2014’s Godzilla was a thrilling and somewhat underrated return to form for the king of the kaiju. Directed by visionary film-maker Gareth Edwards, Godzilla’s return to the big screen was beautifully filmed with some of the best set pieces ever seen on celluloid. It certainly made up for the Roland Emmerich monstrosity that shall remain nameless here.
Little did we know 5 years ago that Edwards’ mega movie would be the start of a franchise culminating in a battle of the ages: Godzilla vs Kong. Follow-up film Kong: Skull Island was again, beautifully filmed, feeling like a movie from a completely different era. Now the follow-up to the follow-up is here. Still with us? Good.
Members of the crypto-zoological agency Monarch 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.
Taking over from Gareth Edwards after he chose not to return to the franchise is director Michael Dougherty. If the name rings a bell, it’s because he co-wrote X2 and directed the fantastic horror comedy, Krampus. Used to much-lower budgets than this $200million behemoth, Dougherty crafts a film that throws everything including the kitchen sink at the audience, but lacks the lightness of touch that made its predecessors such popcorn-munching fun.
With a cast that includes Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown, Vera Farmiga, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, Charles Dance and Kyle Chandler, you’d be forgiven that everything from a characterisation point of view would be spot on. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case. The story and screenplay, penned by Dougherty himself is really lacklustre with poor, cringeworthy dialogue and some wooden performances by actors who should really know better. The attempts at Marvel-esque humour fall completely flat and this is a real shame.
Making her feature film debut, Mille Bobby Brown salvages what she can from the script and performs very well but when the screenplay doesn’t know what to do with individual characters, they’re tossed aside as Ghidorah fodder and completely forgotten about. Not only is this frustrating for the audience, but it certainly isn’t script-writing best practice.
Thankfully, things start to turn around when it comes to the cinematography. Lawrence Sher, who has worked on Paul, The Hangover and the upcoming Joker movie picks some outstanding shots that make you feel very much part of this almost apocalyptic universe the Titans are roaming. While stopping short of beautiful, many of the sequences are too messy for that, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a very attractive film indeed and the colours used are ethereal in their nature and require the biggest screen possible to get the most from them.
Godzilla is beautifully rendered and while the look is less successful on King Ghidorah, it’s not enough to detract from the exceptional visual effects work
The special effects too make a lasting impression. This was not a cheap film to make and thankfully this shows on screen. Whilst naturally heavy on CGI, Dougherty has stated that practical effects had been used wherever possible. Perhaps the biggest compliment here is that it’s impossible to tell where practical meets CG.
Godzilla is beautifully rendered and while the look is less successful on King Ghidorah, it’s not enough to detract from the exceptional visual effects work that has gone into making Godzilla 2. Mothra in particular is a sight to behold.
Bear McCreary’s score too is very good. After working on relatively low-budget films until now, his orchestral and vocal compositions work beautifully with what’s being shown on screen and the music has an operatic vibe that feels truly fitting of a film of this magnitude.
Nevertheless, Godzilla: King of the Monster’s downfall is in that shoddy script. None of the actors bring their a-game here and moments that should have emotional poignancy don’t hit home because they’re not allowed to. Within 10 minutes of the film’s opening, we’re smack bang in the middle of an action sequence with it rarely letting up until the thrilling finale 2 hours later.
Overall, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a perfectly adequate outing for the king of the kaiju but one that comes with a dash of disappointment. The bar was set incredibly high by Gareth Edwards and while the special effects and action scenes are impressive, that’s not enough to mask poor storytelling and thinly drawn characters.