There are few things I love more than fictional monsters. As someone whose earliest childhood obsession was Digimon, I’ve since grown to appreciate all manner of other examples from Monster Rancher to kaiju films. As such, I’m always excited for any new film starring the best kaiju of all: Godzilla. The trailers for the appropriately named Godzilla: King of the Monsters have promised large-scale action featuring countless iconic beasts, and if well-done the film should be one of the most exciting action flicks of the year. So, is this the king of all monster movies?
Let’s start out by discussing the big bad monsters (referred to in the film as “Titans”) themselves: they are awesome. Each of the four main kaiju (Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and Ghidorah) have distinct personalities and mannerisms; these aren’t interchangeable beasts in the least. The human characters talk about some Titans being benevolent while others pose a threat to mankind, and it really shows in the creatures’ facial expressions, actions, and even voice acting (if that’s the term you want to use for their inhuman growls, hums, and snarls). The designs here are also fantastic, both hitting home enough classic elements to be instantly recognizable while still feeling impressively detailed and modern. Mothra in particular radiates pure beauty, while Godzilla himself is the thicc, terrifying yet heroic figure audiences love. The scale of the kaiju and the way they get framed within shots throughout make it clear just how godlike they are; even the “good guys” are intimidating as all get-out. There’s not a dorky rubber suit in sight.
There’s also some nice political and philosophical ground covered here, as the government agency Monarch faces off against terrorists who aim to wake hibernating Titans in the hope that they will help restore some semblance of hope for the polluted, war-torn Earth. Questions arise regarding different life forms’ rights to live, as well as where the line lies between justified sacrifice and monstrous forsaking of humanity. Humans’ relationships with kaiju are further addressed in new lore about the Titans’ ancient pasts on Earth, as what were once viewed as impossible beasts are recontextualized as important preservers of the natural order. Sure, some of the worldbuilding gets rushed and thrown in clumsily, and the movie could have done more with its philosophical themes. Nonetheless, there are some cool ideas presented alongside the big monster fights.
Unfortunately, the more the writing focuses on humans’ bonds with each other as opposed to Titans, the more it falters. There’s an intra-familial conflict at the heart of the movie, and boy is it boring. Two parents with drastically different views about how to handle kaiju threats end up on opposite sides of a war, but both of them share the same main concern in the end: their daughter’s safety. The father, played by Kyle Chandler, is a laughably generic pessimist whose gruffest lines border on unintentional self-parody. Vera Farmiga plays the extremely talented scientist mother, and while her performance is believable enough it’s saddled by the character’s limited, predictable arc. Most of the supporting cast is more enjoyable to watch, with Aisha Hinds, Bradley Whitford, and Ken Watanabe as the main highlights. Even in their cases, however, it’s worth noting that many of the film’s attempts at humor fall flat.
Weak though some of the human elements are, there’s a lot to be said for the movie technically speaking. The sound is strong throughout, with Bear McCreary’s score’s most exciting moments being excellent uses of updated takes on Godzilla and Mothra’s classic theme music. This is also a very well-shot film, with a number of “oh s--t” moments that really amp up the terror and majesty of its iconic monsters. Watching Ghidorah’s heads shift in and out of smoky hazes never gets old, and neither do close-up shots on Godzilla’s fierce eyes. There are a number of striking action sequences that I don’t want to describe in detail, because they’re best left experienced for oneself. I’ll simply say that the movie actively plays with viewers’ expectations in fight scenes, just to give them something even cooler than what they thought they wanted.
All in all, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a highly enjoyable action thriller that’s likely to be one of this summer’s most fun features. The score and cinematography both impress, the titular monsters are intimidating and have distinct personalities, and classic elements from the various characters’ franchises are incorporated even as the fill lays the ground work for this new universe’s lore and future installments. The human dramas here can be quite bland and there are times when the characters just cough up bits of worldbuilding randomly instead of having them integrated effectively, but neither of these cons is major enough to disrupt the truth: that this is the best American-made Godzilla flick, and a just plain good time.