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Godzilla: King of the Monsters

**1/2

by Matt Anderson

published May 31, 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is better than the 2014 reboot of Japan's hugest export. But it's a mighty small step up for such a ginormous monster.

MCU: Monarch Cinematic Universe

It's a big summer movie. It's a big monster movie. And it's 2019, for Pete's sake. So, consider it a crime against cinema Godzilla: King of the Monsters was shot in Panavision without a single frame of full-screen IMAX glory. That makes this one a big missed opportunity. As it stands, Pacific Rim remains king of the modern kaiju movies.

The new monsters — or, at least, the three lead newbies — actually look great compared to Godzilla (better named Fatzilla given its terrible reimagining). Mothra works much better than expected. Rodan — while in a small role — looks like one bad mo... umm... monster. And there's King Ghidorah, the three-headed beast that's not of this earth. Each has a decent introduction. And each of them should've been in full-on IMAX splendor — with the soundtrack cranked up to 11. Seats should rumble. Eyes should pop.

As it is, King of the Monsters is a mixed bag of great ideas gone underdeveloped. There's a lot of action, but as is the problem with most CGI-laden extravaganzas, there's precious little excitement given all the CGI carries none of the sensation of real-world physics.

The movie's huge potential is undone by — perhaps not-so surprisingly — a weak human component. A dramatic family storyline involving a frayed marriage and a daughter caught in the middle simply doesn't carry the desired impact. A couple characters offer themselves as altruistic sacrificial lambs in order to save the planet, but there isn't a wet eye in the house. Avengers: Endgame earned those tears by creating characters worth caring about. Here, not so much.

So, this one's not a home run on par with Kong: Skull Island, but at least it's still a move forward in establishing a credible run for Warner Bros.' titan cinematic universe, something to offer lightweight competition to the remarkably impressive monster that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Clash of the Titans

For Warner's titan movies, the unifying component is a mega-corporation called Monarch, which has been studying the titans and creating safe-haven outposts around the world for more than 60 years.

War. Overpopulation. Pollution. As the story goes, humans are the world's infection and the titans are the antidote. At one point, the scare-mongering reaches a fever pitch when one scientist contends the entire planet will be destroyed within our lifetime.

The story's primary conceit — that, basically, Earth would be better off without humans — might appeal to some fringe elements in today's looney bin, but it's also fundamentally off key. It makes for click-bait headlines when politicians spout off about the demise of the human race, but it doesn't really make for a compelling movie. At least not here. Not in this context, where there simply is no good outcome. In a case like this, at least make the end of the world a fun visceral experience. After all, a movie like this — made on a grand scale — should be akin to an amusement park ride. But, sure, throw in the political and environmental elements as fodder for thought.

While the intriguing proposition is the radiation left in the wake of the titan's movements regenerates the earth and its natural resources, that's balanced out by whack-a-doodle eco-terrorists trafficking in titan DNA. This plot element opens the door to even more titans smashing down the skyscrapers built by Earth's infection. At this rate, though, there aren't going to be any buildings left to smash after only another sequel or two.

It's too bad more effort wasn't put into finding a truly fresh hook, something along the lines of Kong's Vietnam-era setting.

Instead, it's revealed there are 17 (possibly more) titans rising out of an extended hibernation with the intent of reclaiming their turf. In addition to the aforementioned nasties, there's a giant spider and a woolly mammoth. And somewhere out there is... Kong.

Coexist

King of the Monsters is one of those movies that's actually more fun to think about how it could've been better — and, really, it wouldn't have taken much to make this one a truly great summer fun house along the lines of the original Jurassic Park.

There are elements to like a lot and there's a lot to not like. In the thick of it all are some really cool elements. There's more digging into Eastern legends and lore, tying these fictional beasts into real art stylings and storytelling. This is one of the better elements, along with a visit to Atlantis that isn't given enough screen time before it's — unfortunately — blown to smithereens.

But it's all for a good cause: saving the human race from ecoterrorists and big meanies.

Among those ideas underdeveloped, is a great scene in which the three-headed Ghidorah stands atop a mountain on Isla de Mara. In the foreground, off to the right, is a cross. More imagery like that — crossing the terrain of fantasy, religion and thrill ride — could've set this one apart.

And, going back to that central, frayed nuclear family (pun intended), the daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown, Stranger Things on Netflix) is torn between Mom, Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga, The Conjuring), and Dad, Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler, Zero Dark Thirty). With Mom's nefarious plans finally revealed, Madison stares her down and says, "You're a monster!"

Maybe throw in a little more of that existential angst. What exactly defines a "monster," after all? Discuss and include it in the inevitable follow-up, which imagery during the end credits tease will likely be a confrontation between Godzilla and Kong.