Hey everybody, time for another one of Bill And Dan’s Excellent Reviews, where Bill Sheehy and I tag team a movie review. This time we are going to be reviewing Godzilla: King Of The Monsters. As always you can figure out who is writing what by whether or not the text is bold and also by our initials. DD = Daniel Dunston. BS = Bill Sheehy. Now let’s get going.
DD: Before we get into the review proper, I think it is important to give some context about each of our connections to Godzilla as a character and as a film franchise. We should establish that early on to call out any biases we might have towards the big guy. Personally, I love Godzilla. I have fond memories of coming home from church on Sundays, eating lunch, then sitting down with my dad in front of the TV as he put on a VHS tape of a Godzilla movie. We settled in for an afternoon of watching people in rubber monster costumes punching each other. It sounds silly, but there was a charm to those old movies. The plots were goofy and the special effects were practically nonexistent, but usually, everyone working on the movies seemed to be having fun. I have probably seen every Godzilla movie multiple times, even the spinoffs about Mothra and Rodan. I remember hearing the Jet Jaguar song and watching Godzilla’s son grow up to become the new King of Monsters. I have played multiple Godzilla video games and read many a comic book series about the creatures of Monster Island. I saw the 1998 Godzilla and 2014 Godzilla film in theaters multiple times. Basically, I am a huge fan.
BS: My connection to Godzilla isn’t nearly as strong as Daniel’s, and I think it would be a stretch to call myself a fan of the series. Hell, I don’t even think “casual observer” is a good title either. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against the movies at all: quite the opposite. I know a lot of people who love Godzilla, Daniel included, and I can respect their love for the franchise. Ive just never really connected with it. Honestly, the only Godzilla movie I saw all the way through was the God-awful Roland Emmerich one from 1998 and I only saw half of the 2014 Gareth Edwards film, and that was only after he did a Star Wars movie. I knew who and what Godzilla was and nothing beyond that, but King of Monsters really intrigued me. The trailers all looked really good, and the last one before the film came out really piqued my interest with probably the best use of “Over The Rainbow” since The Wizard of Oz. It looked cool, with big ugly monsters punching each other. Unlike in the 2014 Godzilla, it looked like Ken Watanabe would get his wish and we’d finally be able to “let them fight.” They certainly do in the film. With both of us giving that background, what’s clear is that while we both have different perspectives, we both really struggled to like this movie and are both really disappointed in the overall package.
DD: I went into the theater wanting to love this. I actually enjoyed parts of the 2014 Godzilla and thought that if they gave more time to the monsters and less time to the boring humans (or if they made the human characters more interesting) then it would have been a lot of fun. I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare, but at least an enjoyable monster-fighting-monster movie. If only they had learned from 2014. They expanded the size of the human cast but barely have enough combined characterization for two of them. Ken Watanabe returns as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, the only really notable character brought over from the first movie and, honestly, the only really notable character in this one. His previous connection to Godzilla helps flesh out a pretty standard scientist-type character. A lot of the other actors try to shine through as well, especially Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, and Vera Farmiga, but there is pretty much no point to them. Other actors like Bradley Whitford and Thomas Middleditch try to bring fun and life to the film but it takes itself so seriously they are more distractions than characters who are part of the world. That is arguably my biggest flaw with the movie: It takes itself so seriously that it strips the charm from the very concept that has been perfected over the past 60 years of Godzilla movies.
BS: For as many characters there are in the movie, the only really believable or interesting one throughout the whole film is Godzilla, which is really disappointing for a couple of reasons. First, that really is an impressive cast when you break it down, with actors who I know can do a lot better. I’m more inclined to think that it’s 100% a writing problem but man, just about every single actor, with the exception of Watanabe, is wasted. There’s just nothing particularly compelling or interesting about these characters either, and they often make decisions that lack any kind of reasoning and are just plain stupid. Granted, I wasn’t expecting Oscar-worthy performances, but when you make me dislike the acting of Millie Bobby Brown and Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler), you know you’ve done something very, very wrong.
DD: The monsters have the most personality of any of the characters in the movie, which is why it’s a shame they don’t get much in the way of screentime. The movie actually makes Ghidorah incredibly formidable and intimidating, and he is a much better villain than Charles Dance. The other monsters each get at least one cool scene that tends to highlight why they are cool, but overall the movie strangely doesn’t seem that interested in them. They really only ever show up to fight and then mysteriously disappear for no reason other than the plot needs them to drag this out for a full 2 hours. When they are allowed to fight on screen without constant cutaways to less interesting (human) characters, it actually can look really good. At least, it can when the cinematography allows it. Often the editing and cinematography work together to create a chaotic scene that is hard to follow and I am sure is an artistic choice. I am reminded of something I have said with other movies in the past, even if bad filmmaking is an artistic choice, it is still bad filmmaking. They took time and effort to make realistic and terrifying monsters but are scared to let you look at them for too long. This movie should have been a love letter to the old-school grandfather of all monster films and instead, it just became a mess. It feels like the movie they had to get out of the way so they could make Godzilla Vs. Kong, which is hitting theaters next year. They certainly wanted to make sure you knew that King Kong was in their universe. The movie barely shuts up about him.
BS: Now Daniel, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but did you know that Kong is another monster and that he’s going to fight Godzilla next year in Godzilla Vs Kong, because the makers of this film want you to know that. Now I don’t mind subtle nods to future movies. Marvel has been doing that for over a decade, but dear God it felt like anytime they could stick a reference in, even if it didn’t make sense, they would do it. It’s so bad that if you played a drinking game where you took a shot every time a character said “Kong” or “Skull Island” you might find yourself stealing Alex Legion’s girlfriend or naked in the pool at the Merrick Inn. They beat you over the head with it and honestly, it makes me not want to see Godzilla and Kong duke it out next year. While we’re on that topic, how in the world is Kong even a match for Godzilla? Especially with how this movie ends and how much bigger he is than Kong. Kong has certainly grown since the last time we saw him on Skull Island (Take a shot – I said Kong and Skull Island in the same sentence!) but it still doesn’t feel like a fair fight. In short, find more subtle ways to nod to the future. These references never feel earned; they feel given.
DD: The movie isn’t clueless about how to stealthily insert easter eggs though, and I will give them credit for it. There are a lot of little moments that brought back my Godzilla nostalgia. There is a nice easter egg nodding to some important characters in Mothra’s movie history. The music especially shines in the dull film surrounding it. Pretty much all the music comes from the monsters’ original themes from the Japanese films, slightly modernized, but not so much as to make them unrecognizable. It’s a nice throwback to the old-school movies but also only highlights what this one does wrong. If they wanted to make a movie about humans trying to figure out how to survive in a world with these titans, they should have made the characters more well-rounded and given them clear goals and ways of thinking. Countless Godzilla media have managed to pull that off, from comics like Godzilla: The Half-Century War and Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters to other movies like Shin Godzilla and the original 1954 Gojira. If they wanted to make a fun monster melee movie, then they should have focused it on the monsters and had the human characters and plot, for the most part, stay out of the action. Trying to do both just left the movie a failure on both fronts. The plot feels like nothing more than a series of coincidences and contrivances that ultimately go nowhere. The villains’ plan is just plain stupid and the heroes mostly luck their way into their successes. Nothing is earned. No one develops as characters. Things just happen for 2 hours and then credits roll. The movie feels like any other generic action set-piece-based movie, which is shameful for one of the most recognized creatures in cinema history.
BS: I generally go into a movie with an open mind, and I usually lean towards wanting to like a film. I find myself being more lenient if I find some type of enjoyment in the movie, and usually let plot holes and annoyances go. Unfortunately, I’m really trying to find something that I genuinely enjoyed about the film. Gun to my head, the fights that we see are legitimately fun and entertaining, with a couple of stand-out moments at the end, but on the whole, the movie is just boring and not the fun monster-punching movie I was expecting. They gave me something that gives me little incentive to want to continue with the franchise, which is a real shame. There are definitely some cool ideas here, but the film is just so poorly done. Unfortunately, I don’t think they should . . . let them fight . . . again.