Four monsters, two hours, one planet, a lot of fight scenes. I won't blame anyone for jumping at the chance to see this film, and it does deliver exactly what it advertises. That would normally set the right mindset for an experience like this. Unfortunately, the movie is both painfully straightforward while subverting expectations in a highly unsatisfying fashion. But instead of making another joke at The Last Jedi's expense, let's look at Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Godzilla: King of the Monsters stars Raymond Burr as reporter Steve Martin, as he investigates sightings of a behemoth that has attacked ships off the coast of Japan
Wait, that's the wrong movie
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) is about ancient monsters awakening around the world, while the military and an organization known as Monarch try to handle the damage caused by these giant animals. As the enormous creatures start vying for supremacy against each other, humanity finds itself in the crossfire as the planet's largest battle for dominance is reignited
Or at least, this is what the story attempts, but "attempts" might be too generous. To say the movie crashes while flying its premise would imply it took off the ground at some point, but even three aerial monsters in the film didn't let it happen. The earliest sign of trouble with this story appears when the first of these titans rears its head and its features are barely noticeable
The decision to obscure these giant animals unfortunately extends to the territory battles between them. The fights are spaced far apart enough to not overwhelm the audience, but frequent enough to continue the thunderous footsteps. Unfortunately, on top of the behemoths being obscured by rain, snow, clouds, or smoke, the "camera" work involved with these CGI creations is close and chaotic to the point of being nearly indiscernible. There's rarely a steady point of reference to sell the size of these titans, and the "color" filter with their scenes only serves to hide them further even in plain sight
What stands out the most about these monsters is the sound design, both the roaring movements and their musical motifs. The roars of the giant animals are excellently powerful, frantic, majestic, and threatening to match the titan. The vibrations of the tremors and trails from the wake of these behemoths emphasize their size and being where the visual framing does not. But by far the audio highlight in the best way possible are the creature's themes. Beautifully crafted masterpieces that invoke a sense of history from these ancient beings, while constructing a mythology and presence to reflect the nature of these leviathans. The extraordinary amount of care in this score is absolutely haunting, and by far the best part of the movie
It makes it all the more confusing that the film doesn't shut up. The fight scenes are spread out, but most of the space between them is intent on using loud tracks even when nothing cinematic is happening. Here would be a great time for the movie to let the audience catch its breath after its taken it away. It doesn't give time for the spectacle to settle, not for the frequency of the setpieces, but for the barely noticeable difference in "volume" between downtime and destruction time. The film wants to retain the viewer's excitement when the monsters are not on-screen (if they were even visible in the first place), but instead comes across as auditory hijacking. It overcompensates for itself and comes across as lacking confidence because of it
The most damning thing of all, however, are the human characters. If the monsters' presence is bombarded by inconsistent audiovisuals, then it's left in a heap by the infuriating human characters, and not because of military firepower either. Amidst the miscellaneous soldiers and scientists running about the story, are three thruline characters throughout the plot. One lacks purpose and personality in favor of being an audience surrogate. One is hyper-competent to a degree so as to nearly invalidate everyone else. One displays motivations that make less than no sense. And all of them are connected by tragedy via destruction from these behemoths
The dramatic thrust shared by these three characters is decimated by how poorly written they are. This is not okay. In 1954, there was a monster movie which had characters genuinely fearful both of the monster, and the consequences of what may happen should they take a certain step to destroy that monster. In 1989, there was a monster movie where a scientist was desperate to bring his deceased daughter back to life, only for it to backfire horribly. In 2004, there was a monster movie where the main hero's journey paralleled that of a monster fighting against an alien invasion
Those films are Gojira, Godzilla vs Biollante, and Godzilla: Final Wars. They are different in tone from one another, but share in common a strong enough human element that contextualizes the sweeping spectacle of 50 meter, 80 meter, or 100 meter tall titans. Without that human anchor, action scenes featuring these giant animals can only carry a film so far before becoming boring. Not cheesy. Boring. This is even assuming the set pieces are compelling on their own in the first place
This movie hurts. Even if the human characters were unremarkable, there's a baseline here that should have been highly entertaining for two hours. But not only are the human characters just milquetoast, they are aggressively aggravating. And the creature spectacle itself becomes tiring because of how haphazardly it's crafted. This film isn't painful because it could have been great, it hurts because there's a lot of care undermined by incompetence. It knows how to pace itself for breathers but doesn't let its downtime do what it needs to. It would have masterful sound design if it didn't insist on being loud all the time to the point certain music pieces can't shine through. The monsters themselves look great when they're not obstructed from view, while the roars and sounds from these giant animals project a lot of personality
This film should have been an atomic blast but was instead a nuclear meltdown. After the studio behind this movie released two very solid monster films in 2014 and 2017, what should have been a three-peat didn't happen. The expectations on this movie weren't even the highest, because the monster films from 2014 and 2017 still had noticeable flaws themselves. Even carrying that tempered anticipation, this movie still hurts. I don't drink, but maybe Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) would be a better time if I wasn't sober
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