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Film Reviews Godzilla: King of the Monsters is stupendous stupidity, in the best possible way

  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters
  • Directed by: Michael Dougherty
  • Written by: Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields
  • Starring: Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown
  • Classification: PG; 131 minutes

rating

Godzilla thrashes and stomps his way into our hearts with ease.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Confession time: I love it when one gigantic thing fights another gigantic thing. They can be monsters like Godzilla or robots like Mechas or robot-monsters like Mechagodzilla. So long as they’re tossing each other through skyscrapers or landing sucker-punches in the middle of the ocean, I will be, at the very least, temporarily enthralled.

This is likely a symptom of growing up as a television-obsessed, upper-middle-class little boy in the 1980s, when the entertainment landscape’s ancillary toy market was saturated by “good” action figures whose only purpose was to smash up against “bad” action figures (and maybe the occasional foot or eye of a sibling; sorry, Paul!). I realize how cheap and juvenile these thrills are, and why I should have long outgrown such base pleasures once I started to, say, put on my own pants. Definitely by the time I started to calculate mortgage rates. But I haven’t, and neither has a good portion of today’s movie-going population, which is why Hollywood is now mostly in the business of Giant Noun vs. Equally Giant Noun.

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Nobody is pretending this isn’t stupid, but it’s a stupid we’ve come to accept and embrace.

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Yet, there are wildly different levels of quality within this stupidity. First, stupidity does not equate to visual incoherence, which is why Michael Bay’s final few Transformers films have sucked dry any easy smashy-smash pleasures. Second, you have to have a scintilla of emotional investment in a clobber-fest’s outcome, which is why such recent and creatively emaciated efforts as Pacific Rim: Uprising and Rampage replaced the excitement of watching a fight with the sensation of being punched in the face. And third, you have to deliver a genuine sense of location and street-level destruction, which is why the finale of Avengers: Endgame, set in some intangible CGI no-man’s-land that felt as real as the inside of your iPhone, felt so soulless and arbitrary.

Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), who may hold the key to everything.

Daniel McFadden/Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Fortunately, the new film Godzilla: King of the Monsters rises to all three of these challenges to hit Peak Stupidity, in a good way. Director Michael Dougherty’s sequel to 2014′s giant-lizard reboot – marking the 36th time the big boy has been seen onscreen since 1954 – is everything your stupid inner child could hope for. Monsters take over the world, fight with each other to the death and destroy countless cities in the process. The creature design is superb, the action is relentless, it is all captured beautifully, and Godzilla’s many melees are injected with just enough dramatic tension to make us care about which beast will come out on top of the mayhem.

The stupid film’s only problem, then, is when it tries to be smart. Like Gareth Edwards’s 2014 movie, Dougherty’s follow-up has set itself up to be in constant conflict with itself. Its only reason for being is to stage fights between Godzilla and his equally large enemies (including the pterodactyl-like Rodan and the three-headed dragonesque Ghidorah). Yet, the film also wants to tell a deep and dark story about humanity’s tendency toward self-destruction, and there is a distinct sense that it feels above all this monster nonsense. Or that’s how it feels about 45 per cent of the time, which is how long Dougherty focuses on a group of scientists and military types, the standard human fodder for the genre.

This balance of beasts and brains could have worked were these puny humans very interesting or possessing compelling narrative arcs. But mostly there is little reason to care about, say, the motivations of Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) for unleashing a frozen Ghidorah upon the world, or why her ex-husband Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) is convinced that only Godzilla can stop the destruction, or how the couple’s daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) may hold the key to everything.

Dougherty and his co-writer Zach Shields also weigh the film down with loads of soggy mythology about Monarch, the shadowy government agency that is meant to act as the cohesive franchise bond between this film, 2017′s Kong: Skull Island and next year’s Godzilla vs. Kong. (If you have to ask whether this film includes a postcredits scene further setting up the brand, then bless you, child, you’re so sweet.)

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is stupendous stupidity.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Yet, when Dougherty is able to keep these intelligent-ish impulses at bay, King of the Monsters is stupendous stupidity. In addition to all the varied kaijus (Japanese for “strange creatures”), the good dumb fun this time around includes active volcanoes, subterranean wormholes, military jets the size of aircraft carriers and a brief detour to what is more or less the lost city of Atlantis. But a Godzilla movie rests on its titular Lizard King, and Dougherty’s large adult son delivers. Godzilla thrashes and stomps his way into our hearts with ease, and by the time the walking, shrieking metaphor for the Nuclear Age biologically revs up his back scales to unleash a torrent of white-hot fire upon Ghidorah, the sweet embrace of stupidity feels like a big, warm, radioactive hug.

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You can try to fight it. But why go up against a king?

Godzilla: King of the Monsters opens May 31.

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