Where 2014’s Godzilla tried to take its cues from Ishiro Honda’s iconic 1954 introduction to the character, the new Godzilla: King of the Monsters skews a lot closer to Toho Studios’ more cartoonish, action-packed sequels that poured in during the 60’s and especially the 80’s. The 2014 film was a purposeful, slow-moving story of filial strife and environmental paranoia, and while it was overrun with insufficiently exciting human characters (a problem that befalls nearly every kaiju film in history, this one included), the monsters were tackled with a degree of visual grace that suggested early Spielberg to more than a few viewers. Put more simply, those looking for something similarly thoughtful here are going to be terrifically disappointed, but if you thought the last one didn’t have enough monster stuff, King of the Monsters will probably scratch your particular itch.
If you thought the last one didn’t have enough monster stuff, King of the Monsters will probably scratch your particular itch.
Picking up five years after the last movie we find a bunch of scientists struggling to control the newfound plethora of giant monsters, here called Titans, including but not limited to classic Toho beasts Mothra, Rodan, and big bad Ghidora. Yes, the human characters, played by a murderer’s row of dependable character actors (Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, and on and on) have spare dramatic arcs and a few recognizable tics to carry them through this story in their roles as delivery devices for exposition, but none of them are worth describing here in any detail. Suffice it to say that all hell breaks loose and Godzilla, representing the righteous destructive power of nature, has to beat the crap out of the other Titans, preferably causing a massive amount of collateral destruction over a major metropolitan area. King of the Monsters doesn’t have the patient visuals of its predecessor; instead it’s mostly a teal and orange digital smear of collapsing computer generated buildings and dust that the monsters repeatedly emerge from, but the actual smashing is as loud and busy as you’d like without sacrificing much in the way of legibility. It’s a shame these battles are usually staged at night in a big CGI debris cloud, but merely getting nostalgic for the guys in rubber suits is unproductive. Mostly, the movie resembles the Toho films from the 80s and 90s, known as the Heisei period, where flashier special effects, a militaristic bent to the ideology, and goofier and more complicated scenarios dominated the franchise. This one even features the scientists flying around in a giant airborne superfortress, a trope that began with 1984’s Return of Godzilla and has for the most part reliably stuck around ever since. By the standards of American pop culture and its obsession with taking ephemera somewhat seriously, King of the Monsters is a deeply stupid but very entertaining tonic. As a Westernized recreation of a Japanese pop niche, it’s nearly perfect.