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There goes the neighbourhood.  What did anyone expect; that once you forcibly wake a giant, irradiated prehistoric beast from its millennia-long slumber, it was going to calmly walk off into the sunset?  Of course not.  And if you find one supernaturally large creature that could obliterate humanity as we know it, surely, there’s bound to be more.  That’s where we are at the beginning of GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS.  Years after the devastation caused by Godzilla’s tiff with the large, insectoid enemy, MUTO, the government searches wildly for any other dormant behemoths, with the intent to either control or destroy them.

On the control side, scientist Emma Russell has perfected a sonic pacifier called the Orca, that is currently on hand at the hatching of an enormous larva.  It’s a trial by fire as the caterpillar’s debut goes a lot more violently than planned, proving the machine to be quite powerful in its ability to sooth the savage beast.  It’s no surprise that others covet it, and Emma’s kidnapping -- along with her visiting daughter (Because this was Take Your Daughter To a Highly Dangerous Monster Hatching Day) -- is simply inevitable.

Seemingly forced by a cadre of eco-terrorists, Emma unleashes a new creature; a golden, three-headed dragon, meant to act as a counter to the danger of a certain unpredictable, fire-breathing lizard.  Emma’s machine wakes up more than King Ghidorah, and soon the world is overrun by kaiju -- giant monsters -- popping up all around the world, more inclined to heed the big shiny guy than the glow-in-the-dark dinosaur.  Suddenly, the eco-terrorists’ plans aren’t quite so eco-friendly, as King Ghidorah shows a certain flair for total human extermination.  Who can save the earth (Save the earth!), from the monster who was meant to save the earth from the other monster?

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS is a vast improvement over the 2014 film that set off this spate of monster movie reboots.  Most notably, the addition of the A-team of classic monsters from the Japanese Gojira canon -- King Ghidorah, Rodan, and Mothra (amongst others) -- is the best thing that could’ve happened to this US franchise.  Bringing them in not only acknowledges and plays to Godzilla’s longtime fans, but also those kaiju really were brilliant inventions to either challenge or team up with the Big G.  The battle scenes are beautifully arranged and exciting… when they aren’t needlessly interrupted.

What was not great was the filmmakers’ inability to learn from the first attempt; that when watching a movie called GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS, nobody is here for the humans.  Even less so when those humans are the literal cause of the disasters befalling the entire planet.  All the catastrophes on screen are down to one family’s inability to get grief counselling.  Their emotional swings and selfish justifications have brought about Armageddon, and I had (Monster) Zero sympathy watching them escape the consequences of their actions, while incidentally trying to make up for an iota of the destruction they were responsible for. 

This is not heroism.  In fact, it’s something much more selfish and craven: For example, Dr. Mark Russell, husband to Emma, and patriarch of the idiot family, spends the whole film heedlessly throwing himself into dangerous situation after dangerous situation, like some half-baked Indiana Jones, risking both the lives of the military and scientists assigned to stop the disasters, and the mission, itself: Yet, when there is a sure peril that one member of the good guy team must stay and see himself irradiated in order to have one last chance at worldwide salvation; suddenly Mr. Action Hero is silent as the grave.  In his place -- and mind you, all of this is Russell and his stupid family’s fault -- the person who knows the most about all things Godzilla, nobly (Of course) sacrifices himself, because, you know, we don’t really need a monster expert in these days when giant, untamable creatures are popping up like cockroaches.  All of a sudden, Dr. Jerk’s volunteering hands are somehow trapped by their sides, while an actual useful person must die.  Mighty white of you, Doc. 

Some of my loudest cheers occurred when -- after continuously putting themselves directly into harm’s way, including under the very feet of the kaiju -- it seemed remotely possible one of the troublemaking clan might actually be stomped by one of the creatures.  This isn’t just a narrative complaint; the amount of camera cutaways from the monster battles to show us the reactions of the human characters was infuriating and unnecessary.  I didn’t come there to see Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, the STRANGER THINGS kid, or Bradley Whitford play version 2357626253865 of the same snarky role; I wanna see Godzilla step on stuff, blow flames, and beat up other monsters.  It’s really that simple.

The shame of it is, that unlike the first film, which was astounding in its lack of focus on the reptile in the title, this chapter has some really gorgeous and exciting images of the monsters.  Each of the main kaiju’s introductions are breathtaking -- sometimes literally.  Rodan’s phoenix-like rise from a lava-spewing volcano precedes his soaring over a small town, simultaneously poisoning citizens with sulfur dust falling from his chest, and whipping bodies into the air with each flap of his leathery wings.  

The evolution of the Mothra larva is interesting as at first the baby is curious and tame, but thanks to a trigger-happy guard, turns very, very angry; yet after its glorious emergence from the cocoon -- complete with delicate, stained-glass patterned wings -- Mothra instinctively fights on behalf of Godzilla. (Mayhaps the writers meant to establish where the inevitable Son of Godzilla will eventually come from.)  I wasn’t as thrilled with a modification to Mothra that made no sense, not only because she’s a moth, but seemed to stem less from a poor grasp of biology than from needing to rush her battle against Rodan (Ostensibly to make more room for the fascinating humans’ story).

Then there is the big -- really big -- bad, King Ghidorah.  In the classic Godzilla canon, Ghidorah is the lizard’s most famous foe.  It’s also the coolest looking, even in its early visible strings years.  A metallic, gold three-headed dragon that fires electric bolts from each of its mouths.  The filmmakers kept most of Ghidorah’s key elements; the gracefully-lined heads with cranky faces, the thick torso on two stumpy legs, and an even more impressive wingspan, that provides logistically for the weight of the huge beast.  Two new features were its tail shaking and making noise like a rattlesnake, which put me in mind of stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen’s rendering of Medusa from CLASH OF THE TITANS.  The filmmakers added some humour and gave the three heads distinct personalities, with the middle one being the alpha, and the left head being a dope.  The visualisation of the golden dragon is excellent, and great care has been taken for the movements of all the monsters, especially in battle.  And who else would King Ghidorah be battling other than…

Godzilla!  This year’s model looks a bit strange: Where’s his neck?  The entire head and neck seemed very squashed down and pressed in, and Godzilla’s face resembles that of an old pit bull.  The body and spines are lovely, but the face…  Narratively, this Godzilla is at risk on several levels:  He is simply outclassed by the massive dragon (Three heads are better than one), he also now has more giant monsters to deal with, and there’s a big problem at the very core of him.  The radiation that brought him to life is quickly reaching meltdown levels inside the big greeny (He’s green, that is all!), and even if he manages to defeat King Ghidorah, there’s nothing to say he won’t end up destroying himself and the planet once he goes nuclear. 

With the advent of the other classic monsters fighting for dominance, comes the opportunity for dynamics and interaction, which was always a huge part of Godzilla’s appeal: He was never just a pretty face.  There was always a hierarchy in the kaiju world, and Godzilla was on top, due as much to his forceful and cool personality, as to his mighty, blue flame-spitting fabulosity. (To this end, this is why I miss the man-in-suit days, because the actors inside the skins gave the creatures their quirks and qualities.)

The old school homages were thrilling: As there was in the first film, there are variations on the classic Godzilla themes by Ifukube Akira, but I was nearly in tears at new, orchestral versions of the gorgeous Mothra lullabye, and yes, the classic Mothra theme, “Mahala Mothra.”  Sadly, The Peanuts were not available to lend their dulcet tones, and there was no vocal.  Speaking of Emi and Yumi, there is a twins reference (Which might even play into one character being also a doppelganger for the Heisei-era monster empath, Miki Saegusa.).  On the other hand, I would live ecstatically if I never heard -- in any variation -- that tired Blue Oyster Cult “Godzilla” dirge, again. 

For the first half of the movie, King Ghidorah is called Monster Zero, which refers to his name in his 1965 film appearance.  There are other kaiju awakened around the world (It turns out there are many more than our featured quartet), and while not officially named, we seem to have tiny glimpses of what looked like classic monsters from the Gojira pantheon, including new versions of the giant spider, Kumonga (Or Spiga, as I knew him), and the praying mantis, Kamacuras.  It could just have been a fancy of mine, but I could have sworn in a scene set in Munich, there was a spiky, shelled creature pushing out from underground, and I held my breath hoping it might be Toho’s toughest stalwart, the Ankylosaurus, Anguirus, but I couldn’t see for sure.  The return of the Oxygen Destroyer from the original 1954 epic is not necessarily a welcome one.  There is also the image of the red, radiation overloaded Godzilla that hearkens back to 1995’s GODZILLA VS. DESTOROYAH, that looks quite chilling here.

While not really an Easter egg, the post-credit dedication to director/producer Yoshimitsu Banno {Godzilla vs the Smog Monster (Hedorah)}, and the late, great Gojira icon, Nakajima Haruo, the very first man to put on the suit -- and wear it for many years -- was very touching.

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS is miles ahead of its disappointing predecessor, and surprising in its pure enjoyableness.  But for the start and stop of the dreary people story, the movie is a pure blast of summer fun.  If the filmmakers can get it through their heads to shuffle off the silly Kabuki dance of trying to make us care about the human subplot, and remember who the audience paid to see, I actually might have hope for the US Godzilla canon going forward.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

May 29th, 2019 

 

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