king of the monsters 2019

What does a filmmaker owe their audience? The argument can be made that people who decide to buy a ticket to “King of the Monsters” know what they’re getting themselves into. They want to see big monsters fight, so why bother trying to do more? This kind of an excuse is why genre films have languished in the realm of laughability for decades and why the few that do break out (“Godzilla (2014),” “Mad Max Fury Road,” “Logan”) make such an impact.

It’s because of this preconceived notion that movies like this are supposed to serve their target audience and simply stop there, that it's difficult to review a film like this. While it delivers on exactly what it should, it could have done so much more.

“King of the Monsters” follows two groups of characters both with vested interests in these large Kaiju, but smartly still keeps things focused on three leads. It helps to avoid too much confusion and prevents everything from spiralling into a bloated ensemble piece. Kyle Chandler (“Friday Night Lights,” “Super 8”), Vera Farmiga (“The Conjuring,” “Bates Motel”), and Millie Bobby Brown (“Stranger Things”) are the human leads, and their talent fluctuates throughout.

While Chandler is fairly middle of the road, delivering lines of strength and stupidity with equal conviction, Farmiga stumbles through even the better lines, delivering a performance that is bizarrely overacted in its subduedness. Bobby Brown rises to the top of the entire cast, as she continues to prove her talent. The last 30 minutes are a testament to her ability to do heaps while being given very little to work with.

The supporting cast around them fair well enough, and some even have the most developed arcs in the film. Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water,” “Paddington 2”), Charles Dance (“The Imitation Game,” “Game of Thrones”), Thomas Middleditch (“Captain Underpants,” “Silicon Valley”), Aisha Hinds (“Widows,” “Bad Times at the El Royale”), and O'Shea Jackson Jr. (“Straight Outta Compton,” “Ingrid Goes West”) all are given barely anything to work with. Some are either used for seven minutes of screen time at most or seem to be wandering around with no idea what to do.

Thankfully, the film’s strongest emotional connections come from Ken Watanabe (“Godzilla (2014),” “Inception”) and Zhang Ziyi (“Memoirs of a Geisha”). Not only do they manage to give some of the more emotionally driven performances, but Watanabe’s scene with Godzilla in the third act is the emotional climax of the film. They also manage to deliver some of the much-needed context of the film’s events without it feeling like forced exposition.

That exposition is needed though because, even for those who have seen the previous 2014 film, most of the integral characters are brand new. The arcs for Chandler and Farmiga’s characters stem from the events of the 2014 film despite not being in the previous film, and most of the characters who were in the previous film are either killed off or relegated to the sidelines.

This means that, while most of the conflicts make sense within the world, they don’t have the weight director Michael Dougherty (“Krampus (2015),” “Trick r’ Treat”) seems to want them to have. They aren’t devoid of importance, since the events do involve city destroying Kaijus, but the importance on an individual level just isn’t there.

Thankfully, while it stumbles with its cast and its bloated importance, there are still plenty of things that “King of the Monsters” gets right. This is a truly gorgeous film. The visuals pop with flair and color, and the fights feel joyous, even as buildings are collapsing. It feels like the people choreographing these sequences took joy in their work, and if they did, it shows.

Liberal color usage also helps give this film a distinct look. It is dark for much of the film, but instead of a dark black, Dougherty and cinematographer Lawrence Sher (“The Hangover,” “War Dogs”) flood the film with dark whites, blues, yellows, and greens. Much like how the 2014 film utilized the color red for excellent visual results, here the usage helps liven up what could have been a massively dull film to look at.

Bear McCreary’s (“10 Cloverfield Lane,” “God of War (2018)”) score is a bass thumping delight, with choral singers blaring their voices at almost any chance given. It could easily make this overblown or monotonous, but somehow it all works. Trumpets blare with an overblown joy, and even a bizarre original song over the end credits manages to stick the landing.

Quite possibly the most impressive success the film has is with its pacing. Not one moment drags or slows down, whether it involved giant monsters or not. And while it fumbles in its characters' arcs, rarely do any of them actually feel boring or annoying, thanks in part to the work done to make it clear to the audience that these are characters who deeply care for each other. It helps to explain some of the typical monster movie stupidity that happens in the latter half, and while it isn’t necessarily understandable, these emotional connections are still believable.

It’s also important to note that, while it deals with world-ending catastrophes and god-like creatures, it never feels macabre, thanks to the sheer joy that the people working behind the film, and the film itself, takes in telling this overblown and destructive tale.

“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is an almost incredibly uneven film. It has solid pacing and believable emotions throughout, but most of the performances are corny or underutilized and the plot is just incredibly confusing.

However, the excellent visuals and overall production design on display, Millie Bobby Brown’s performance, and the sheer joy on display here make it well worth the time. It sure isn’t perfect, but it’s a Kaiju fans dream come true and the ultimate summer blockbuster. 3.5/5

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