"We opened Pandora's Box and there's no closing it now." - Jonah Alan
It has to be said, being a fan of Godzilla hasn’t always been easy.
First off, living in the UK, it’s a herculean task to see the original films. Second, if you DO manage to see them, you’re likely to be seeing the dubbed American-International releases of the Toho films which in itself is a huge problem – those movies were re-edited and redubbed ridiculously badly, to the extent of practically making them comedic for the Saturday night drive-in teen crowd of the sixties.
A few years ago, intoxicated with the liberty of finally having a region free DVD player, I set about my mission to track down all 29 original Toho Studios Godzilla films and found to my surprise that no country on the globe had all of them available. They all WERE available, but the collection was a patchwork of American, Australian, UK and French releases. Luckily, most of these had the options of either the dubbed U.S. versions or the original Japanese. We learned very quickly to opt for the Japanese subtitled versions – which were superior in every way and also gave a far more dramatic and serious story, with a greater sense of urgency and less slapstick comedy.
I’m pointing this out because in a lot of ways, Hollywood doesn’t “get” Godzilla. They sure as hell didn’t in 1998 with the first of their attempts. But in all fairness to everybody, the Godzilla film starring Matthew Broderick isn’t a bad “giant monster on the loose” film, but it’s an awful Godzilla film. It bears no resemblance to the concept, other than the name.
Five years ago, we had Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla – which was a lot closer. Say 85% of the way there.
Now, we have Godzilla – King of the Monsters. And finally, they got it right.
I’ve read some reviews where the critics simply disliked the film because it’s a bunch of monsters fighting each other endlessly and there’s no plot or nuance. Okay, that’s a fair comment – but then the Kaiju genre isn’t renowned for its subtlety. To go to a Kaiju film looking for nuance is akin to going to a death metal concert hoping for a ballad. The word “kaiju” means “giant monster” – and in the films, certainly in the past, these giant monsters were portrayed by men in rubber suits destroying amazingly detailed models of major cities. In Japan, they became a legitimate art form, while we in the western world were typically more cynical and prone to mocking. Godzilla seemed to transcend this humiliation to become a cult icon the world over.
But having said that, Godzilla movies tend to be the Marmite of the film world. You either love them, or you hate them – there is no middle ground with these. If you “get” them, then great. You’re in for a titanic blast of fun and entertainment. If you don’t, then it’s unlikely that you ever will. I’ve yet to meet a non-fan who suddenly “got it”. And that’s the problem I see with Godzilla King of the Monsters. It’s so heavily loaded with easter eggs and references to past films, it’s practically inaccessible to a new audience while the die-hard Kaiju freaks are revelling and having the time of their (our) lives. While the film references Monster Zero, an Oxygen Destroyer and so on, I could imagine the inward groans from the people who hadn’t seen the earlier films (Monster Zero is what King Ghidorah was referred to in Invasion of the Astro Monster (1965) and the oxygen destroyer was what defeated Godzilla way back in his debut. I remember seeing the previous film five years ago, when an audience member asked out loud what was happening when Godzilla’s back plates started glowing a fluorescent blue. I can’t help but wonder what he made of Godzilla fighting a giant three headed golden dragon and a giant pterodactyl. I’d have loved to have seen his face when he saw a giant moth flying around.
The film gets moving very quickly, taking place five years after the original, which saw San Francisco levelled to the ground. Godzilla has returned to the sea, whence he came. But – the mysterious Monarch organisation is aware that other Titans they’re monitoring are waking up. Among them, King Ghidorah (or Monster Zero) the flying golden dragon of alien origin, Rodan – a monstrous pterodactyl, capable of supersonic speeds, his wake levels cities as he passes overhead and the mysterious Mothra. Godzilla himself is also stomping around very soon.
So as not to be spoilery, the action sequences are peppered with what plot exposition there is, in this case, who’s waking them up and why. But really, we’re there for the action – and there certainly is plenty of that. It brought back fond memories of Destroy All Monsters (1968) and Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). Basically, an all-out slam-bang-smackdown of a giant monster brawl which I delighted in watching.
The score is stunning. Bombastic and percussive when it needs to be, choral, slow and melodic at times – with two notable, standout moments. A nostalgic blast of the original 1954 theme just as Godzilla is about to make a dramatic entrance, and a soulful re-imagining of Mothra’s theme at an opportune moment. Composer Bear Macreary has definitely pleased the fans with this one.
There IS a sting at the end, which is unsurprising seeing that we know we’re getting a King Kong vs Godzilla next year, but what IS surprising is that that’s not the direction the sting goes to. Unless there’s a guest star next year, they’ve already set the scene for a fourth film.
Hail the King, baby.
Copyright © 2010 - 2019 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.