Though 1954’s Gojira wasn’t the first giant monster movie in existence, it did pioneer the usage of man-in-a-suit effects, which saw the eponymous creature wreaking havoc on miniature sets of […]
Though 1954’s Gojira wasn’t the first giant monster movie in existence, it did pioneer the usage of man-in-a-suit effects, which saw the eponymous creature wreaking havoc on miniature sets of cities and other landscapes. It lent the action a very tangible, physical feel and even though the movies gradually became sillier and overtly lighthearted in tone, the original Gojira (westernised, of course, as Godzilla) was a sombre film, unafraid to show the devastation that a giant, uncontrollable force of nature wreaks upon Japan. The damage and scars inflicted upon the entire nation after the bombing of Hiroshima looms large in the obvious subtext of the 1954 film, which was released just nine years after the atomic bomb was dropped.
Though the special effect techniques have evolved and the subtext has changed – with a more ecological theme, a restoration of the ‘balance of nature’ cited several times – the darker tone seems to have continued in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a sequel to the similarly sombre 2014 US reboot of the kaiju franchise (titled simply ‘Godzilla’).
It’s not just the tone that’s dark; it feels as if the entire film takes place at night, in the rain, evoking unflattering, though perhaps unfair, comparisons with an earlier attempt to transplant the monster to the West – the 1998 Godzilla movie by Roland Emmerich.
In King of the Monsters, however, we have a much larger cast of Kaiju to be introduced to. It’s cool, initially, to see them waking up one by one (with the aid of a device that tunes in to their speech patterns), but it can’t help but start to feel repetitive after the first few. The human side of the story isn’t particularly compelling either, unfortunately, with a family drama at the centre of proceedings that just isn’t particularly gripping or well handled – despite a few unforeseen twists to the situation we’re initially presented with. The ‘eco-terrorist’ situation – with Charles Dance at the head of an organisation committed to waking the kaiju (or ‘Titans’ as they’re referred to here) – doesn’t make a great deal of sense under any sort of scrutiny and the Monarch organisation travelling the world in a SHIELD helicarrier style vehicle (with staff handily being able to transfer into submarines and other forms of transportation at a moment’s notice) also seems a bit on the convenient side, with even the scenes taking place aboard their giant plane being just endless shots of dark corridors and rooms, faces lit only by the glow of screens. A late stage voyage to what appears to be Atlantis (though it isn’t referred to by name) gives a welcome glow of colour but appears at a point in the plot that feels incredibly dragged out and near enough pointless.
Let’s face it though, no one turns up to a monster mash like this expecting anything other than massive monsters satisfyingly smashing each other to pieces and for the most part, despite the murky and dark cinematography, it doesn’t disappoint in that respect. There’s some hilariously OTT action in the scenes of monster carnage – with the monsters themselves being nicely designed and represented well in CGI, with the effects work being particularly impressive – and it’s here that the film excels, with a final fight that would be way more satisfying if you didn’t have to wait nearly two and a half hours to get there.
I was a lot more entertained by the less serious, more self-aware Kong: Skull Island – and King of the Monsters does at least set up what promises to be a titanic (oof) clash between the two beasts. The Godzilla vs Kong trailer does look like it’s striking a more light-hearted, less grimdark tone too – leaning into the fun aspect of two titans smacking seven shades of shit out of each other. Here’s hoping they do start to lighten up and have a bit more of a laugh, because the ‘realistic’ approach the Monsterverse has taken so far – Kong aside – just feels dull and fairly lifeless to me (I did have some sympathy for at least one of the Titans, however – and I’m sad they won’t be coming back). Though the original Gojira proved that the approach could work, it at least had the more serious, compelling subtext to keep it interesting. Godzilla: King of the Monsters strives so hard to be the Avengers of monster movies, but unfortunately ends up as the Justice League.
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