The first Godzilla (that is, of Warner Bros.’ new Monster-Verse) was either a failure or success dependent on who you ask and on your definition for both terms. Critically, Godzilla received mixed-to-positive reviews from critics and a more lukewarm reaction from moviegoers. In-terms of box-office, Godzilla was an expensive investment. I talked about this in an earlier review for Kong: Skull Island, but monster movies are costly investments and both Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla either barely managed to break-even in theaters or did so early on the home-market. If you’re Warner Bros., however, you’re likely thinking about merchandise sales and franchise potential, as well, however. I’d call the 2014 film a middle-ground. Personally, I thought the film was an average 5.0 out of 10.0 when I wrote about it half-a-decade ago (half a decade!? Jesus…). The best quotes I can bring over from that review were to say I was certainly “whelmed” by the movie and how often I only wanted for the film to end. It might have been harsh, but it was an honest accounting of how I felt when I left the theater.
Similar to Godzilla (which was directed by a low-profile director I was interested in), Godzilla: King of the Monsters is directed by someone I’ve admired since his directorial debut with the 2007 film Trick ‘r Treat. I was excited about Michael Dougherty’s involvement in the film and although the prospect of Gareth Edwards directing the first Godzilla once enticed me, I was enticed by the idea Dougherty could be the antithesis of what Edwards brought to the series. Whereas Edwards opted for a more serious and grounded affair, I hoped the Krampus director would bring the playful charm that made me a fan of his from the start.
Everything I’ve said about box-office reception in Kong: Skull Island really comes to a head with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and although I hope they’re far-along enough in production that Godzilla vs. Kong is locked in, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this film canceled at the last second. This is because Godzilla: King of the Monsters had a very rough time at the box-office. The film managed to cross 110 million domestically, which is barely more than half what the 2014 film attained, especially when you account for inflation. The foreign market carried it the best it could, grossing nearly 300 million, with nearly half the profit coming from China (the second biggest market in the world, but the worst in-terms of how it decides how much profit belongs to the studio). Although it’s an estimation, it appears Godzilla: King of the Monsters not only failed to recoup its 200 million production budget but not even begun paying off a marketing budget you’d expect to be around 100 million by itself. There’s other variables to consider like synergy, home video sales and merchandise sales, but the cost greatly outdoes the reward. Part of me wants to shrug my shoulders and say, while this film bombed, people will show up in droves for Godzilla vs. Kong, but this should no doubt be cause for enormous concern for Warner Bros., who likely had the same train of thought before Justice League was released.
The film is set five years after the last Godzilla and now, giant creatures or “Titans” have been made known to the world at large. Since then, scientist Dr. Emma Russel among others, have begun seeking out and studying the Titans, figuring out what makes them tick and how to combat or survive them. One of the conclusions they’ve made is that their awakening them could restore natural order and benefit the overall preservation of human-life. Godzilla: King of the Monsters sees the mighty beast faced against Mothra, Rodan, and his greatest foe – the three-headed King Ghidorah.
In recent years, I’ve had time to reflect on the Godzilla (2014) film and contemplate why I didn’t enjoy the film as much as I would have liked. Although, I can concur with my former self that it didn’t check all the boxes off in-terms of hard-hitting action, I think a lot of it has to do with its character and the story-line itself. It isn’t only that Godzilla spent a lot of time with its human-characters, but that I wasn’t invested in what the human-characters had to offer. Bryan Cranston grabbed my attention at first with his emotional plight, but his early demise left our cast with a dynamic I wasn’t able to get behind. This is an issue that sustains itself in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The only difference is, unlike that film, which started with initial intrigue that flat-lined, the characters and their relationships feel dead-on-arrival.
This isn’t to say that everyone’s awful in it. The cast is talented and do their best with the themes they’re given. Vera Farmiga’s character tries to rationalize a skewed perspective that unleashing monstrous creatures around the world can usher in a new, better world. Kyle Chandler offers a contrast, plagued with a deep-rooted disdain for Godzilla for all the destruction he has brought. Millie Bobby Brown’s job is to react scared and emotional about everything’s that happening and Ken Watanabe is meant to offer an insight and bond with the large lizard creature. All of these things never gel in a way beyond a surface level competence, a wraparound to make sense of why the creatures are battling each other.
On the bright side, however, where King of the Monsters succeeds is in its dazzling, epic-scale special-effects and action-sequences. Every second the Titans are on the screen is a mind-numbing treat, bolstering the best-looking visuals for a film like this I’ve ever seen. The film is also smart enough not to skimp out either, offering an exercise in mayhem and calamity on a truly impressive scale. There’s enough beautiful shots to safely say this is Godzilla’s best foray in an American adaptation.
This isn’t enough to bring Godzilla: King of the Monsters together for a truly memorable film altogether though. It all depends on what you want out of such a film. Some people might accept Godzilla: King of the Monsters as a roaring success for the spectacle alone, chalking up its shortcomings to what they believe should be expected from a Godzilla film. Personally, I was satisfied with the film, but I can’t share the sentiment. I still await a Godzilla film with meaningful characters that have dialogue and situations that don’t feel like a chore running in-between my monster film. Not only would it be better for the overall film, but it’d make every battle mean more if they had actual stakes and conflict.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a small improvement on the disappointing Godzilla (2014) film, but it doesn’t reinvent the wheel and feels more like a natural progression from that film’s mistakes, not a course change or solution.
Rating: – Subpar (2.0/5.0)