Don’t be a Godzilla: Ding-a-ling of the Monsters, Check out Godzilla: King of the Monsters!

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Holy goddamn, guys, it’s here! It’s been here for a little while now!  Didja see it? If not, go see it before you read this!

Of course I’m talking about John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum!

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Uhh, joke or not, you should actually totally see this if you haven’t yet. I mean I love kaiju shit more than most, but the J-Dub movies fucking S L A P. Totally pure, no bullshit, pedal-to-the-metal, balls-to-the-wall action/revenge movie paradise. 3’s got axes, horses, MORE dogs, Halle Berry with dogs, and of course, the universe’s favorite son Keanu doing all the Keanu junk we all love.

No of course I’m talking about Godzilla: King of the [MOTHER FUCKING] Monsters! It is… so much. The five year wait is finally over, and Big Fella is back on silver screens tearing shit UP.  By now you’ve probably heard a lot about KOTM–what critics thought, what box office bean counters thought, and you might have even already heard what my friend Ralph and I thought IMMEDIATELY after watching it.  But some time has passed, I’ve actually had a chance to process it, and I wanna REALLY dig into this mo-fo.  You know, do that old school MONSTERS CONQUER THE WORLD SHIT.

Are the critics right?  Are the fans right? Is it like a lot of things in life, something nebulous in the middle?  Did I ascend to the next plane of consciousness watching this thing?  Hop aboard the Argo, fire up the Orca and say hi to Kevin, because we’re entering the realm of GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS

Just in case you haven’t seen King of the Monsters but still want to know my general thoughts, here’s a spoiler-free micro-review:

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is very obviously a labor of love created by a Godzilla series super-fan.  Whenever monsters are on-screen doing their thing, KOTM is a creature feature masterpiece that absolutely requires viewing on the biggest screen with the best sound system possible.  This is THE new benchmark in kaiju spectacle, with each beast getting his or her due with all of them oozing unmistakable personality.  Unfortunately Godzilla’s human co-stars generally can’t quite keep up–and despite what some folks might espouse, the human stories DO matter in these flicks.

Awright, that’s it! From here on out I’m slingin’ spoilers like the grouch diner in Follow That Bird slings rotten lettuce:

Yep, I left the easy “tossed salad” joke on the table. It didn’t feel right subjecting young Sandra Bernhard and Oscar the Grouch to that. I love 2 cuss, but I am a gentleman.

Let’s revisit some trailers, yeah?  Here’s the first!

In a lot of ways it invokes the heavy, dramatic mood of 2014’s Godzillaeerie apocalyptic visuals, a cryptic-but-threatening audio monologue from Vera Farmiga’s (Up in the Air, Bates Motel, The Conjuring) Dr. Emma Russell, concerned folks in bunkers, and a goosebump-inducing re-purposing of a piece of classical music.  Needless to say this shit WORKED 4 ME.  

The second trailer starts off even spookier: Millie Bobbie Brown’s (Stranger Things) Madison desperately radioing for help in some secret bunker actually got me thinking of 10 Cloverfield Lane.  Thomas Middleditch’s spiel and Ken Watanabe’s pay-off/punchline are sort of a thesis for the entire movie, hitting closer to what the film is actually all about: the all-out monster mayhem that makes up the rest of the trailer.  There are even more trailers, including a delightfully weird one that uses a creepy piano version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and just fully gives away the entire story.  You know what, fuck it, I think it’s really cool, so here it is:

The marketing blitz revealing more and more of the movie before it actually came out had plenty of folks in the fanbase worried about the quality of KOTM–the idea being that Warner Brothers had to basically show people the whole damn thing to get them to come watch it.  But I don’t know, couldn’t that go the other way too?  Maybe they were so geeked about what they had and wanted to show off?  I can’t stress enough that this movie is a pure visual insanity.  But the audio kicks ass too!

THEY FINALLY DID THE BLUE ÖYSTER CULT SONG! But like, a FUCKING CRAZY version of it! It’s insane that ’98’s Godzilla AND ’14’s passed on a big easy aural slam dunk like this, but holy shit it was worth the wait! Walking Dead composer Bear McCreary has put together an appropriately bombastic, high-energy version of the classic, sludgy rock tune, with a deft vocal assist by System of a Down’s Serj Tankian… and a whole slew of ancient-sounding Japanese chanters.  The chanting is paired with some SUPER sick traditional Japanese instrumentation, creating a musical atmosphere that perfectly captures the wild, supernatural grandeur of a bunch of colossal god-monsters going to war all over the Earth.  OH AND THEY DID THE CLASSIC IFUKUBE THEME:

The taiko drums and ghostly Japanese chorus are delicious add-ons to a stone cold classic.  Everybody says “see it in IMAX, see it in IMAX,” and that’s not bad advice by any stretch, but if you have a choice, I say prioritize a killer sound system.  Something where the music can rattle your ribs and you feel every monster roar in the innermost chambers of your FUCKING HEART.  Speaking of music cracking open your sternum and motorboating your soul, here are director Mike Dougherty’s two fave pieces:

There’s even more to unpack re: the film’s score, but this is a great way to segue into yapping about KOTM’s director, Mike Dougherty.  Dougherty has made himself very available to fans via Twitter–we don’t have to wait for a home video release to get inside scoops and commentary on the film! He’s also been very responsive to fan reviews and art and stuff too! It’s cool!

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It’s always a pleasant surprise when Twitter happenings DON’T make me want to Ron Swanson my computer/phone/pager/toaster oven.

Prior to KOTM, Dougherty directed two of my favorite recent horror-comedies: Trick ‘r’ Treat and Krampus.  He’s not quite as insane and/or brilliant as Joe Dante (Gremlins, The ‘Burbs, Innerspace, Matinee, etc.), but his work does have a similar mischievous cleverness to it.  I was stoked that they got him to do a Godzilla movie, and that was before I knew his super-fan status.  Here’s a student film he made in film school back in the 90’s, see if you notice any relevant subject matter:

Sure the jokes are lame, but this is obviously a director who’s loved Godzilla and fiends his whole life.  That alone puts KOTM in a better position than ’98 and the recent anime trilogy. Dougherty also co-wrote KOTM with help from Krampus co-writer Zach Shields. A guy named Max Borenstein has a story by credit and he has similar credits for the 2014 Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island.  I wonder if maybe he’s heading up the MonsterVerse writer’s room?  His pre-Godzilla resume is pretty sparse, but apparently he’s also landed a Game of Thrones spin-off?  Weird!

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You know what else is weird? THIS

All right, enough gum-flapping about the hype machine and the score and the behind-the-camera creatives, let’s pick this big ol’ bitch apart!

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No, of course I don’t mean you Godzilla!  You’re just… husky. AND SASSY.  Just a husky sassy boy, like Gene Belcher/me in 6th grade.

Before we get into the movie proper, we get the usual studio/production company title cards… depicted like ancient engravings, with cacophonous, thudding footsteps causing the screen to “glitch out” with each impact.  THE MOVIE HASN’T EVEN STARTED YET AND YOU ALREADY GET CLEVER, EXCITING MONSTERRIFIC CHAOS.

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AND YOU GET MORE RIGHT OUT THE GATE! The actual movie opens on a flashback to 2014 San Francisco, which uh, isn’t the best place to be in the MonsterVerse. Dr. Russell and her hubby Mark (Kyle Chandler, who we’ve seen tango with monsters before in Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong remake!) are scrambling through the burning rubble, desperately trying to avoid being trampled by Godzilla (HELL YEAH HE’S IN THE FIRST LIKE MINUTE OF THE MOVIE) while searching for their missing son.  King of the Monsters has a drastically different tone than Godzilla ’14 (Dougherty said they set out to make KOTM the Aliens to ’14’s Alien, and I’d say that’s EXACTLY what they did), but this opening scene does a solid job of carrying us from the intimate disaster drama of ’14 into the globetrotting creature feature lunacy of KOTM.

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And of course it immediately establishes the bitter family tragedy that sets the whole movie into motion.

The first act is fucking crazy packed with exposition, world building and character introductions.  KOTM manages to juggle it all without things getting muddy or confusing, which is pretty Goddamn impressive.  In rapid succession we:

  1. Meet the Fockers Russells: Emma and Madison are living just outside of a Monarch research site balls-deep in a Chinese rain forest, Mark is estranged and working as a wildlife photographer in the US.  He secretly yaks with Madison online.
  2. Meet FUCKING WHOLE-ASS ACTUAL BABY MOTHRA (break for audience “Awwwwww!”)
  3. Doc Russ whips out her KAIJU COMMUNICATOR COMPUTER?!
  4. GODDAMN TERRORISTS SHOW UP AND MACHINE GUN THE SHIT OUT OF EVERYBODY AND KIDNAP DOC AND MADDY
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Actual footage of me watching the film for the first time

YEAH DOG.  This movie is a LOT™. And the wild part is, it (almost) never feels rushed or hard to follow.  This movie whips through a TON of story beats, but it’s really just getting the most out of its beefy running time (Dougherty has jokingly dubbed the two hour and forty minute director’s cut “Godzilla the mini-series” which is a thing I would CERTAINLY watch).  Before jack-booted thugs shoot up Mothra’s temple, we get a good sense of the Russell family dynamic, there’s an appropriate build-up to Mothra’s reveal (including an adorable, non-lethal mini-rampage), and we understand the function and power of Doc’s invention (the Orca) with some good ol’ fashioned “show don’t tell” action.  This shit is efficient and entertaining!

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And all the Mothra stuff is a total homerun.  So glad to see her brought to life like this! If anybody ever merited a quick yass kween you better believe it’s mother fucking Mothra. Her fat, goopy, grubby larval form is EXTREMELY fun and lively.

Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe reprising his role from Godzilla 2014), Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins, also coming back from G ’14), and Sam Coleman (Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch) bail on their US government hearing when they get the news that the Mothra outpost has been compromised and Dr. Russell and Madison got got.  Oh sure, they’re scientists and nerds, but they’re RENEGADE scientists and nerds who will cut class if they have to.  Fuck yeah!

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I mean seriously, “renegade scientist” is like the best trope ever.

The too-cool-for-school nerd squad shows up to Mark Russell’s house to smoke cigarettes and drink the Jim Beam they swiped from the old man’s liquor cabinet catch him up on what’s happened to his wife and daughter–and to recruit him in helping find the Orca.  Before they split up, Mark and Emma worked together on the Orca–originally designed for communicating with whale pods, but now tweaked to DM big-ass monsters.

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DO NOT DM KAIJU THEY ARE MEAN.

They fly Mark out to Castle Bravo, the Monarch base out in the Pacific disguised as an oil refinery.  It’s a huge, crazy reveal: Castle Bravo is a massive, high-tech, undersea bunker complete with a severed MUTO head on display.  Godzilla ’14 barely hinted at the existence of Monarch, in Skull Island it was an underfunded governmental in-joke akin to the X-Files, and now here we see it bordering on Men in Black or S.H.I.E.L.D-level sci-fantasy nuttiness.  It’s cool as fuck though!

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“Hot shit Viv, they actually got us the chocolate fountain we asked for as a joke!”

And it’s cool for a few different reasons.  First, the name.  Is it fucked up to name a top secret headquarters after a nuclear disaster? YES. Is it one of this movie’s many, many call-backs, references, and Easter eggs?  ALSO YES.  Castle Bravo was the nuke test the US did in ’54 at Bikini Atoll that contaminated the Japanese fishing ship Lucky Dragon No. 5–the international incident that inspired the original Gojira

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Yes, this is TWICE now that I’ve invoked Christopher Lloyd. He’s a national treasure so just DEAL WITH IT

In the MonsterVerse that test wasn’t just a test, it was also a failed attempt to kill Godzilla, so the name’s got some extra meaning there too.  The second thing I dig about this is the instant, unspoken world building.  At some point between the 70’s and now, somebody started taking Monarch way the fuck more seriously, funneling in the insane amounts of cash needed for a Bond villain-style sea lab 2021.  Finally, a futuristic super bunker in an exotic location is about as classic Godzilla as you can get.  It’s not even just a 60s-70s (Showa) era thing, the 80s and 90s (Heisei-era) flicks were packed with bitchin’ bases too. I’ve always had mixed feelings about these settings–they can EASILY fall into the trap of feeling too remote, clinical, dry, and safe for a wild and woolly monster thriller (I also find them easier to buy when they’re operated by advanced alien invaders)–but it’s undeniably a hallmark of the franchise, so it’s exciting to see the MonsterVerse continue the tradition.  It’s something franchise fans will notice (or even subconsciously clock) and think “Hahaha, okay, it’s THAT kind of Godzilla movie.”

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i.e. big, outrageous, pedal-to-the-metal F U N

We meet the key staff at Castle Bravo (which is a sprawling, bustling operation) but the standout new character is Dr. Rick Stanton, played by Bradley Whitford. The dude is just pure character actor comedy gold. Ralph and I gushed about him on the podcast episode, so I’ll try not to be all moony about him here.  I’ll just reiterate what we said in the podcast: KOTM has too many clunky, bad jokes, but every time they hand B-Whits a dud he fucking makes it work anyway.

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Also: Brad was a bit of a babe back in the day! Anyway, close this and go watch Cabin in the Woods or Get Out or The West Wing or Billy Madison or something.

In addition to Bradley Whitford, Godzilla is there!

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I mean, the whole point of the base is to keep an eye on everybody’s favorite large and excellent lad, but G-money’s been a little off lately, sort of pacing around Antarctica and putting on the occasional butthole-clenchingly effective threat display for our gaggle of sea-nerds:

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Godzilla’s eyes lighting up with his spines is a SUPER nice touch and it’s crazy to me that this is the first time it’s ever been done.  KOTM is BURSTING with smart little details like this.

Now for reasons I (and anyone I’ve talked to about it) cannot comprehend, everybody in the base starts taking orders from Mark.  Mark says to lower their defenses to show that they’re submissive to Godzilla’s threat display–to show that they’re not here for a fight, and that they respect Godzilla’s dominance.  That all makes sense, and it’s something Mark would know because the movie introduces him as a wildlife photographer tracking, recording and studying the behavior of wolf packs.  BUT THAT DOESN’T EXPLAIN WHY A BUILDING FULL OF KAIJU EXPERTS WOULD SUDDENLY DROP EVERYTHING AND DO WHAT A RANDOM NATURE PHOTOGRAPHER SAYS

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C’mon Beefy Ron Livingston, there’s no reason for you to be in charge here.

This only got a “pfff, corny Hollywood trope” out of me, a quick eyeroll.  Plenty of movies feature a rugged, salt-of-the-earth everyman rolling in to tell the stuffed shirts what’s REALLY up (for whatever reason, Armageddon is the first example that springs to mind).  Sometimes it can work, but it doesn’t here.  It’s been funny talking with other folks that have seen the movie: Mark seems to rub some viewers VERY the wrong way.  It reminds me of how Charlie Hunnam’s garbo performance single-handedly knocks Pacific Rim down a peg or two in my book.

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When it comes to Hunnam’s character, it’s like the dad in Walk Hard always said.

The movie fumbles with Mark’s arc, and the mishandling of this character reminds me of Godzilla ’14’s snafu with Joe and Ford Brody (wrong protagonist died and/or the replacement protag couldn’t pick up the slack), and Skull Island’s character goof (you could lift Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson right out and it would just make the movie tighter). The MonsterVerse movies do a TON of shit right, but mis-managed protagonists is a tradition that I hope ends with KOTM. The fact that I still like these movies so much despite their lumps and bumps is really a testament to how spectacular a job they’re doing with the monsters, the (human) supporting casts, the world-building, and all the technical stuff.

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This shouldn’t factor in to my ability to wave off his bullshitty character, but I’m sure it does: Chandler tracked down and watched every single fucking Godzilla movie to prepare for the role.  Said he liked the music in the groovier 60s and 70s movies.  Fun!

But anyway, ANTARCTICA! Godzilla’s going there, the bad guys are going there, and the good guys are going there! The baddies, led by British Special Forces colonel turned eco-terrorist Alan Jonah (played by Tywin Lannister!… er uh, Charles Dance!) storm the Monarchtic (😉) outpost, guns a-blazin’. They’re about to pull off the, heh, biggest jail break ever!

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The Antarctic station is Outpost 32, a wink at The Thing’s Outpost 31 (Dougherty notably has great taste in non-giant monsters).  I could literally spend half the review just chronicling every nod and reference in KOTM, so I’ll just sprinkle in my faves.

A rag-tag band of renegades busting a kaiju out of icy containment in the Antarctic may sound familiar to Godzilla series fans–it’s a major plot point in 2004’s delightfully schizophrenic Godzilla: Final Wars!  Of course there it’s the good guys busting out a heroic(-ish) monster, but still! It’s just another element that makes this feel like a classic Godzilla flick.  There are so many references and shout-outs in this movie I was half-expecting some kind of callback to the two beefy, sensitive, and strangely dressed dudes manning Final Wars’ Area G:

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They drink from fancy tea sets and read books on zen philosophy. They’re like if Frasier and Niles were JACKED and dressed like Guy Fieri.  I gotta review Final Wars soon.

Sadly (but of course not surprisingly) that is a reference Dougherty and co. did not bother to make 😂 And you know what, I’d hate to see those large, thoughtful boys get cut down by machine gunfire.  Yeah fuck it, thank you for NOT invoking two of my favorite tertiary bullshit characters, Dougherty.  Col. Jonah drags Emma and Madison into the outpost while his goons wipe out whatever Monarch staff is there.  The plan is to unleash Outpost 32’s titan, codenamed Monster Zero(!!!),in a bid to decimate human civilization to a point where the Earth will have a chance to recover from the continuous damage we’ve done to it.

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Jonah and his crew run roughshod over the outpost, dragging Emma and Madison along for the ride.  They place charges all over the ice to blast Ghiddy free and they coerce Emma into agreeing to use the Orca to control Ghidorah. Madison is there presumably as leverage/collateral.  These guys are douche nozzles!

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They all have SUPER BAD farts in the elevator and they all blame ’em on Madison.  Un-fucking-believable, these guys.

The Monarch team swoops in with their own commandos… and Mark! Monarch’s security team and Jonah’s mercenaries get into a shootout, culminating in a stand-off on a catwalk in Ghidorah’s massive, underground ice chamber.  Emma and Madison stuck with Jonah’s goons on one side, Mark and the Monarch crew (MonMark? MonMarch?) on the other.  With guns drawn on everyone and tensions high, Mark beckons for Madison to make her way over their side, to safety.  But Emma stops her, picks up the detonator, and smashes that like red button!

WHAT?! …Maybe it’s a distraction? Maybe in the confusion Emma and Madison can flee their captors and join up with MonMark?  Oh nope, they leave with Jonah and the members of his team.

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TFW you find out Mom’s a genocidal bio-terrorist

Outpost 32 caves in all around them as they try to scramble to safety.  Ghidorah is fucking incredible.  His big ol’ heads get right down on our level, curiously investigating the tiny, hopeless humans as they flee in terror… right before he starts vaporizing, stomping, and chomping fools.  It’s scary, crazy, tense fun as everybody makes a mad dash for the choppers in a wide-open snowfield.

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Ghiddy is gorgeous, seamlessly blending an overall classic look with a bunch of new elements that fit like a glove.  The rattlesnake tails and wyvern-style wing-arms are fucking righteous, and they look great attached to a big, beautiful golden Ghidster.  He’s not just impressive, he’s expressive, with each head exhibiting a bit of its own personality.  The middle head is a no-nonsense leader type, the right head a devoted and vicious follower, and the left head… is kind of a tender dingus?  Dougherty even named ’em!

Sweet goofus Kevin has proven to be a big hit with fans, with plenty of memes, fan-art and fan-fic being generated in his honor:

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Yes OF COURSE the last one is a Shrek (2) reference. The Venn diagram of memes and Shrek is practically a fucking flat single circle.

Each Ghid head having a bit of unique personality makes a ton of sense when you consider that Dougherty and co. hired three different motion-capture actors to portray the monster!  It’s extremely cute that the movie credits the monsters as themselves, but I gotta give props to the folks who actually screamed and thrashed and flailed around for our cinematic enjoyment. Jason Liles, Alan Maxson, and Richard Dorton portray the heads of King Ghidorah. Maxson is the right head, Dorton’s the left (SWEET KEVIN), while Liles plays the middle head and Rodan.  Liles seems to be a bit of an up-and-comer: you might remember me yapping about his performance as George in last year’s (better than it had any reason to be) RampageI have a feeling we’ll see more of this dude’s work in the not-too distant future.

Motion-capture seems like a dream gig: you get to portray cinema’s most fantastical characters without being trapped in claustrophobic, even painful makeup or costumes for hours on end. On the flip, I bet it’s tough performing in a huge empty room with few (if any) co-stars.

So all three heads, two tails and 350+ feet of Ghidorah are on the loose, surely he just wastes everybody, right? Well, that’s absolutely the plan, but Emma whips out the Orca and tells him to chill the fuck out!  Maybe Mom’s notcompletely unhinged mass murderer?!… or maybe she is, and was only acting to buy her and her cronies some time??  Emma had the potential to be a flatly evil, mustache-twirling villain, but thankfully she’s a little more nuanced and complex than that.  Instead Jonah handles the 100% pure, uncut bad guy nihilist shit, creating an interesting, lopsided dynamic between the two of them.  Like Dr. Serizawa’s near-infinite gravitas and Dr. Stanton’s uncanny ability to make a crappy joke work, Emma’s whole thing does a lot to keep the human story engaging.

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So uh, good job???

The baddies bounce… but our MonMark pals are stuck in the snow with a busted chopper.  So, no more Mark, right?  Killing off a lead in the first act like Godzilla ’14 did?

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NOT QUITE BAYBEEEEEEEEEEEE

HOLY FUCKIN’ SHIT GODZILLA AND GHIDORAH FIGHT BEFORE THE SECOND ACT EVEN STARTS!!!!!!!!! It is wonderful to get this early battle between these brutal beasties.  We’ve had a brief glimpse of G-money in the flashback prologue and seen him swimming around Castle Bravo, but this is where we get our first really good, satisfying dose of KOTM’s new(ish) Godzilla design.  It is fantastic.  They just took the (terrific in its own right) 2014 look and made a few smart tweaks and adjustments. The biggest, most obvious difference is the spines: they’re bigger and maple leaf-ier, hearkening back to G-fresh’s most classic looks.

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He is the biggest, best boy in the world.

TJ Storm (DAT NAME THO) returns from 2014 to do motion capture for Godzilla.  His name, fucking radical as it is, didn’t ring a bell, but after a little digging I found that he’s  done a ton of stunt work and mo-cap acting.  His higher profile credits include stunt/mo-cap work portraying Iron Man and Colossus… plus he was Doom Master on VR Troopers!

I didn’t even LIKE this show back in the day, and yet, the theme song (or a strangely mis-remembered version of it) gets stuck in my head like once a week!

Godzilla and Ghiddy duke it out, people get their shit wrecked in the crossfire and tragically, terrifyingly… Ghidorah wins.  The Ghidster knocks Godzilla down a ravine(?) and bails.  MonMark gets the heck out of Dodge and does their best to lick their wounds.  This is especially brutal for Dr. Serizawa: it turns out Dr. Graham got fucking shellacked by Ghidorah.

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“When we get back to Castle Bravo, I WILL stick my wiener in the chocolate fountain… Viv dared me to, but I was too chicken then.  But she was right, it would be super funny, and probably wouldn’t burn that bad, and it will be even funnier if I can trick Mark into eating out of it after I swizzle my peener around in there.  This is how I will honor you, my dear, fallen friend.”

It’s a bummer for the audience too–the MonsterVerse never gave Dr. Graham all that much to do, which is a waste seeing as how she’s a talented, Oscar-caliber actor.  The unceremonious, nearly off-screen nature of her death reminded me of Pacific Rim: Uprising‘s similar gaffe… but at least Viv wasn’t like, one of the leads in the previous movie.

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Little Shatterdome side-eye for ya’s.

With shit thoroughly having gone sideways, MonMark watches their outposts for any clues of Ghidorah’s and/or Emma’s next move.  There are 17 other titans out there that they know of and a ton of Monarch outposts scattered around the globe.  They spot activity in Outpost 56 and race there…  In their big bad-ass super-duper plane!

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The thing that looks like a huge stealth bomber, not the little fighter jets… or the big pissed-off lava pterodactyl. THIS MOVIE IS NON-STOP A JOY TO BEHOLD–LOOK AT THIS SHIT!!

Ahh, the Argo!  It’s so huge it actually carries several V22 Ospreys around inside it in addition to serving as an airborne base of operations for Monarch.  The Godzilla series has had a whole slew of dope futuristic aircraft over the years, and the Argo fits right in! Like the Castle Bravo seabase, this is another out-there element that makes King of the Monsters feel like a classic-era Godzilla fantasy-adventure.  I was certain that KOTM would be the modern, 200 million dollar version of Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster, but it is absolutely the modern, 200 million dollar version of Destroy All Monsters! That’s insanely exciting… but it also comes with its own set of pros and cons.  For now, we go to beautiful, sunny Mexico! Yes, south of the border, where you can experience–

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JESUS FUCK IT’S RODAN AND HE HAS FIRE BLOOD

Emma and the baddies let the dogs out Rodan loose as phase 2 of their Thanos-ian plan to cull humankind enough for Earth to bounce back.  MonMark makes a mad scramble to evacuate the people living in the shadow of Rodan’s big nasty murder mountain while a huge, recently formed hurricane changes course, curiously heading toward their exact location…  Rodan’s reveal, subsequent rampage, and music are all fucking incredible.  In a score stacked with bold, innovative, and evocative monster music, Rodan’s theme still manages to stand out:

The crazy bongos, the howling brass, the screaming, sawing strings… it sounds like what would happen of ’89 Batman was accidentally about a gigantic rage-pteranodon.  The intro is nuts, then it mellows out for a bit, then it builds back up again, bigger and wilder than ever–as an isolated piece of music, it still tells Rodan’s story!  It reminds me of Bishop’s Countdown from Aliens, and that’s some of the highest praise I can dish out for a piece of film score: Bishop’s Countdown is one of the greatest pieces of action-horror movie music ever written.  If you don’t know it by name, you might recognize it when you hear it–it got recycled into plenty of 90s action movie trailers:

There is SO much to love in KOTM’s soundtrack that I could see Rodan’s theme getting lost in the sauce, so I wanted to give it a special shout-out here. Rodan’s whole sequence is kaiju thriller heaven.  The hurricane-force winds he whips up just by nonchalantly flying over the city are apocalyptic, beautifully and terrifyingly rendered.  People get whipped up into the stratosphere, and that shit is surreal and scaryMonMark figures out that the mysterious, seemingly sentient storm cell is actually our good buddy Ghidorah.  

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Hell yeah dog! Jason X isn’t the only movie where “evil gets an upgrade”!

Ghidorah’s new storm-generating power pulls double duty: it makes him an even more elemental, god-like and formidable mega-monster, and it introduces the thematic concept of Ghidorah being a metaphor for climate change.  In KOTM, Ghiddy’s an artificially-inserted element in our ecosystem, creating chaos and trying to make our world uninhabitable by corrupting Earth’s homegrown kaiju–just like how we spur on climate change, which in turn fucks up our normal weather patterns enough to create ecological crises that we didn’t have to deal with 15, 10, or even 5 years ago. KOTM is big, outrageous popcorn fun first and foremost, but it’s heartening to see some kind of deeper meaning to the mayhem.  Yet another way that KOTM fits in perfectly with the classic Godzilla catalog.

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Since Dr. Ishiro “Let them fight” Serizawa runs Monarch (NOT MARK), they use their fighter jets and the Argo in a desperate bid to lead Rodan away from soft, squishy, incredibly easy-to-kill humans and into the world’s biggest cockfight. Of course, actually DOING that is way the fuck easier said than done, and I am so glad for that–Rodan vs. planes has been exhilarating since his debut back in ’56. I had high hopes for KOTM to include one of these showdowns, and it does not disappoint!

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Rodan goes up against Ghidorah with shitloads of swagger and without a moment’s hesitation!

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I know I keep saying it, but it bears repeating: the monster scenes in this movie are fucking insane.  It is a cinematic dream come true.

Sadly, Rodey is no match for the Ghidster.  With the Rodes scholar out of the picture, Ghidorah sets his formidable sights on the next biggest thing in the air… THE ARGO. Everybody onboard fills their diapers accordingly, but guess who SWINGS IN TO SAVE THEIR BOOTY-HOLES AT THE LAST SECOND?!

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Yes that’s right, Don Kno–WHAT NO!

Naw man, it’s our dude!  Prime Minister of the Beasts!  Sultan of the Creatures!  He decapitates poor dumb ol’ Kevin! To celebrate, the US decides to nuke his victorious nutz off with a new super-bomb they cooked up: a little doo-dad they call     T H E    O X Y G E N    D E S T R O Y E R

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“Fireworks for little ol’ me? OH WAIT SHIT”

Okay so technically they were TRYING to kill off Ghidorah, but they really only hurt Godzilla, who gets laid the fuck out by the OD–since Ghiddy’s a space mutant he didn’t even crack a nail.

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USA! USA! USA!

Godzilla flatlines, Ghidorah grows its lost head back, and from the top of Mount Rodan Ghidorah wakes up (and brainwashes?) all the other monsters. The other monsters we see answer Ghidorah’s call are all new guys and gals, and they’re pretty cool!  I’m having a tough time tracking down images of these youngbloods since the movie is still in theaters, but here’s a shot and a piece of concept art of my personal favorite, the aptly named Behemoth:

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He’s like a buckwild, ape/mammoth hybrid, and I am WAY INTO THAT

We also see a third MUTO (welcome back, cuz!), a big spider-squid named Scylla, and an enormous, craggy quadruped named Methuselah who reminds me a LOT of Ultraman’s Magular:

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For real, just imagine the 200 million dollar version of this and you’ve pretty much got ol’ Methy.

We catch quick glimpses of even more cataclysmic critters on computer screens! It’s incredibly exciting and ambitious… and it also feels like a little too much too soon?  This is the sort of thing we should have built up to after a several movies… how the fuck is Godzilla vs. Kong supposed to top this?  At the same time, I want to try to stick to judging this movie on its own merits, not by how it sets up later movies.  I mean that’s a HUGE consideration, but I’ll leave that to a more focused examination of the MonsterVerse as a whole–something I might dig into when it comes time to review Godzilla vs. Kong next year.

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Which I am still fucking psyched about.  Cannot wait to see these two chucklefucks duke it out again: my personal favorite monster match-up of all time!

MonMark heads back to Castle Bravo to try and recuperate and plot their next move. Just when it seems all hope is lost, Mothra’s cocoon hatches!

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Under a waterfall in the Chinese rainforest!  PRETTY

A grand, bombastic twist on the classic Mothra theme plays… and one of the Monarch experts currently in Castle Bravo is also there some how?!?!

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It’s a little bait ‘n’ switch! The Dr. Chen we’ve been hanging out with for most of the movie has an identical twin who’s still posted up at the Mothra site! And they even seem to have some kind of heightened twin sense or awareness of each other… AND they’re the third generation in their family in a row to be twins–specifically twins that are drawn to studying Mothra.

If you still somehow DON’T see what they did there, here’s a Tweet from Dougherty:

Would I have loved to see full-on magical, singing, talking-in-unison, psychic fairies serving as the heralds of Mothra in this movie? FUCK YES.  Did I really expect to?  NOPE!  What we got instead is a pretty cool, subtly supernatural compromise that fits the (ever-so slightly) more grounded MonsterVerse.  It’s certainly better than not acknowledging the Shobijin at all, and I I also think it’s more exciting than GMK‘s even more restrained take: a pointed, meaningful cut to a random pair of (oddly pissy-looking??) twins during Mothra’s arrival in the city.

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Coupla not-that-identical-looking April Ludgates?

Big beautiful bad-ass Mothra uses the like, shared super-sonar quasi-language all the Titans understand (which is how the Orca is able to communicate with them all, essentially) to ping Godzilla, who it turns out is only mostly dead!  BOOYAH!  MonMark intercepts Mothra’s Titan-text message and uses it to find and help our huge, scaly, lethally radioactive BFF. Also Mothra… appears at the Castle Bravo base?  Or… astral projects?  Or psychically manipulates god rays to clue in MonMark?  I’ve only seen the movie twice (SADLY, I’m hoping to squeeze in a third viewing before it leaves theaters) and this part is frankly a little hazy for me.  Whatever she did it’s fucking radical and I love that all of Toho’s “Big Four” got beefed up in ways that naturally fit these classic characters.

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Please remember I spent most of BOTH VIEWINGS like this ^ so my memory likely glitched out here and there.

So after we’ve hung around in a super high-tech, top secret undersea lair, visited an Antarctic research station housing the most dangerous living thing on the planet/AN ACTUAL SPACE ALIEN and tooled around in a gigantic super-plane, we board a submarine and journey through secret subterranean tunnels into the hollow earth to visit deep sea ruins that pre-date ancient Egypt.

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If you’re playing “classic, trope-y Godzilla locale bingo” at home, I think all that’s left for the MonsterVerse to hit are NYC, Tokyo, Monsterland/Monster Island, and uh, OUTER SPACE.  If Godzilla vs. Kong follows KOTM’s lead, that movie is gonna be EVEN FUCKING CRAZIER.

Couple fun nugz about those ruins: they’re inspired by a REAL PLACE:

In the (appropriately Hellish section of the) ruins, you can spot the Pazuzu statue from The Exorcist:

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Pretty fucking cool! Though it does paint the civilization that worshipped/co-existed with Godzilla in a uh, questionable light…

There are also rumors of an Anguirus skeleton/corpse down there too, but I haven’t been able to find much to substantiate it.  Angy also appears to be in some concept art, but we’ll get to that a little later 😉.  On the way down to Godzilla’s secret home (which… it is so WONDERFUL to me that he has like a little house that he can go chill at), MonMark’s sub sustains serious enough damage that they can’t just launch a nuke at Godzilla’s general direction.  Oh yeah, that’s their plan by the way! Just fuckin’ shot atomic Scooby Snacks at their big sleepy pal–jumpstart him like he’s an ’86 Pontiac Sunbird or some shit!

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Which is to say, the plan rules.  Great car by the way! I accidentally vaporized a deer with one in high school and the car didn’t even have a scratch! That was a scary morning!

As they navigate their way through massive temples and obelisks, Serizawa has a fantastic scene with Mark. Serizawa tells him that sometimes the only way to heal truly egregious wounds is be strong enough to make peace with the demons that scarred you in the first place.  It’s good, powerful stuff (of course it is, Watanabe, duh)–and then it’s undercut with a cringe-inducing stinker of a joke about getting said wisdom from a fortune cookie.  It’s rough.  Mark agrees though, which makes it all the more of a bummer when Serizawa goes on the suicide mission to handfeed Godzilla the nuclear mimosa he needs to get back up and fighting.  Mark should have done it–it would have tied up his arc perfectly, totally validated the character, and kept Serizawa around long enough to meet King Kong, which would have fucking ruled.  Obviously Serizawa is a GREAT dude and would have still offered to do it, but then Mark should have stepped up and stopped him.  UGH OH WELL I GUESS.

MOVIE REVIEW 'GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS'

I’m dunking on Mark a lot, but I don’t really dislike him, it just bugs me that a (well-meaning) rando is bossing everybody around.

There are a couple things that are cool about Serizawa’s sacrifice though. It’s a clever reversal of the very first Godzilla film: in ’54, Serizawa volunteers for a suicide mission to dive into Godzilla’s lair and set off a bomb while the monster sleeps–but in that flick, it’s the climax of the movie, and the bomb is the Oxygen Destroyer, sizzling the big guy (and Serizawa) down to bone.  It’s also rad that Serizawa gets to save Godzilla and have a face-to-face, personal encounter with him in the process.

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If Serizawa’s gotta go, that’s a pretty good way for him to go. R.I.P., doc.

The nuke goes off and MonMark gets the heck out of Mu/Atlantis/Seatopia before they get caught in the blast radius.  Shortly after they surface, they have a close encounter with Godzilla.  And now he’s bigger, badder, and beautifuler than ever!

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Hey remember Emma and Madison and Jonah? They all hunkered down in Monarch’s Boston outpost! Madison’s had enough bullshit from her mom, but instead of sagging her JNCOs and listening to KoRn, she decides to rebel in a productive way by sneaking out with the Orca! She scurries out to Fenway Park, jacks into the stadium’s sound system and starts blasting “HEY EVERY MONSTER COME HERE AND KICK THE SHIT OUT OF EACH OTHER BUT MOSTLY GHIDORAH, OKAY? ALSO THERE’S FREE PIZZA AND POP BUT IT’S FIRST-COME FIRST-SERVED” or something along those lines.

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If this first one doesn’t work, you KNOW the second one will.  At least that’s how you can trick me into going places.

This is it gang!  This is the big crazy showdown to end a movie that is packed with big crazy showdowns!  BUCKLE THE FUCK UP Y’ALL! Ghidorah arrives first by hurricane and starts frantically trying to kill Madison/destroy the Orca.  GOOD THING CHA BOY ROLLS IN TO BREAK THAT SHIT UP RIGHT QUICK!

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DON! BUD! I love you but you there’s no WAY you could have thought I meant you.  AGAIN

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ROAST ‘EM!

Godzilla and Ghidorah duke it out, and so do Mothra and Rodan! As a fan, it is sad to see Rodan in Ghidorah’s thrall.  I prefer to think he was brainwashed by Ghidorah’s chatter, and not that he’s suddenly a submissive, opportunistic little wiener.  Considering that Dougherty has said Rodan’s his fave kaiju, I’m inclined to believe this is the case.  The fight is frantic and fun, with good gags galore!

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Ghidorah is NOT FUCKING AROUND

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BUT NEITHER IS USDA CERTIFIED BAD BITCH™ MOTHRA

Ghiddy gets G-money on the ropes, and with Rodan running defense Mothra can’t really help… SO MOTHRA STRAIGHT UP FUCKING STABS HIM.

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More actual footage of me in the theater.

Mothra is a nurturing, serene nature spirit, the peaceful, godlike embodiment of birth, death, and re-birth… who WILL ABSOLUTELY SHANK A MOTHERFUCKER WITHOUT HESITATION SO DO NOT TEST HER. But even Mothra can’t 1v1 Ghidorah–he obliterates her when she steps to him.

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I’d say this is one of the more evil Ghidorahs we’ve had in the series.  It helps that he’s not the mind-controlled slave of aliens or Futurians–he’s a shithead of his own accord!  His whole schtick of “brainwashing usurper” strikes me as particularly scummy.

But in classic Mothra fashion (and that one time Rodan did it!), death isn’t the end–her ashes and essence and glowy bits sparkle down onto Godzilla’s prone form meaningfully. Finding Madison has escaped the bunker, the full scope of the evil insanity of Emma’s plan finally dawns on her: she rushes to help MonMark and Godzilla in a last-ditch effort to cancel the apocalypse.  Emma and Mark track Madison to their old home and round her up along with the surviving Monarch commandos, flying them all to safety on an Osprey.  All except Emma, who hangs back with the Orca, using it to pull Ghidorah away from the Osprey and away from Godzilla.  Naturally, Ghidorah vaporizes her for her trouble… but it worked! MonMark gets the fuck outta there safely and Godzilla… well let’s just Godzilla is fully over Ghidorah’s horseshit!

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It’s Burning Godzilla.  IT’S BURNING GODZILLA! The atomic turbo charge from Serizawa coupled with the magic sacrificial soul-infusion from Mothra have overloaded Godzilla to a critical meltdown level.  The amount of loving winks, nods, and references to the franchise’s history are unbelievable in an awesome way.  ANYWAY, Godzilla’s gotta let off steam somehow, so he hammers Ghidorah with a bunch of nuclear pulses from his bod (another pull from the Heisei-era series of movies), rips off one of Ghiddy’s heads with his teeth, then nukes it from the neck stump, making it briefly look alive (and even creating the illusion that the dead head is spewing Godzilla’s signature atomic blast!) before burning it down to char-broiled dust.  PRETTY FUCKIN’ COOL.

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King of the Monsters continues the proud MonsterVerse tradition of ending the climactic kaiju battle with a gruesomely over-the-top, Mortal Kombat-esque finisher.  G ’14 had the Kiss of Death, Skull Island had the Gut-Ripper, and KOTM joins the bloodbath with G-fresh LITERALLY SMOKING GHIDORAH LIKE A GIANT DOOBIE.  It’s pretty great, though a part of me wishes they kept leaning into their Heisei influences and had G-money punch holes through him with the ol’ red spiral ray.  I’m excited (and frankly, a little nervous) to see what they cook up for Godzilla vs. Kong.

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??????????

With Ghidorah dead and Godzilla’s excess energy safely purged, the KING OF THE MONSTERS stands tall and proud over the wreckage of Boston.  The other Titans finally arrive and literally bow down to their new king.  Rodan pulls himself together and follows suit. It is fucking awesome.

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This is some of Christopher Shy’s stunning concept art, but you get the idea.

The surviving human characters muse about their future from the safety of their airships.  They’re grateful that the reigning King of the Monsters is a benign ruler, one that has chosen to fight alongside humanity instead of against it.  The film ends on an uncertain note, as they’re all too aware that said alliance might not last forever.

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But that’s only SORTA the end of the story!  The end credits mirror the (delightful) opening credits of G ’14, with Monarch files, news clippings, and heavily-redacted government documents splashed across the screen.  This time we see revelations about the discovery of a new Mothra egg, stirrings on Skull Island (including rumors of mech construction?!?!), and each Titan’s ambient radiation bringing global wildernesses back to life! It was also heartwarming to see veteran Godzilla suit actor Hauro Nakajima and Godzilla vs. Hedorah director (and MonsterVerse architect) Yoshimitsu Banno get posthumously thanked.  And THEN we get a bucknutty post-credits stinger where Jonah buys Kevin the intact Ghidorah head that was fished out of the Gulf of Mexico!

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Setting up Mecha King Ghidorah?  Possibly as the “true” villain of Godzilla vs. Kong?….

So THAT’S the movie!  That’s it!  It is… A LOT.  I didn’t mean this to be one of my longest reviews ever, but there’s just so much to unpack, so much to critique, so much to praise, and so much to bask in.  I actually skimmed over some stuff to keep this thing from being the fucking War and Peace of movie reviews.  But, speaking of basking, here are the other pieces of Christoper Shy’s concept art I’ve found:

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It’s all GORGEOUS.  It’s interesting to note the much more bird-like early concepts for Rodan… glad they didn’t go that route, but it’s neat to see their initial ideas and easy to see why they were considering it.  These epic, evocative visions are all faithfully recreated in the movie proper, which is incredible to behold.  KOTM smartly and effectively borrows heavily from Pacific Rim’s visual language when it comes to capturing the operatic grandeur and godlike scale of kaiju–lots of foreground elements continually reestablish their staggering size and our place among them, lots of environmental elements (smoke, fog, rain, snow, night) up the visual drama, make the monsters into elemental demigods and of course, re-reestablish their immensity.  SHIT WORKS!

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That delightful middle-ground between hypnotically beautiful and spine-tinglingly eerie.

Speaking of concept art, have you seen the KOTM artbook?  Of PARTICULAR note are the images that seemingly reveal that Anguirus, Kumonga, Gigan, and MOTHER-FUCKING GAMERA were all under consideration to show up!

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Kumonga and Gamera might be debatable, but that is CLEARLY Gigan.

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Sure, that could be a generic giant spider, but come on.  Kum on… ga.  The same could be said for the turtle monster there, but it definitely doesn’t look like Toho’s turtle kaiju Kamoebas.

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ANGY!!!!!!

As far as I know Legendary doesn’t have the rights to any Toho beasties beyond the big four in KOTM, but who knows? Maybe they were planning to ask for forgiveness instead of permission?  Maybe they looked into licensing these dudes but decided it wasn’t worth it?  That’s one thing I don’t have a Dougherty Tweet for… hopefully we’ll get some answers when KOTM hits home video…

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Madison’s apocalyptic mischief face is a reference to this, right?

The current worldwide gross box office for KOTM is just shy of 350 million buckaroons.  With a reported budget of 170 mill that puts the film squarely at “technically underperformed, but not actually doing bad.”  The critical reception was notably icier:

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Dig that audience score though!  Basically average film goers heard the critics and responded like this:

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We’re still guaranteed to get Godzilla vs. Kong next year (I mean, pending a castastrophic climate change disaster or nuclear war or something), but KOTM’s kinda eh performance really means the future of the MonsterVerse is weighing on GvK.

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No pressure or anything Adam Wingard!

But even if GvK means the end of the MonsterVerse, Toho has said they’re planning a series of shared-universe-style Godzilla movies–basically a MonsterVerse of their own.  Add to that the crazy 4D Shin Godzilla/Neon Genesis Evangelion ride/show that just opened in Universal Studios Japan, and this is a very exciting time for everybody’s favorite mutated radioactive dino-beast!

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Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a big spectacular love letter to the genre and to the Godzilla series specifically.  It’s made for fans, by a fan. It’s a sprawlingly ambitious sci-fi/fantasy/disaster/adventure that absolutely feels like it was scooped out of the 60s heyday of Godzilla films, given a 200 million dollar Hollyweird makeover and dropped into summer blockbuster season.  There’s a lot to love, but it does come with a couple problems: primarily some thin, clunky human drama.  Dougherty and Legendary overcome this by making Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah fleshed-out characters in their own right. Each one has a distinct personality, goals, character arcs… the monsters are the real stars here, and they deserve to be, it’s just a shame the humans can’t quite keep up.  This flub keeps KOTM from attaining classic status, but it does nothing to change the fact that this is the most stunning kaiju spectacle ever made.

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Hail to the king, baby!

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4 thoughts on “Don’t be a Godzilla: Ding-a-ling of the Monsters, Check out Godzilla: King of the Monsters!

  1. I only got to see this movie once but I got to say: I agree with you. This is easily my favorite godzilla movie, with final wars competing for top spot. Here’s my mini-review plus all the titans as well as their mythical origin
    https://www.deviantart.com/54godamora/journal/KOTM-New-Titans-800487296

    Favorite part: every time we see the monsters on-screen, especially the final battle.

    I can’t wait to get this thing in September. Why do I say September? because it usually takes 4 months for a movie to go from Big Screen to DVD

    Funny bits regarding my dad:
    1. He likes the 1998 Tristar mistake and makes dad jokes about Emmerich
    2. He says that Kong doesn’t have a chance since both Kong & Godzilla are in two different classes, in terms of power.

    also here’s an ask help thing for my story:
    https://www.deviantart.com/54godamora/journal/Help-with-Story-802912304

  2. None of those Toho monsters were considered. They were just placeholder monsters used by the concept artists before there were finalized designs.

  3. Real talk: does anyone of the male persuasion really want a “Kong: Skull Island” without Brie Larson?

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