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"GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS"
(2019) (Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: A number of scientists and others must contend with an eco-terrorist's plan to release gargantuan monsters around the globe in order to rebalance the natural order of the world.
PLOT:
Following the death of their son caused by the widespread damage that resulted from Godzilla battling other monsters a few years back in San Francisco, scientists Mark (KYLE CHANDLER) and Emma Russell (VERA FARMIGA) have split up, with their teenage daughter, Madison (MILLIE BOBBY BROWN), now living with their mother at a Monarch facility, one of many that continues to research monsters. Emma has continued to work on a device known as Orca that can communicate in a way with monsters via operating on a frequency they understand, and that's put to use when Mothra emerges from her cocoon as a giant worm.

But then eco-terrorist Alan Jonah (CHARLES DANCE) shows up with armed men who kill nearly everyone at the facility, steal the Orca, and kidnap both Emma and Madison. Believing humans are destroying the world, Jonah wants to unleash all of the world's dormant monsters and let them rebalance the natural order of the world -- all of which means millions if not billions of people might die.

That doesn't sit well with Monarch officials such as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (KEN WATANABE), Vivienne Graham (SALLY HAWKINS), Rick Stanton (BRADLEY WHITFORD) and Sam Coleman (THOMAS MIDDLEDITCH) who think that Mark might be able to help stop Jonah, what with more than a working knowledge of the Orca device, having devised and developed that with Emma in the past. Mark is willing to help, but only if military types such as Col. Diane Foster (AISHA HINDS), Chief Warrant Officer Barnes (O'SHEA JACKSON JR.) and others of service kill all of the monsters, including Godzilla, something Dr. Serizawa is wholeheartedly against.

But with the likes of Mothra, Rodan and especially the three-headed Ghidorah now on the loose, they come to realize that all of humankind is now in danger and their only hope might be Godzilla, the king of all monsters.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
It's always interesting to watch certain entertainment properties as they segue through different tones. Take, for instance, "Lost in Space." When it first debuted back in the 1960s in stark black and white, it was a serious sci-fi spin on the old Swiss Family Robinson tale.

And then for reasons of which I'm unsure and, frankly, too lazy to look up, the tonal approach took a near one-eighty turn and the series became near straight-up camp, in pastel colors that just made it all look, well, even campier than it already was. But when it was updated first for the big screen back in the "Titanic" days and then more recently on Netflix, it became more serious again.

The same could be said about "Godzilla." When it was first released in Japan (and later in America with the Raymond Burr scenes edited in), it was a black and white cautionary tale of the dangers of nuclear radiation and the "monster" that could figuratively (and in terms of the tale, literally) make.

But for reasons also unclear to me, the fine folks at Toho Studios decided to turn the franchise likewise into camp with the addition of color only further pointing out the goofiness of the guy in the rubber suit wreaking havoc on a small-scale replica of Tokyo, with the title character certainly camping it up with goofy mannerisms and such (all of which I loved as a kid). But when the mega lizard got the Hollywood treatment, most of the camp went out the window, first with Roland Emmerich's 1998 remake and then Gareth Edwards' 2014 version.

Well, dear readers, now that we have the sequel to that latter film and a slew of favorite old Toho monsters showing up to do battle with our title guy, I can say that some camp is what's desperately needed in "Godzilla: King of the Monsters."

Plus more monster fighting and less human drama, tighter storytelling, better editing and the culling of any number of mostly superfluous characters that don't really do anything for the film beyond making you think along the lines of "Hey, that's David Strathairn and there's Sally Hawkins, and why aren't they in the film more than they are?"

Speaking of culling, the film -- written and directed by Michael Dougherty (with Zach Shields as the co-writer) who takes over from Edwards from the last film -- does offer what would have been a fascinating, antagonistic goal had "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame" not already beaten this film to the thematic punch. And that's a villain (Charles Dance) who sees overpopulation, the drain on resources and humans generally destroying the planet as the great scourge of our time. Accordingly, he believes reducing the herd, so to speak, is the only solution.

But unlike Thanos in those "Avengers" flicks, he's not interested in Infinity Stones and the snap of the Gauntlet glove to do the trick. Instead, the former military man turned eco-terrorist (who ends up getting a surprise partner in crime with a similar mindset and intent) is interested in a different sort of power, namely that of the gargantuan monster variety. Yet, despite those similarities, what felt profound in those Marvel flicks feels like a "B" movie storyline ploy here, complete with a two-dimensional villain.

Connected to that is a subplot featuring Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga as a former married couple and scientists who've since split up following their son's death at the end of the 2014 film, with Mark turning to booze to cope and Emma opting to continue their research in creating a device -- known as the Orca -- that can communicate in a rough fashion with the beasts.

Emma and her daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown from Netflix's "Stranger Things"), end up kidnapped by the villain, prompting Mark to be reunited with his old team, but unlike them he wants all of the monsters killed. That doesn't sit well with the lead scientist played by Ken Watanabe (one of the few holdovers from the previous flick) whose kumbaya approach only serves as an invite for one snarky comment after another from Bradley Whitford's "we're really screwed" character.

Others, such as Aisha Hinds' military officer and O'Shea Jackson Jr. as one of her soldiers on the front line, if you will, barely register in their thinly sketched and barely explored characters, while we already know those played by Strathairn and Hawkins are likewise minimally used. They certainly feel like minor characters in disaster films of old, which I guess is somewhat appropriate for the main gist of the flick -- huge monsters battling each other, damaging cities and such and making one wonder what exactly they eat to satiate what must be one heck of an appetite stemming from one heck of a stomach, considering their enormous size.

For the most part, I enjoyed the monster on monster mayhem that's clearly more interesting and engaging than the human drama story elements. But, at least in my opinion and track record of being a big Godzilla fan in my youth, the flick could have used a heaping spoonful or two of silliness or outright camp to make things more entertaining.

Okay in the monster battle moments but fairly dull and boring when any humans take over the screen time, "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" sets the stage for more big fella battles next year when a certain Mr. Kong will enter the ring, but isn't fun enough to earn a rating higher than 4.5 out of 10.




Reviewed May 22, 2019 / Posted May 31, 2019


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