In a world where super-hero films rule the box office, you need something big and spectacular to attract attention. Legendary Pictures, which has cofinanced its share of heroic fare, has licensed the biggest monsters around: Godzilla and King Kong. They have dubbed it the Monsterverse and in Godzilla (2014) and King Kong: Skull Island (2017), they have sewn the seeds for these titans to mix it up for the first time in decades.
This summer’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters expanded that universe by giving us plenty of kaiju, introducing modern day audiences to Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. They are large and loud and ready to do battle with one another, sweeping mankind out of their way as mere impediments. It also sets up next spring’s Godzilla vs. Kong.
Given what we received, this never should have taken five years to make, ruining whatever momentum the reboot of the 1954 Toho classic, had. At least they acknowledge its’ been five years and we see where our characters have been.
Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) remains with Monarch, working on locating and identifying the MUTOs, now called Titans. We find her now separated from her husband Mark (Kyle Chandler), who has isolated himself from the world, still mourning the death of their son Andrew. He remains a video chat away from daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), who is with mom.
They’re on hand for not only the rebirth of Mothra, but the arrival of Alan Jonah (Charles Dance), an underdeveloped ecoterrorist with a fuzzy agenda. We know he wants control of the reborn Titans, but to what end is unclear throughout. Instead, Jonah is just a bad guy and casting Dance merely works as shorthand since he is given nothing to do.
When he abducts Emma and Maddie, Dr. Ishirō Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) convince Mark to rejoin Monarch and help. Jonah is after Ghidorah, slumbering in Antarctica and we learn he was never intended to be part of the monster eco system of eons past. An alien alpha monster, he is threat to Titan and Human alike.
Thank goodness they have Godzilla on their side, even though he gets beaten a lot. The other kaiju have their own battles with the three-headed creature or one another or military aircraft. Now, while the script is wretched, the battles are swell. If you grew up with these monsters, then you’ll be pleased. If all you know is the Pacific Rim kaiju, then see how it should be done.
There’s human betrayal and self-sacrifice, heroic and noble deeds done alone with a dash of redemption. But it’s all too little to give this the emotional heft it needed. Forbes recently complained about the film’s disappointing box office, ascribing it to monster fatigue, which is nonsense. One good monster a movie a year should be part of a well-balanced film diet, just one that nourishes the soul. The 42% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes tells you far more about the film’s failure to connect.
Writer/director Michael Dougherty, who shared script credit with Zach Shields, clearly loves these characters and once he was brought in to replace Gareth Edwards, put in a lot of thought. It just didn’t translate to the script, wasting a rich cast in lead and supporting parts.
The film has been released in the usual assortment of packages including the Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD combo pack. The 4K UHD version, not reviewed here, debuts HDR10+ along with Dolby Vision and HDR10 for improved dynamic rendering.
The 1080p high definition transfer is strong and crisp, capturing the scales and flames in their colorful glory. The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio soundtrack is up to the challenge, letting the roars and explosions surround you while still letting Bear McCreary’s fine score clearly come through.
The extras are plentiful but unspectacular, much like the film. There’s an audio commentary from Dougherty, who demonstrates his affection and goals.
We then have four almost useless and too-short Monsters 101 — Godzilla: Nature’s Fearsome Guardian (1:01), Mothra: Queen of the Monsters (2:02), King Ghidorah: The Living Extinction Machine (1:32), Rodan: Airborne God of Fire (1:15). You learn more for the somewhat better Evolution of the Monsters — Godzilla 2.0 (8:40), Making Mothra (7:01), Creating Ghidorah (6:24), Reimagining Rodan (5:19).
The various set pieces are covered with Monarch in Action — The Yunnan Temple (6:59), Castle Bravo (6:19), The Antarctic Base (6:26), The Isla de Mara Volcano (5:56), The Undersea Lair (7:19), reminding you of how strong the set design was.
We then finish with a profile on Stranger Things’ breakout star Millie Bobby Brown: Force of Nature (4:08) and Monster Tech: Monarch Joins the Fight (8:36).
Perhaps the most interesting piece, and the longest, is Monsters Are Real (14:09) with Stephen T. Asma, author of On Monsters, tracing our fascination with monsters back to Gilgamesh; Liz Gloyn, University of London, Barnaby Less, Monsterverse Development, and Richard Freeman, Zoological Director, Centre for Fortean Zoology adding their own two cents.
The least useful piece is Welcome to the Monsterverse (3:44), where Less talks about the worldbuilding but there’s too little content and too many clips from the film itself.
We finished with two Deleted Scenes (5:03), the first a Mark Russell moment as we see his tortured state of mind and continuing sense of loss. The second is a fight between Emma and Maddie, ending with her realizing how the rest of the world is suffering from kaiju attacks. Either could have helped the film.