This franchise has never been known for its human characters. It just isn’t something anyone has cared about beyond the men and women populating Ishiro Honda’s original 1954 film. When the 2014 reboot from Legendary came out it received some mixed reviews, most of the negativity revolved around Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s bland, eye-rolling, fill-in-the-blank military man and the fact that his father (Bryan Cranston) was far more interesting, but killed way too early.
This film doesn’t fix those problems. I want that on the table immediately, because we have three leads here and I just can’t get behind any of them. The small family, played by Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, and Millie Bobby Brown, are frustrating down to the core. At times they’re not awful, but they’re all trying to be in vastly different films. Kyle Chandler is acting so hard, sweating and grunting and growling at everyone. He’s at least 20% beyond where he needs to be, and even with all these things he somehow feels like he has no personality. Vera Farmiga is better but feels flat and wooden due to the way she tries to navigate her way through an iffy motivation from the script. Millie Bobby Brown gives a much better performance than either adult, but her plot armor seems ridiculous at several points and it’s hard to ignore the fact that she should have been killed, if not vaporized. Perhaps the most painful lost performances are those of Charles Dance and Ken Watanabe, who are both phenomenal actors that just don’t seem to care.
Brad Whitford and Thomas Middleditch, newcomers for this time around, are played for comic relief and your mileage with them will vary based on your tolerance for that kind of thing. I thought they were serviceable, never obnoxious, but I can definitely see how they would really annoy some people who just aren’t in the mood for it.
Okay, onto the good stuff.
This is a Kaiju film, and Legendary seemingly responds to the complaints from a few years back by adding more fights to the story. They look awesome, never think that I’m not appreciative of that, but at times they felt disjointed due to the seeming need to constantly cut back and show us what the family was up to. It takes away from some of the bombasts, but there are moments that make up for it.
And I adore the new designs of these larger-than-life characters. They’ve got personality woven into their imagery and their behavior, making for a more in-depth style of kaiju than we’ve had before. Rodan smirking, Mothra glaring, things like that bring a lot of life into these battles and into how humanity reacts to them. Ghidorah gets the most interesting treatment, as each of his three heads behaves differently and the center serves as the alpha. They can work in-sync or isolated, but when the sides stray too far from the goal the center will nip them till they’re back in line. It’s so strange to watch but it’s very satisfying to see that built into the character.
No one benefits like Godzilla. His cranky old man routine from Gareth Edwards’s 2014 film has been ramped up. He’s pissy, possessive of the Earth, and he’s really sick of everyone’s shit. His design has been revamped, with more back spikes and plates in order to more closely resemble his original character. He’s still a chunky boy, and I love that new aspect to the character. This is a beefy Godzilla that feels able to throw his weight around.
And his music has returned! I love Alexandre Desplat, and I consider his score to be one of the highlights of the 2014 film, but Bear McCreary has brought back some original themes from the Showa era and created a larger-than-life setlist that was an absolute blast to listen to. I think his cover of the Blue Oyster Cult song with Serj Tankian is regrettable, but it’s the one negative on the album for me.
Fraught with problems, beautiful to appreciate, and with enough hidden gems to please the most obsessive of fans, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a mixed bag that I enjoyed. I’m used to this franchise, and constantly have to step back and remember that others aren’t accustomed to this style. The Toho Studios films are cheesy, goofy, awkward, and early on obsessed with the nuclear power scare. This all returns in this film, with iffy human characters crossing over with giant monster fights and nuclear destruction (not to mention an obsession with godlike creatures), working like a charm to get down to basics that will draw fans in with grins on their faces, but push away the uninitiated. I had fun with it, but will readily admit that it’s going to be complicated for almost anyone else.