Monster-splaining

Godzilla: King of the Monsters Has a Mark Problem


Computer-generated effects are finally so advanced that Godzilla movies can flesh out the giant radioactive lizard with an actual personality and spare us the typical human drama no one cares about. The great tragedy is that Godzilla movies are so expensive, no studio will ever risk actually sparing us human characters as an insurance policy, just in case we’re not totally on-board with the fake monster. You know, the fake monster we specifically paid to see and whose name sold the marketing…

“But, Mason, all Godzilla are like that.” Very true. There’s a certain formula: The first hour focuses on humans reacting to the appearance of some new giant monster. Then, Godzilla swoops in the final act to save the day with a big fight. Godzilla usually only appears in Godzilla movies for 20 minutes. It’s a time-tested formula, sure, but it holds the franchise back from the highest heights of giant monster goodness.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters promised something different. It’s technically a more-direct-than-expected sequel to the 2014 Godzilla that received loads of fan backlash for teasing the big guy too much with too little payoff. King of the Monsters almost breaks the fourth wall scrambling to make sure we know there’s going to be more giant monster fights this time around. When Godzilla appears in the first 90-seconds, it feels like the studio looking directly into the camera and asking, “Happy now, dorks?!” Well, yes! I was beyond excited. For the first 15 minutes…

King of the Monsters seemed to be the modern giant monster that would finally get it 100% absolutely right. After a brief prologue, the movie’s real opening scene breezes past introducing human characters so a bunch of scientists can hatch Mothra. “Godzilla and Mothra in the first 10 minutes?! This is it. Finally! The giant monster war I’ve waited my entire life to see,” I thought. Unfortunately, the movie keeps going.

Let’s make one thing absolutely clear: Any critic who complains there’s “too much” giant monster fighting in King of the Monsters is a filthy, soulless liar. There are 3 fights in the movie (yes, I counted), and the first 2 last maybe a couple of minutes. The “kingdom of monsters” barely appears in King of the Monsters, and not due to the franchise’s long tradition of slowly building up to the big Godzilla reveal. Nope, it’s just because this movie is a drunk mess trying to eat spaghetti without a fork. It’s a sequel to the gritty 2014 Godzilla, sure, but it borrows its weird sense of humor and tonal-spasms from its shared-universe counterpart Kong: Skull Island (2017), which ranked highly on my Worst Films of 2017 list. After the movie, I don’t really remember anything about the giant monsters except Rodan, the pterodactyl on steroids, who does a cool twirly jet-killing attack when he flies. That’s all we know about him.

King of the Monster focuses almost entirely on human drama, which sucks because the films human lead is one of the worst characters I’ve ever watched. Instead of just being a very straightforward movie about giant monsters doing what animals do and battling for dominance, King of the Monsters seems to think we need this whole backstory about Mark’s (Kyle Chandler) race to save his family from terrorists. The bad guys want his ex-wife’s super-sciency alarm clock to awaken hibernating “Titans,” which is what the movie calls giant monsters because Pacific Rim (2013) already took the name “Kaiju.” Although he’s just a wildlife photographer who isn’t even brought in for his expertise tracking predators—he’s just there—Mark mansplains to top generals and scientists everything they need to know about the Titans they’ve been studying for years.

Even something about the way Mark eventually picks up a gun and jumps into the action feels like he’s telling special forces troops, “Um, actually, this is how you save someone.” King of the Monsters presents itself as the giant monster brawl to end all giant monster brawls, but there’s a deadly serious problem when the only thing I’ll remember about the movie is some dude named, I want to say Mike? Marcus? Mike? It’s Mark. I’m pretty sure it’s Mark…

Grade = D-


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