(Spoilers a-plenty in here, if that matters in a vaguely plotted stomp-a-rama.)
There are three essential things you need to keep in mind when considering “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” as a movie worth viewing.
First, it’s an eco-parable. Sure, it’s literally top-heavy AF; yeah, it’s completely ridiculous; absolutely, you shouldn’t expect actual analysis or really chewable thought-points. Nevertheless, it’s an eco-parable, and there certainly is something to the metaphor of Nature as a collection of giant, out-of-control monsters that stomp entire cities flat. Nature pretty much does that already with volcanoes and earthquakes and such, not to mention drought, plague, floods and fire, so just fucking go with it.
Second, it’s a giant-monster movie. You are not going to go see this movie unless you are already down with the concept. Now, there are bad giant-monster movies and good ones. As filmmaking this one certainly has its shortcomings. But, as a giant-monster movie, it delivers on the spectacle, and that’s really what you’re there for, ain’t’cha?
Third, all of the most interesting plot points in “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” are cribbed from B.P.R.D. — the Bureau of Paranormal Research & Defense comics series that Dark Horse Comics spun off from Mike Mignola’s Hellboy adventures.
The plot, such as it is, involves a misguided alliance between a noble scientist and cold-blooded ecoterrorists. There’s some good acting — as well as some scenery-chewing, in the literal sense as well as metaphorically.
Cast-wise, we’re doing pretty well with pulp fave Vera Farmiga (“Bates Motel,” “The Conjuring,” etc.) taking a creditable turn as Dr. Emma Russell, an earnest scientist with mysterious motives. Millie Bobby Brown (11 of “Stranger Things” fame) is Madison Russell, Emma’s spunky teenage daughter, and is obviously great in anything she is involved with, especially when the involvements involve various types of monstrosity. She’s a versatile and interesting young actress, and takes to the role capably and with verisimilitude, given the subject matter.
Kyle Chandler plays her dad, Dr. Mark Russell, who is estranged from his wife, and is himself a scientist of some sort, which was established in the previous movie, and which I forget about completely, and don’t really need to go catch up on. He has his helpful genius insights. He’s excellent at outrage. He brings a fair amount of testosterone and decisiveness to the table — though even at his most manly and decisive, I’m only giving this guy half a Shatner for his screen time, sorry.
There’s also an actual bad guy, in the form of Alan Jonah, a former MI-6 agent gone rogue. He’s the eco-terrorist, runs a tight ship as far as coldly efficient paramilitary organizations go, and is played effectively by Alan Dance, who is aloof and stiff-upper-lippy and has that necessary cultured/sneery London accent and attitude. (Strangely, it all comes together to remind me of Fairport Convention’s Richard Thompson gone bad.)
Let’s also give credit to Bradley Whitford as Dr. Rick Stanton, the mad scientist of the crew, who careens across the screen with all the glee and zany abandon of Stephen Stuckers’ immortal turn as Air Traffic Controller Johnny Henshaw Jacobs in “Airplane!” (Though apparently he’s actually modeled after Rick of “Rick & Morty.”)
Other notables include Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishirō Serizawa, the self-sacrificing Japanese scientist, and the son of the founder of Monarch — the secret federal cryptozoology agency, and the B.P.R.D. stand-in — and Ziyi Zhang, who broke out internationally as the conflicted teenage ingénue/battle angel in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
Zhang does fine in a dual role as twin scientists stationed at opposite ends of the Earth. As demonstrated by a collage of historic photos, she is also the latest pair in a long legacy of twins. The roles are a happy nod to the fairy twins from the original “Godzilla vs. Mothra” movie who served as priestesses for the giant, benevolent, pop art, silk-spinning wonder-arthropod who so loves this world.
We’ve got to hand it to director Michael Dougherty — he makes a game run at character development in a movie in which the primary characters are more than 600 feet tall. Though his choice to juxtapose an extended exposition of the lead (human) characters’ interiority against Godzilla and King Ghidorah destroying Fenway park is — questionable.
Yes, monster battles are a bit redundant after a while, even in a society of the spectacle like ours, but try to convince me you can have a decent argument about parenting with your ex-wife when a couple of skyscraper-sized kaiju are locked in mortal combat just across the parking lot.
Wouldn’t your primitive primate brain have you in adrenaline overdrive and either wetting your drawers or fleeing in blind panic? I suppose there is an argument to be made for both shock and habituation as psychological survival strategies, but …
Frankly, more interesting are all those plot points lifted from B.P.R.D. Wacky Dr. Stanton is the one who really pops the cork on all that, with his Hollow Earth references (which, admittedly, Mignola and his Dark Horse buddies previously borrowed from the fantastical fictions of Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, of “It was a dark and stormy night” fame).
Other direct influences from the Hellboy series include the sumptuous backstory of ancient lost civilizations — and positioning King Ghidorah as “The One Who is Many.” These are direct references to the Hyperborean age of BPRD (again, a popular trope in turn-of-the-century fantasy lit revived by Mignoa’s comics), and their arch nemesis, the Ogdru-Jahad, aka the Dragon, aka the Seven Who Are One.
They are such obvious steals that one can only imagine a scene in the Godzilla writers room equipped with a stack of Guy Davis-era BPRD comics, and a crew of script hounds breaking down ways to integrate that stuff into the Godzilla mythos.
The significant difference being that the monsters of Godzilla are not actually as horrifying as what Davis drew. Only one of them, a gigantic spider-like thing with a lot of gangly bits under its grotesque underbelly, approaches the alien, anti-human horror that Davis run of the BPRD comics was able to manifest.
Nevertheless, given the poor performance of the recent Hellboy movie at the box office, this has all really gotta sting back at Dark Horse HQ.
And about that ecological parable: It’s a pretty simple one. We are just tiny little infestations on Planet Earth, but we threaten to overrun it if left unchecked, and will kill ourselves off in a Malthusian orgy of starvation and pollution, unless we bite the bullet and work with her, in all her unwieldy, massive, incomprehensibly huge naturalness.
And so it turns out that in the wake of these huge kaiju battles, the intense radiation left behind (the kaiju are magically radioactive, you see, dating back as they do to the cosmically irradiated dawn of time on Earth) produces unusual bursts of natural regrowth: deserts bloom and rain forests are reforested in the wake of their passage, providing a silver-green lining to the massive destruction the big beasties produce. They are, in the mythos of the movies, Planet Earth’s means for ecological restoration, which is the rogue scientist’s primary argument against attempting to kill them all off.
The message is, I suppose, love your mother, or fucking else. Which actually is pretty much true.
And this, of course, brings us to Mothra, the gorgeous, scintillating, moral heartbeat of the movie. Yep — Mothra is in moral entity, committed to the well-being of the planet. She serves as an anchor and kaiju-scale cheer squad for Godzilla in his battle against King Ghidorah, an invasive alien titan-thing with three heads who is out to convert the Earth to an environment more appropriate to its ecological needs
Did I mention how gorgeous she is? Just magnificent. Some sort of glittery atmospheric space dust is involved in her birth and death. She has multiple life cycles, spins a cocoon, lays eggs, and will most certainly be back for more. My only real complaint about Mothra is that we did not get enough of her, because I love her. So much.
But, of course, we will see all of these monstrosities again, gorgeous and otherwise. Mothra always lays an egg and is immortal, no matter the depredations she faces in combat. King Ghidorah is a hydra from outer space, and as you know, if you read your fucking 12 Labors of goddamn Heracles, hydras always re-grow their heads when they’re cut off.
So we will be seeing him again too, which is kind of exhausting to think about. Though he is, admittedly, magnificently depicted — bat-like wings outstretched, three heads rampant, perched atop a volcano … it is a fearsome sort of glory.
So there you have it. “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is worth a matinee, or a midnight-movie screening at your local art house theater, if they still have one of those in town, or getting the DVD when that comes out. Just watch it, if you can, on a big screen — the preposterous presumption of the premise deserves nothing less.
Also there is an Easter egg at the end of the credits. Yeah, it’s worth it.
I mean, it’s fucking ridiculous, but it’s worth it.