While promoting 2014 Godzilla, Gareth Edwards mentioned in an interview with Screen Rant that he was fascinated by Destroy All Monsters a.k.a. Kaiju Soshingeki (1968), Toho’s ninth Gojira installment. “If we ever do a sequel – I think multiple creatures make better movies in terms of the image of Gojira,” Edwards said, promising the colossal MonsterVerse, although he isn’t keen to do sequels. While Edwards is no longer attached to the franchise, his quote is proven to hint the direction to where the rebooted franchise is heading. Kong: Skull Island (2017) explicitly confirms the existence of the said universe with the recurring appearance of secret organization, Monarch, and a foreshadow of the events in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The 2019 entry, directed by Krampus‘ director, Michael Dougherty, becomes the first Hollywood iteration of the 1968 kaiju battle royale.
King of the Monsters picks up where the 2014 movie left. Using the first movie’s signature human p.o.v., in a scene that introduces the central human characters, The Russells—Mark the father (Kyle Chandler), Emma the mother (Vera Farmiga) and the Madison the daughter (Endgame‘s Lexi Rabe; later portrayed by Stranger Things‘s Millie Bobby Brown)—who just recently lost their son during the Godzilla incident. Same as the other two MonsterVerse movies, this installment also relies on the human story as a bridge to the kaiju story. The monsters and the humans—which also includes Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins) from the first movie—is a device developed by Emma called ORCA. Dubbed after the whales known for the bioacoustics ability, ORCA makes it for human to communicate or, to some extent, control the ancient monsters.
In terms of storytelling, these MonsterVerse doesn’t seem to have found the working formula. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s main plot in the first movie alienates the titular titan for some banal drama; Kong doesn’t even bother about the goddamn human; yet, when it comes to the kaiju brawls, they’re at the finest form. Kings of the Monsters attempts to balance the human sub-plot with the kaiju’s plots; but, the more the narrative progress, the more the Monarch sub-plot falters. Game of Thrones‘ Charles Dance makes an entrance as a eco-terrorist which tries to exploit the colossal monsters for his ultimate goal; and yet, even when the lengthy been-there-done-that exposition finds an edge to judge humanity as the planet’s living virus, the narrative isn’t quite believable.
Dougherty keeps teasing audiences with money-shots of the kaiju, but the whole movie cannot keep the excitement levels high at all times. Muddled plot, inconsistent character motivation and flimsy dialogues irk much. Some of the movie’s tongue-to-cheek dialogues (“Let’s get Moe, Larry and Curly!” some character tries to refer the kaijus as The Three Stooges) sound even cringe-worthy even when the movie tries to encompass the B-movie spirits like Kong.
And yet, when it comes to the Destroy All Monsters re-enactment, Kings of the Monsters truly pays everything off. The monsters do not care about the human characters and nor should we. It is a movie about them and Dougherty should have known better. There’s a spark of sincerity on how the director introduces and re-introduces the kaijus using elemental representation as if it’s an action RPG game. Toho’s famous kaijus are given more than proper entrance; they’re all iconic, even more than some Deadpool-coined superhero landing. The giant butterfly, Mothra, might eerily shrieks but there’s a state of wonder resurges when it spreads the titanic insect wings, representing earth element. The ancient bird-dragon, Rodan, makes a completely menacing entrance from within an erupting volcano, representing fire element. King Ghidorah, the tree-headed dragon, might at first be confined on ice; but it can also transport blizzards, like the wind element. Meanwhile, the titular king of the monsters, Godzilla, makes an intimidating underwater comeback.
When it comes to the kaiju battle royale, the audiences are left awe-stricken with city-flattening action spectacles. Godzilla will prefer physical strikes at times and then building will collapse. Ghidorah is proven to be more agile and destructive; with massive wings, it might fly and sweep the town mercilessly; but, its three heads are the deadliest weapons. Each of the three heads is able to thunder-strike the enemy. Mothra and Rodan are more of aerial fighters, but they’re not less lethal than other kaijus (who will then get introduced once the movie heats up). Human characters are helpless when it comes to the war between gods; but, that’s for the best.
Only the colossal amount of Kaiju Soshingeki visual spectacles and iconic one-perfect-shot moments that could somehow save Godzilla: King of the Monsters from its failing narrative. It’s Lawrence Sher’s cinematography that works best in highlighting the colossal beasts and their fights. Sher’s iconic shots blend with Dougherty’s enticing staging of the action scenes to finally save some dignity.