Scalding Hot Takes: Godzilla: King of the Monsters
In one of the Facebook groups I belong to, someone wrote, as one does these days, that it can be difficult to muster up hope for the future, to find a reason to want to get out of bed every morning and face a cruel, sometimes impossible-seeming universe.
I responded that yes, the world can seem bleak and the future brutal but also that there was a movie coming out soon where Godzilla fought a whole bunch of different monsters, and if there’s a place in this sick, sad, beautiful world for something as silly and ridiculous and potentially awesome as that, then maybe the world isn’t such a uniformly terrible place after all.
I was only half-joking. The truth is that when I saw that the new Godzilla movie was co-written and directed by Michael Dougherty, the director of Trick R’ Treat and Krampus and would feature Godzilla battling such cheeseball titans of my childhood as King Ghidorah, Rodan and Mothra I was more than excited. I was psyched. I was pumped. I looked forward to the day in the not so distant future when I would take a fuck-ton of drugs, head on o over to the Movie Tavern, put on my 3-D glasses and shout so loud that the very heavens could hear me and my excitement, “LET’S FUCKING DO THIS!”
It is possible, dear reader, that my excitement and enthusiasm about Godzilla: King of the Monsters was, perhaps, excessive and premature. After all, I’d seen, and barely remembered 2014’s Godzilla. I vaguely remember Bryan Cranston being in it. Otherwise, the only character I remember from the motion picture Godzilla is Godzilla.
Godzilla stood out because he was a giant fire-breathing monster from our darkest nightmares rather than a whiny, underwritten, forgettably played man-animal. Yes, you certainly could say that Godzilla was the best, and most unusual, and most memorable character in Godzilla. You could also say that he was the ONLY memorable character in Godzilla.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters adorably imagines that we care about characters in Godzilla movies other than Godzilla. They could not be more wrong. Well, for the most part. I visited the Wikipedia page for the 2014 Godzilla and learned that not only was classy actress Juliette Binoche in Godzilla, but her character’s death moved one of our greatest filmmakers to tears. According to Wikipedia, “Binoche later revealed that Quentin Tarantino admitted to crying during her character's death scene, Tarantino stating it was "the first time I've ever cried during a 3D blockbuster.”
That Quentin is an emotional-ass dude. He feels all the feels even when watching a Godzilla movie. The untimely passing of Binoche brought out the waterworks for QT but I had to do some internet exploring just to remember that the Chocolat star was even in Godzilla. Similarly, when David Strathairn popped up in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, I found myself thinking, “Oh shit, what’s a classy actor like that doing here other than picking up a fat paycheck for very little work?” The answer? Reprising his role from Godzilla. I somehow did not remember Strathairn either because the character he played was NOT GODZILLA and he has so little to do here, and so little screen time, that if he pops up again in Godzilla Vs. Kong, a sequel that finished production before Godzilla: King of Monsters under-performed at the box-office, I will probably have forgotten him all over again.
The great Vera Farmiga stars as Dr. Emma Russell, a brilliant, enigmatic scientist who invented a machine alongside ex-husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) called The ORCA that allows humans to communicate with Titans, giant monsters from our distant past, and the bowels of the earth and outer space, and control them to whatever extent the film needs at any given moment. The ORCA is essentially a God machine, an annoying Deus ex machina that gives people power over monsters the size of skyscrapers.
Then eco-terrorists led by Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) abduct Emma and her precocious 12 year old daughter Madison (Mille Bobby Brown) to advance their radical agenda of having Titans wreak righteous vengeance on humanity for fucking things up in a major way (humans elected Donald Trump President, after all, whereas Mothra and Rodan both seem like either Never Trumpers or members of the Resistance) so that our sick, sad, degraded world can be destroyed so that it can be reborn anew. We’ve reached a point in civilization where encouraging giant, fire-breathing monsters to destroy our world so that we can start over starts to make a whole lot of sense. I know I’m onboard. Destroy us, King Ghidorah! We do not deserve this world anymore.
The eco-terrorists do battle with the Monarch, a S.H.I.E.L.D-like agency that travels around the world trying to keep Titans in check. This pits them against a terrifying new extraterrestrial threat in the form of Monster Zero, AKA King Ghidorah, a monster from outer space and an arch-nemesis of Godzilla.
It falls to Godzilla, the titular king of monsters, and the strangely beautiful Mothra, with a little assistance from Monarch and the military, to keep King Ghidorah from laying waste to our planet alongside Rodan.
On a semi-unrelated note, watching a 200 million dollar movie with Ghidorah as its main villain reminded me how much I absolutely adore 2003’s Take Me To Your Leader, the album MF DOOM made under the alter-ego King Geedorah. It’s a fucking overlooked masterpiece, is what it is, a trippy, kaleidoscopic exercise in pop-culture warped dark comedy from one of hip hop’s true geniuses. I cannot recommend Take Me To Your Leader highly enough.
Yes, Take Me To Your Leader is just about perfect but King of the Monsters is wildly imperfect but a lot of fun when it ignores its human characters and gives audiences the hot monster on monster action that they crave.
Speaking of hot monster-on-monster action, Godzilla and Mothra have a powerful natural connection that Monarch’s resident kook, Dr. Rick Stanton (Bradley Whitford, in full-on “Looky me! mode), a hard-drinking professional eccentric, suggests might turn sexual. Would Godzilla: King of the Monsters be better if the monsters fucked as well as fought, or fought and fucked at the same time? I’m not sure, but it would be more memorable. There are lots of movies about monsters fighting. There are substantially fewer about Titans fucking.
On a monster level, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a delight. The production design and CGI for Godzilla and his outsized, fire-breathing, multi-headed peers made my inner child positively giddy. I came to King of the Monsters to see Rodan, Mothra, Godzilla and Ghidorah mix it up in 3-D on the big screen. On that level, the blockbuster is immensely satisfying. On a human level, however, it’s a shuddering disappointment that takes itself way too seriously.
Every time Godzilla: King of the Monsters cuts away from the awesome monster-on-monster action we pay good money for, and NEED as an escape from the inexorable horrors of everyday life, to chronicle the family drama at its core I wanted to stand up and yell at the screen “We don’t care! Get back to the monsters fighting! This is Godzilla: King of the Monsters, not Kramer Vs. Kramer.”
Yes, I used the royal “We” in that last paragraph because I can confidently speak for all of humanity when I say that we go to a movie called Godzilla: King of the Monsters so that we can gawk at a bunch of giant monsters fucking shit up, not watch an estranged family whose bond has been challenged by obstacles including divorce, alcoholism and Godzilla-related death come together in crisis.
For a movie with a whole lot of crazy monsters, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is somehow still a little short on crazy monster action. So while King of the Monsters was not quite the life-affirming exercise in escapism I hoped it would be in my most optimistic moments, my expectations had been lowered enough that I can’t say I was too disappointed.
Hope springs eternal, however, so I’m foolishly letting myself get overly excited about Adam Wingard’s Godzilla Vs. Kong, which will bring together the big green guy and the outsized simian of Kong: Skull Island, a movie with the chutzpah to ask, “What if, Apocalypse Now but with a giant ape?” and pretty much pull it off, in entertainment value if not artistry.
I’ll be there on opening morning for the very first screening of Godzilla Vs. Kong, both bracing myself for the heartbreak of mild disappointment and letting my inner child get good and excited, because isn’t that what movies, particular movies like Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Godzilla Vs. Kong all about?
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