If you’re the type of person who’s into monster movies of any kind, then you’re likely to recognize Godzilla as the king of them all. Since 1954, the creature from Japan has represented man’s violence against nature, even if the beast did become a hero over time. In 2014, the Gareth Edwards-directed (Rogue One) Godzilla saw him return to theaters in an action drama which earned a mixed reception due to a primary focus on humans and an attempt at delaying the gratification of a monster fight. The one thing Godzilla did well, however, was begin the slow introduction of a Monster-Verse, one in which the original Toho creations of old might rejoin the mighty Godzilla on screen again. The first in the series showcased King Kong in 2017’s Jordan Vogt-Roberts Kong: Skull Island, which took a trip to the ‘60s and showcased the near failing of secretive group Monarch, which was introduced in Edwards’ film. A fun, slick, genre flick, Skull Island seemed to learn from the mistakes of Godzilla, making sure to put the King front and center. Strangely, Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters seems to have not only forgotten this lesson, but doubled-down on it as there’re perhaps 30-40 minutes of kaiju action in a film that runs over 2 hours, with the bulk focused on the human drama. Though this makes every brief monster fight seem incredible by comparison, the whole is mostly a slog as family drama and the need to set up future films holds King of the Monsters back from being the marvelous film it had the potential to be.
So what do you need to know going in?
In the aftermath of Godzilla’s battles with the two Mutos that culminated in most of San Francisco’s destruction, the U.S. government and Monarch are working together to track and monitor any creatures known and unknown throughout the planet. With various bases set up on land, sea, and ice, Monarch is able to react quickly to any new developments in kaiju, or Titans as they call them, behavior. However, when a group of Eco-terrorists lead by Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) invade a Monarch base and take both a device believed to help control the creatures and its creator, Dr. Emma Russell, and her daughter, Madison (Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown), the head of Monarch, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) is forced to pull Emma’s husband, Mark (Kyle Chandler), back into the fold to help get them back. With the device in the hands of Jonah, it’s not just Godzilla the world will fear, but all the monsters living on the planet, woken from their slumber and at his command.
*Be advised: Several sequences feature sporadic, flashing lights which may disturb those with light sensitivities.
There’re going to be two clear reactions to King of the Monsters: those that want monster fights and those that want rich storytelling inspired by decades of films. There’s no question that there will certainly be some who exist in the center, perfectly fine with the kind of entertainment which doesn’t play as well on the small screens in private homes. And that’s fine. Truly. Not every film needs to reach the masses and shift the zeitgeist. However, if you’re someone who’s deep into the mythology of the Godzilla films, then there’s a lot to take in and absorb that’s just for you. You’ll love the detail in the set design, updates to the characters which feel like throwbacks, and the manner in which each new Titan is introduced. Despite using modern tech, the creatures possess an appearance of tangibility usually reserved for people in costumes and other practical effects. Wearing the hats of director, co-story designer, and co-screenwriter, Dougherty clearly comes from a place of high knowledge in the franchise. That’s evident from just looking at the film. Many scenes are absolutely gorgeous in rich detail. Plus, if you take the time to go through the extensive four-piece special feature “Evolution of the Titans,” you’ll get the chance to look under the hood as Dougherty and co-story creator Zach Shields dig into the ideation of the modern Titan designs and the opportunity of world-building each creature affords. Without question, Dougherty and Shields came to King of the Monsters with a clear, precise vision of how they wanted the film to go and what they wanted audiences to feel. In all the features, Max Borenstein, another member of the story design team, is left out, but what you will learn from Dougherty and Shields is absolutely fascinating. After watching “Evolution,” all the things you enjoyed about King will suddenly become richer due to the treasure trove of historical tidbits you’ll that are expound upon.
That said, for those that come to King of the Monsters seeking 2+ hours of glorious battle, you’re in for disappointment. At its core, King is a family drama in which the monsters occasionally appear, create havoc, and leave. This is because during the San Francisco battle, Mark and Emma lost their son, Andrew, and a schism formed in how the parents dealt with it. With Emma and their daughter Madison in trouble, Mark comes to the rescue, requiring him to work alongside Godzilla, the creature he blames for the death of his son. Adding on to this is a storyline which focuses on the destructive nature of man and the Titans, who are believed to be nature’s antibodies. Plus, there’s a battle for King of the Monsters (not just a borrowing of the 1956 Americanized debut of Godzilla) as the film also introduces beloved baddie King Ghidorah into the mix. Not to mention that this film puts into motion a set-up for Adam Wingard’s 2020 Godzilla vs. Kong. With so much in the mix, it’s hard to maintain focus on what draws the audience in, the Titans themselves. Plenty of stories have been told without verbal language and it’s obvious, even before going through the special features, that Dougherty and company went through extensive trouble to highlight the intelligence within each Titan, so why not allow more of the story to focus on them? It worked wonderfully in Skull Island to highlight Kong’s connection to all the living creatures on his island and it never created a disconnect with the audience. Given the emotional baggage that the writing team brought to their characters, there’s literally no way to trim any of their content from the final product without losing coherency for their story. This means that if you came to watch Godzilla pound on Ghidorah, settle in for a wait.
If you’re reading this, chances are you either loved the theatrical experience or you’re a Godzilla fan. In either case, the special features are where it’s at. If you’re like this writer and are less familiar with the original Toho films, then starting with “Monsters 101” is for you. In four videos totaling about six-minutes, each of the four main monsters in the film are broken down by name, abilities, and any other useful information to identify them from the others. They’re quick and to the point, which may dissatisfy those looking for deeper dives into the characters. For those folks, and the monster-loving lot, head straight for the aforementioned “Evolution of the Titans.” You’ll spend about nearly 30-min in kaiju heaven as the cast and crew break down everything from character design, sound design, visual effects, character relationships, and more. From this set of videos, a deeper appreciation for the King of the Monsters is likely to develop, no matter how you feel once the film is done. Frankly, there are things mentioned in “Evolution” that went completely missed on the first watch that highlight just how enormously full of knowledge Dougherty and his team are. For example, did you catch the image of Mothra’s wings in the wave of energy Godzilla pushes toward Ghidorah during the final battle? Now you will. With over 100-minutes of special features, even die-hard Toho fans have the chance to learn something new. In addition to everything you get on the Blu-ray, the 4K UHD release includes Dolby Vision HDR and HDR10+.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters 4K UHD Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD Special Edition contain the following special features:
- Commentary by Director
- Monsters 101
- Godzilla: Nature’s Fearsome Guardian
- Mothra: Queen of the Monsters
- King Ghidorah: The Living Extinction Machine
- Rodan: Airborne God of Fire
- Evolution of the Titans
- Godzilla 2.0
- Making Morthra
- Creating Ghidorah
- Reimagining Rodan
- Monarch In Action
- The Yunnan Temple
- Castle Bravo
- The Antarctic Base
- The Isla de Mara Volcano
- The Undersea Lair
- Millie Bobby Brown: Force of Nature
- Monster Tech: Monarch Joins the Fight
- Monsters Are Real
- Welcome to the Monsterverse
- Two Deleted Scenes
- Four Theatrical Trailers
iTunes Special Feature
- Monster Moments – 10 individual sequences totaling 22-minutes, featuring singular moments in Titan action.
Available on digital August 13th, 2019.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, and DVD August 27th, 2019.
Final (Film) Score: 3 out of 5.