Godzilla King of the Monsters Featurette

Don’t Be Afraid. Be a (Franchise) Friend?

Honest question: when has a Godzilla movie ever been memorable for its richly drawn human characters? When has it ever needed an overabundance of failed comic relief (besides the ironic humor that comes with campy kaiju flicks)?

It might actually be interesting to see one of these giant monster movies backdropped against a well-written, character-based human drama, but that’s not the story we get with the Russell family or even Serizawa. Maybe we’re holding this film to an unrealistic standard because it’s a blockbuster and not a B-movie.

There’s cheesy good fun to be had all throughout the Godzilla franchise. While I wouldn’t presume to know after one weekend how this entry will be regarded in the years to come, I think it’s worth considering, by way of a final analysis here, how King of the Monsters measures up to the legacy that came before it.

The crushing weight of expectations can be a death sentence for any movie. If it sounds like I’m being hard on King of the Monsters in this review, then I must stress that this criticism comes from a place of tough love.

Godzilla movie number 35 is part of a tradition that I love. I appreciate how the film respects the 65-year canon of Toho’s creature features, which together comprise the longest running film franchise in history.

I do believe that liking or disliking a movie can sometimes be a decision more than an honest feeling, among both critics and fans. Maybe some voices swim in for the kill only after they see blood in the water and it’s agreed-upon among their peer group that the sharks are going to attack this thing, be it the movie itself or an online reviewer.

People pounce on a swimming kaiju to show off their critical acumen and fans rise up to defend it like a school of protective piranha. It becomes this feedback loop — a wheel, if you will — of harsh opinions.

As much as I’d love to vociferate, “I will break the wheel,” like some would-be new Father of Dragons (Game of Thrones, y’all, still not over it), I’m just one guy sipping orange juice in a cafe with a life-size Godzilla head outside of it. No, seriously.

The weekend before King of the Monsters had its same-day release in the U.S. and Japan, Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day played as the Saturday night movie on Fuji TV—one of the major Japanese TV stations.

Matt Singer over at ScreenCrush compared King of the Monsters to Independence Day: Resurgence. I never bothered to see Resurgence, but there were times during the initially hollow spectacle of King of the Monsters that I did almost feel like I was watching a globe-hopping Emmerich disaster flick disguised as a Godzilla film.

We’ve already seen Emmerich’s take on Godzilla and it’s easily dismissible, but after watching King of the Monsters, I came away with a renewed appreciation for the thematic aim of the 2014 Gareth Edwards Godzilla (or as I like to think of it, “Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch vs. the MUTOs vs. Godzilla.”)

That wasn’t a great movie, mind you. Godzilla didn’t even show up until the 59-minute mark and even then it cutely cut away to a kid watching him fight on television, thinking he was seeing dinosaurs on the news.

The movie did, however, show reverence to Godzilla’s roots as a nuclear metaphor. Both it and Hideaki Anno’s 2016 Japanese rebuttal, Shin Godzilla, were supercharged by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and the ensuing Fukushima Daichi nuclear disaster. These events left a legacy of potent real-world trauma on the movies, not unlike the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki left on Ishiro Honda’s original 1954 Godzilla film.

Just last year, Netflix’s Dark Tourist showed a bus load of foreign schmucks venturing into an irradiated zone in Fukushima with Geiger counters. Shades of Cranston and Taylor-Johnson wandering around the fictional Japanese ghost town of Janjira.

King of the Monsters seemed poised to meaningfully revisit the next chapter of Godzilla’s history, whereby he went from being a symbol of the mushroom cloud to engaging in dust-ups with other monsters. The movie flirts with climate change metaphors but it’s diffusion of disasters doesn’t quite congeal into a compelling enough whole.

I wanted to like it, and I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it, either. To me, it’s most interesting as a franchise artifact.

We’ll have another article up this week exploring the film’s many kaiju-literate references, but in the meantime, I can only cycle back to my first impression and say that Godzilla: King of the Monsters mostly fell flat for me as a piece of surface-level entertainment. Considered apart from the pull of its franchise and shared-universe mythology, I just had zero investment in most of what was happening up on screen until the obligatory end credits scene. Which makes it not so different from any other run-of-the-mill 2010s blockbuster.

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About the Author

Joshua Meyer is a Tokyo-based freelance writer who has been contributing to /Film since 2017. He has also written for Japan Today, GaijinPot, and WDW News Today. You can find him on Twitter @TheGaijinGhost.