GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS. Starring: Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, and Charles Dance. Also, Kyle Chandler, and Bradley Whitford. Directed by Michael Dougherty. Rated M (Science fiction themes, violence and coarse language). 132 min.
This American, sci-fi fantasy tells of the efforts of a crypto-zoological agency, called “Monarch,” to cope with the havoc created by an army of huge-size monsters on the loose, which includes Godzilla. Michael Dougherty, a known director of horror movies, directs the film. The film is a sequel to the 2014 movie, “Godzilla” and is a follow-up to “Kong: Skull Island” (2017). Historically, it is related to the 1956 Japanese-directed movie, “Godzilla, King of the Monsters” where Godzilla devastated the city of Tokyo. Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe reprise earlier roles as Monarch scientists, and all the monsters in the film are Titans, the original inhabitants of Earth.
Most of the story has Godzilla creating havoc and fighting giant monsters, and this supplies the main action elements of the film. Godzilla does battle in the movie with ancient super-species, Mothra, Rodan, and Ghidorah - the last being Godzilla’s most competitive challenge. Ghidorah has three heads. Ghidorah gets to be in control, until Godzilla takes him on.
Cinema-goers live in an age of enormous computer sophistication, and they are regular recipients of amazing visual effects. This film is part of the Godzilla franchise and the series has evolved into sci-fi cinema that has a highly sophisticated computer team behind it. Titan monsters are bigger, uglier, and more attention-getting, and as a result supply more exciting visual effects and look very aggressive. Godzilla is better simply by looking taller, bigger and more lethal than other monsters - until Ghidorah comes along. If Godzilla had to have an opponent that is another monster, then a film had to give him something Godzilla doesn’t have, which in this movie turns out to be three heads. The entertainment value of this movie is to provide scenarios where animals reap havoc in amazing ways, and having three heads seems well suited to the film’s chief purpose in that respect.
What normally differentiates Godzilla fantasies from other kinds of sci-fi fantasises - produced, for example, by Marvel Studios - is the presence of a human, or a human-like person to “humanise” aggression, or devotion. This movie lacks a human villain or a human person to inspire either, but the film does predictably demonstrate highly impressive computer-generated, action effects.
A film like this one needed humans relating to monsters in much more emotional ways. There is some attempt involving a child (Millie Bobby Brown) and her scientist mother (Vera Farmiga), but not a lot. In 1933, King Kong had Faye Wray to fall in love with, and Peter Jackson gave Naomi Watts to King Kong in 2005 for him to protect. Humanity was preserved in both these movies to facilitate character-identification. Here, the members of “Monarch” face monsters, like Godzilla and Ghidorah, but there is a lack of human villains or heroes to highlight the way. As a result, the movie blurs the distinction between negative and positive character-identity, and we are left with humans saving themselves, with a lot of help from Godzilla.
Partial villainy is supplied by Charles Dance, who plays a MI-6 agent, turned anarchist, and who wants to use Titan DNA to “level the global playing field”. His character has conflicting ideas about the Titans’ role in the world. He thinks that mankind has damaged the planet, so he wants to bring the Titans back to set things right. The film uses the technology of motion-capture to project the character of Godzilla and the other monsters and this guarantees that the movie’s major impact stays with monsters, looking like (but not) being human. Three different actors were used to play Ghidorah’s three heads. Attempts were made to make Godzilla a more empathic figure, but fighting a three-headed monster makes empathy a hard emotion to extract.
For sci-fi grand fantasy, this film is very impressive, but the balance between human-kindness and monster-nastiness is noticeably skewed in the direction of animal-nastiness. In this film, Humans pretty much watch on, while Animals get nasty, and the final credits tell us more of that will come.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released May 23rd., 2019