival for apex predator. The dragon sends out a siren call to awaken all the other dormant Titans around the globe, with one mission in mind: smash everything. This includes a pterodactyl Rodan emerging from a Mexican volcano and a luminous giant moth Mothra which thankfully, has an allegiance to Godzilla.

Meet the titans of ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters

On a visual level, King of the Monsters is an arresting work of art. There are plenty of money shots here that deliver pure spectacle. It helps that these creatures are crafted with such detail and passion. Ghidorah’s heads seem to have their own distinct personalities. Mothra delivers lyrical beauty through its large flapping wings. Godzilla even gets beefed up and a character comments on its physical upgrade (“Has he been working out?”) With several kaijus in the picture, it only makes sense to make the monster look stronger and more able. Godzilla lights up his nuke-powered tail and lets loose a terrifying roar, followed by an atomic ray. The film instantly commands your undivided attention.

Aside from the top notch visual effects, director Michael Dougherty, along with cinematographer Lawrence Sher, present the terror and awe through human POVs first before finally zooming out to a series of wide shots to remind the audience how massive the stakes are. Aided by The Walking Dead’s musical scorer Bear McCreary, the film takes its rip-roaring action to a skyrocketing high. There’s a thrilling high-speed chase which pits Rodan against a bunch of military aircraft. Elsewhere, most battles are set at night time with only the blue phosphorescence coming from the Godzilla’s back to light up the proceedings. If you don’t want any darkness (similar to Game of Thrones’ Battle of Winterfell) to taint your viewing experience, you’ll have to watch this in an IMAX theater.

Former British Army colonel Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) coerces paleobiologist Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown)

Surprisingly, the human connection has also improved. Instead of being just powerless ciphers of the first film, the human characters take a more proactive role in joining the battle. In here, Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and her daughter Madison (Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown in her debut movie) develop a bioacoustic machine called the ‘Orca’ that can be used to communicate with Titans. Unfortunately, eco-terrorist leader Alan (Charles Dance) abducts them, uses the device to release Ghidorah and allows it to decimate the overpopulated planet in an attempt to restore “ecological balance.” Sounds like someone has a Thanos savior complex.

On the other hand, crypto-zoological organization Monarch enlists Emma’s ex-husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) to help them track Orca’s signal across the globe, as the bad guys release one monster after another. The rest of the supporting casts – Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Bradley Whitford, Zhang Ziyi and O’Shea Jackson Jr., are mainly present to spout scientific arguments, explain them in layman terms or act as narrative devices. While character motivations can get muddled and the film’s environmental subtext is immediately dropped in favor of more action, the film does not let you dwell on these narrative flaws. The visual splendor is always ready to sweep you off your feet.

Animal behavior and communication specialist Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) tries to rescue his family amid the massive chaos.

The potential of Legendary Entertainment’s MonsterVerse can be summed up in the films’ explosive third act royal rumble. Godzilla: King of Monsters is an electrifying and fantastic kaiju extravaganza that satiates one’s appetite for destruction. Suffice to say, if you’re into this stuff, it’s an excellent choice for a popcorn blockbuster. Otherwise, this can end up numbing to the senses.

As references to Kong: Skull Island are made to set up the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong in 2020, I’m definitely sticking to see more of what this franchise has to offer.

4 out of 5 stars
Directed by Michael Dougherty, written by Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields, ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ stars Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe and Zhang Ziyi. With T.J. Storm as Godzilla (via motion capture). Based on the Japanese film Godzilla by Toho. 132 minutes. PG-13.

MonsterVerse kicks into gear as ‘Godzilla 2’ gets underway

Following the global success of 2014’s “Godzilla” and this year’s “Kong: Skull Island,” comes the next chapter in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ cinematic MonsterVerse: an epic action adventure that pits Godzilla against some of the most popular monsters in pop culture history.

The film, which begins principal photography today, is being directed by Michael Dougherty (“Krampus”), and stars Oscar nominees Vera Farmiga (“The Conjuring” films), and Ken Watanabe (“Inception”) and Sally Hawkins (“Blue Jasmine”), both reprising their “Godzilla” roles; Kyle Chandler (“The Wolf of Wall Street”); Millie Bobby Brown (“Stranger Things”) in her feature film debut; Bradley Whitford (“Get Out”); Thomas Middleditch (HBO’s “Silicon Valley”); Charles Dance (HBO’s “Game of Thrones”); O’Shea Jackson Jr. (“Straight Outta Compton”); Aisha Hinds (“Star Trek Into Darkness”); and Golden Globe nominee Zhang Ziyi (“Memoirs of a Geisha”).

The new story follows the heroic efforts of the crypto-zoological agency Monarch as its members face off against a battery of god-sized monsters, including the mighty Godzilla, who collides with Mothra, Rodan, and his ultimate nemesis, the three-headed King Ghidorah. When these ancient super-species—thought to be mere myths—rise again, they all vie for supremacy, leaving humanity’s very existence hanging in the balance.

Dougherty directs from a script he wrote with Zach Shields. The film is being produced by Mary Parent, Alex Garcia, Brian Rogers and Thomas Tull, with Barry H. Waldman, Zach Shields, Yoshimitsu Banno and Kenji Okuhira serving as executive producers and Alexandra Mendes co-producing for Legendary.

Behind the scenes, Dougherty’s creative team includes director of photography Lawrence Sher, whose past credits include “War Dogs” and “Godzilla,” for which he handled additional photography; production designer Scott Chambliss (“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Star Trek Into Darkness”); editor Roger Barton (“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” the “Transformers” films); costume designer Louise Migenbach (the “X-Men” and “Hangover” films); and Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Guillaume Rocheron (“Godzilla,” “Ghost in the Shell,” and part of the Oscar-winning team behind “Life of Pi”).

Filming is taking place mainly in Atlanta, Georgia.

A presentation of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures, the film is currently scheduled for release in March 2019, and will be distributed in 3D and 2D and in select IMAX theaters by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, except in Japan, where it will be distributed by Toho Co., Ltd.