“King of Monsters” shows Godzilla still reigns

“Godzilla, King of Monsters” is an excellent addition to the Godzilla mythos. Acting as a direct sequel to the 2014 “Godzilla” movie, it improves upon the original to deliver the monster fighting action that fans of the genre crave, while having a strong, but underused, human drama to ensure the story moves forward.

 “King of Monsters” was made with several of the perceived mistakes of 2014 “Godzilla” in mind. Fan complaints in 2014 included the lack of monster battles and over-reliance on human drama. “King of Monsters” adapted itself to those complaints and came out of its corner swinging, with excellent monster-on-monster fighting action and a scaled back, yet keeping the impactful human drama.

 A star-studded cast carries the drama well. Kyle Chandler plays Mark Russell, a father and scientist who has found himself attempting to reconnect with his family after an encounter with Godzilla caused them great tragedy. Vera Farmiga plays his wife, Dr. Emma Russell, and Millie Bobby Brown plays their daughter, Madison. When Mark finds out that his wife and child were kidnapped while working on a project involving communication with kaijus, he joins with Monarch, a top secret group dedicated to tracking and studying the giant monsters of myth and legend. Monarch is led by Dr. Serizawa, reprised by Ken Watanabe, who wants humanity to live in harmony with the great beings. Meanwhile, Mark only wishes to exact vengeance for the damage Godzilla has caused. When Dr. Russell’s technology is used to release an alien monster from below the depths of Antarctica, humanity and Godzilla must work together to ensure the safety of all life on Earth.

 There is a problem in the human story: there is not enough movie for it. The Godzilla formula is not meant to pair compelling human drama with furious monster battles. The human story is supposed to be a little campy because it is meant to help the audience decompress from the more visceral emotions of monster fighting and prepare for the next round of action. In the Godzilla franchise, humanity’s actions are generally used as a metaphor for the consequences for interfering with the natural order, ultimately to state that we should “let them fight”. In “King of Monsters,” this mentality is subverted well, but the costs of that are a movie with no emotional downtime. The simple emotional highs and lows of giant monsters duking it out seemed stale in the face of the intense human drama portrayed, which is a problem for a movie that wanted to fill its runtime with giant monsters fighting.

The kaiju fights, the most important part of the movie, were a treat to watch. When giant monsters were fighting, the were the stars of the movie. “King of Monsters” avoided a major pitfall that many other Hollywood-based monster movies seem all too willing to sink into: Godzilla and the other monsters were revealed early, were generally well-lit and took center stage in all of their scenes. Even though many of the major fights occurred in either darkness or rainstorms, the monsters movements were clear the entire time, and the their motions felt impactful.

However, the monster fight choreography was too grounded in reality. Godzilla is known for some really silly and over-the-top antics in some of his fights. From drop-kicks to curb stomps, Godzilla has shown off several fun moves in his battles with other monsters. This movie limited him to four basic motions: grab, bite, shove, and his trademark atomic firebreath. For any long-term fans of the franchise, the lack of advanced repertoire might be seen as boring. For the new viewer, the repetitive action would be overshadowed by the shorter, more complex human pieces. Even one or two unique actions would have left a stronger impression on the audience and elevated the movie.

This movie is a love letter written by Toho to Godzilla himself. The two parts of humanity and monster come together to create an excellent evening of entertainment, but it still feels like two different movies that are dating, instead of the perfect marriage of halves it could have been.