Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) Review

For the record, I did enjoy Gareth Edwards’ better-than-average 2014 reboot of Godzilla, which manages to erase my painful memory of enduring Roland Emmerich’s campy 1998 version.

The biggest drawback, however, is the lack of the iconic kaiju monster’s appearance itself. Something that also happens to bother most of the fans and audiences back then. Michael Dougherty, replacing original helmer Gareth Edwards, knows it and successfully addressed the problem by giving Godzilla itself more screentime. Besides, isn’t that the whole point of watching a Godzilla movie on the big screen? The trailer sure looks promising, as we get to see not only more Godzilla in action but also introducing other iconic kaiju monsters including Mothra, King Ghidorah and Rodan.

But before we go to that, let’s talk about the plot. Co-written by Dougherty himself alongside Zach Shields, the story basically sees the return of the mighty Godzilla and faces off against other monsters led by the three-headed dragon beast known as King Ghidorah.

In the midst of the titanic battle lies the estranged Russell family (Kyle Chandler’s Mark, Vera Farmiga’s Emma and Millie Bobby Brown’s Madison), whose son Andrew was tragically killed during the Godzilla rampage back in 2014. Sadly, the human story is the weakest part of this sequel, where everything is as clich├ęd as it gets. And that’s not the only problem. What bothers me the most is how unbelievably absurd Emma’s motivation turns out to be. Let’s just say it has something to do with restoring the balance similar to Godzilla’s existence in the first place.

Clocking at 131 minutes, the sequel has a more pacey rhythm if to compare with Gareth Edwards’ 2014 reboot. But at the same time, it tends to wobble every now and then, with again, the poorly-executed human story being the frequent hindrance. Cast-wise, Kyle Chandler does a fine job playing a guilt-stricken dad trying to make things right while Ken Watanabe delivers adequate support reprising his role as Dr Ishiro Serizawa. Bradley Whitford, on the other hand, has a field day getting all the worthy comic relief moments as Dr Rick Stanton.

Not so for the otherwise capable Vera Farmiga, whose aforementioned performance is almost a turn-off. The same also goes to Millie Bobby Brown, who spends most of the time either feeling agitated, shouting or crying. I enjoyed her acting in TV’s Stranger Things and it’s a pity that Millie Bobby Brown’s would-be breakthrough performance in her feature-length debut ends up with a whimper. She certainly deserved better than relegating into such a role here.

That leaves us the main point of watching this sequel: lots of monster smackdown. No doubt that Dougherty delivers them in spade and making use of the gigantic US$200 million budget to pull off the effects-laden action sequences. The creature design along with the overall special effects are visually breathtaking. Kudos also go to Bear McCreary’s thundering score along with the astounding sound design, which is particularly vital for a monster movie like Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

As epic and grand as Dougherty tries to put on the big screen, the feeling is somewhat muted rather than getting a goosebump watching Godzilla battling against the monsters. This is largely due to Dougherty’s creative decision to shoot almost all of the monster action sequences in either dark or dimly-lit environments. If that’s not enough, Lawrence Sher’s drab cinematography is mostly murky, making it even difficult to appreciate the large scale of the set pieces during the monsters’ battle against each other. The cinematography alone almost reminds me of watching the ill-fated Solo: A Star Wars Story last year. It makes me wonder as if the otherwise large US$200 million still isn’t enough to make the action set pieces more visible and crisply put together and has to result in hiding the technical flaw with darkness or anything obscure. Perhaps Dougherty should learn a thing or two on how to stage cinematic action seen in 2016’s Shin Godzilla. So much for my highly-anticipated IMAX experience.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters has all the making of a memorable popcorn blockbuster but to me, it lacks a distinctive wow factor that preventing the sequel for reaching the standard. Now, I can only hope Adam Wingard able to do a better job in next year’s Godzilla vs. Kong. By the way, remember not to leave your seat yet once the credits start rolling and stay tuned for a post-credit scene. And speaking of credit scene, keep an eye on the cast list.

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