Review: Godzilla II: King of the Monsters
Other monster ‘Titans’ have been emerging since the 2014 “Godzilla” film, and the question becomes how do we (i.e. The United States, ‘coz the rest of us barely exist apparently) deal with these giant, destructive creatures like Mothra and King Ghidorah threatening our very existence. Scientist Vera Farmiga thinks she has a way to communicate with the creatures, but unfortunately she and her teenage daughter Millie Bobby Brown are swooped up by an eco-terrorist group headed by Charles Dance. Farmiga’s employer enlists the aid of her ex-husband Kyle Chandler in rescuing her. Unfortunately, everything gets turned on its head resulting in even more giant monsters (or kaiju as the Japanese refer to them as) turning up to cause massive death and destruction. The solution? Godzilla, apparently. Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn, and (briefly) Sally Hawkins reprise their roles from the first film, Bradley Whitford plays a nervous, sarcastic scientist, Thomas Middleditch plays a Communications liaison, and Ziyi Zhang plays a Chinese expert…in Japanese monsters (!).
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the 2014 Gareth Edwards “Godzilla” film, partly because it was ugly-looking, but also because it took forever to get to the real Godzilla, wasting time with other non-canon monsters of little distinction. However, the teaser at the end of the credits for “Kong: Skull Island” had me pumped for some “Destroy All Monsters” multi-kaiju action with this 2019 film from director Michael Dougherty (“Trick ‘r’ Treat” - which was rather good, “Krampus”) and his co-writer Zach Shields (“Krampus”). Nup, this one’s even worse and almost no fun at all. I think we can safely leave this stuff to the Japanese now, yeah?
It starts well. We get lots of stomping over company logos and then the iconic Godzilla roar. There’s also cute attempts at trying to link the new set of characters with events from the first film. I wasn’t buying it, but nice try at least. After that though…oof. No. This is not good. Due to the dumbfuck lighting and cinematography by Lawrence Sher (better known for lensing comedies like “The Hangover” and “War Dogs”), Mothra’s entrance is entirely botched, making the very iconic monster look completely indistinct, very blue, and very uninteresting. I’m not sure if it’s a side-effect of shooting a film with 3D in mind or whatever, but that’s your first money shot completely blown right there. You can barely see a thing at times, especially for night scenes. Once the blue hue dissipates (only to come back intermittently throughout the film), the film still looks murky and indistinct. On the plus side, Mothra for once looks genuinely threatening in a battle, so that’s nice I guess. I love Mothra dearly, I love its mythology in particular. Let’s be honest though, it’s almost always come across as rather ungainly and ‘pretty’ for a monster needing to engage in plenty of battles. On the down side, threatening or not, Mothra ends up astonishingly boring. How can you take all of that goofy mythology and make it boring? This film shows how. Ugh.
The best thing in the entire film is the music score by Bear McCreary (“Colossal”, that wonderfully inventive kaiju/drama/black comedy hybrid), who incorporates the Akira Ifukube theme briefly from time to time. Early on Kyle Chandler offers up the right All-American ‘ordinary hero’ vibe for B material like this, and Ken Watanabe once again provides a bit of gravitas and a cultural connection to what otherwise seems to strive for a multicultural “Godzilla” film with very mixed success. Case in point? Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang turns up as the resident kaiju mythology expert (one of two different roles she has in the film, I might add). Yep. In a movie about Japanese monsters, a sequel to a remake of a Japanese monster movie with about a billion sequels and spin offs, our resident Gojira expert is…not Japanese. What. The. Actual. Fuck. Do they all look alike to you, Mr. Dougherty? I get it, you don’t have to be Japanese to be an expert in Godzilla and friends, but by casting someone from another Asian country in that role…it comes off very weird. It also results in the very Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang pronouncing ‘Ghidorah’ in neither the traditional Japanese nor English-accepted way and it stands out like a sore thumb. Who in the hell pronounces it ‘Ghidoorah’ (emphasising the middle and pronouncing it like ‘door’)? No one who should be playing a kaiju mythology expert, that’s for damn sure. In the real-world, none of this matters of course. Hell, it’d be somewhat on the nose to suggest it. But this is the first time in this version of the franchise that the character is being formally introduced, and presentation (or in this case pronunciation) kinda matters. Perhaps it won’t matter to you, but I also don’t think I’m terribly out of line to suggest that I think it does matter in this particular circumstance. Also, I’m sorry but Mothra is not Queen of the Monsters, thank you very much to which ever dopey branding expert thought that was clever. It’s not clever. Snarky nit-picking aside, I will say I did rather like Millie Bobby Brown referring to Ghidorah as ‘Monster Zero’, as “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero” is one of my favourites in the long-running franchise. Also, Ghidorah’s first attack is the best showing the monster has ever had. In spite of the murky blue hue, it looks awesome. Similarly, Rodan looks better than ever, emerging from a volcano here. Rodan is normally just a flappy big bird whose special talent is flapping its wings to create gusts of wind. It’s about as threatening as a fucking canary. Here though, I was sold on it from moment one, it looks a little like the volcanic-looking design they gave Godzilla for the popular “Godzilla vs. Destoroyah”. So it’s not like I hated everything here, Rodan even eats people! Awesome! I actually liked that, despite Rodan being seen eating people, it’s still pitted against Ghidorah in the film, showing that even the ‘good’ monsters aren’t exactly cutesy people-lovers. They’re monsters. They eat people and wreck their shit. After about an hour, David Strathairn’s military man character introduces the ‘Oxygen Destroyer’ into the plot (long-time fans will know what that’s all about) and it felt like finally this thing had picked up steam. Still…that’s an hour into the film, a film with an ugly, murky, intermittent blue hue. And sadly that little perk up only lasts about 15 minutes before we go back into the doldrums again.
Even if you can get past the blue hue, you still need to put up with more human characters than there already were in the previous film. It’s the “Transformers” bullshit all over again, populating the film with too many humans when all you came to see are the damn monsters/transformers. Sure, Bradley Whitford is good value as always (as the comic relief), and you do need to have some dumbfucks who want to use the monsters for their own sinister/dumbfuck purposes, so I guess Vera Farmiga can stay in the picture. The aforementioned Watanabe can do his thing whilst also removing the need for Ziyi Zhang, and Mr. Chandler fits in just fine here too, though I’d drop the dead kid angle because the connection for the audience just isn’t there. As much as I love the underrated Charles Dance and have for decades (I still think “Alien3” is underrated), his character ultimately ends up taking much of a backseat to Farmiga for most of the film. He’s utterly wasted, just remove the character altogether. Keep David Strathairn as the resident military guy, but torpedo the rest of the humans. There’s just too many of them and not enough room (Millie Bobby Brown gets nothing to do in the second half), especially when there’s monster action to consider as well. That goes double for Thomas Middleditch and his wannabe T.J. Miller bullshit. Hell, we even get a ringer in the monster department, some non-canon woolly mammoth-looking bullshit. Get dafuq outta here with your non-canon monsters already!
Getting back to Farmiga, her character is actually quite interesting in this, and she sells it very well. It’s just a shame that when we get the requisite character change, it’s done in the least imaginative, least interesting manner possible. That’s a shame, because at least from a cinematic entertainment point of view, I found her and Dance’s side of things to be more enjoyable. Dance’s character is 100% right, humans need to go, let the monsters stay. Obviously that wasn’t the POV I was meant to have, and it’s amazing that after everything she and Dance are responsible for in the film, the most Chandler gives her is some “Romancing the Stone”-style romantic bickering. Yeah, this ain’t the film nor the characters for that kind of patter to jive. Bad screenwriting there from Dougherty and Zack Shields. Also, before anyone complains about ‘blah blah lefty Climate Change propaganda’ all I can say is…the entire Japanese catalogue of Godzilla films is founded on anti-nuclear sentiment, and several of the more recent ones have touched on global warming as well. It’s lore, so sit down already. As for the Godzilla design, I have to say that both of these films have failed in that department. Here the design is too chunky and charmless, there’s no personality. I guess that’s CGI for you, though.
The third-worst Godzilla movie behind the Roland Emmerich disaster and the deadly Toho “Godzilla vs. King Kong” clunker. Overcrowding and poor cinematography result in very little fun here and even less clarity. Hell, at times during the monster battles I couldn’t figure out who I was supposed to root for. It really shouldn’t be this hard, and there’s some good elements here and there. I’m not against character stuff in my kaiju films, just make it interesting and don’t take up too much space. On the whole, this is a murky mess, and I’ve seen sloths move faster than this movie. I just didn’t get into it. Leave the franchise to Toho Studios, they don’t always deliver the goods, but at least their batting average is better at this kind of thing. Kudos for trying to make Ghidorah and Mothra more legitimate physical threats, however. Even Toho don’t often get that right.