Saturday, September 7, 2019

Kaiju Watch: Godzilla - King of the Monsters (2019)

be careful.  Even under the sea, you can step on a Lego

Watched:  09/04/2019
Format:  Google Fiber Streaming
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2010's

In all fairness, at least two of you people warned me.

I didn't care much for 2014's Godzilla, the first in the series to relaunch Big-G from an American studio, leaping from Toho Studios to WB/ Legendary.  It didn't help that the movie was pitched as a Bryan Cranston vehicle at the height of Breaking Bad's popularity, and then removed him from the story about 1/3rd of the way in leaving us with an uninspired story about two characters who never were much beyond their wardrobe of "soldier" and "nurse".  We got Ken Watanabe in practically a walk-on role and Sally Hawkins as his sorta side-kick, but neither was given much to do but stare in awe at screens.

The movie was followed by Kong: Skull Island (2017), which I was in the minority as finding kind of boring and relying too much on Toho's take on prior renditions of King Kong rather than the 1933 original, for which I have a deep love.  I didn't find the way it "borrowed" from Apocalypse Now particularly charming or even appropriate.  The movie turned Brie Larson into a talking tank top, and if you asked me what happened in the movie to whom, I couldn't tell you.  Something something MONARCH.  But it also assembled a wild array of A and B list talent including Marvel heroes and villains taking a side-gig.  Ditching the notion that Kong would leave Skull Island in this episode, instead we're stuck with "look how many ways soldiers and scientists can die over the span of 90 minutes", which is a formula I mostly find deadly dull.

Both movies try to pit their giant beasts as "heroes".   Which is a really bad sell when Godzilla is only kinda paying attention to humanity as he fights the baddies and Kong... well, he's mostly interested in Brie Larson for some reason and treats the rest of the humans like a minor nuisance.  It's a weird fit, because you have these big, expensive casts - something they carry over to Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), but whatever the humans are doing is kind of irrelevant.  The go-to I guess would be to say the humans are sort of in disaster movies and the monsters are in WWE matches, where the plywood tables are, say, city blocks.

Of the three, I'll argue G:KotM goes the furthest to try and get a human story inserted - or at least one that doesn't splinter and disintegrate the second you realize "oh, Juliette Bincohe is NOT going to be in this movie", but finds new and novel ways to make you literally kind of root against the family unit.  Really, it's kind of breathtaking.  The *problem* with the movie, writ-large, is that director Michael Dougherty (who has done one movie I really liked and one I half-liked) decided that no one really cares that much about Godzilla, so we can (a) remove him from a big part of the movie while he naps and (b) when he *does* fight King Ghidorah at the end, what people really want to see are actors running around in the rain yelling the name of a teenager over and over.  Say what you will about 2014's Godzilla, but Gareth Edwards final fight scenes stay on the matter at hand and, occasionally, are shot quite like Toho Godzilla sequences, framing the fight as if it's two human-sized things and everything else is small.  Here, Dougherty gives you smash cuts of parts of monsters, but a minimum of continuous action or context.

I can't tell you, exactly, why I have a much easier time buying whatever set up Toho decides to show for each Godzilla movie - they have a minimum of continuity, so you never really know what you're gonna get for what the humans are up to - but they *do* understand the balance, most of the time.

Again, G:KotM has an unbelievable cast.  Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Charles Dance, CCH Pounder, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, Aisha Hinds, Thomas Middleditch, Ziyi Zhang, David Strathairn, O'Shea Jackson....  I mean, it's not unsubstantial.  But in the disaster movie context, no one is ever developed.  We do get a Senate chamber statement of mission from the MONARCH organization, and they've surely been busy the past five years since Godzilla flattened San Francisco, but we also have a rival gang that want to exploit the monsters?  Maybe end the world via monster?  It keeps shifting.  But those are overall goals - not who anyone is.

I mean, spoilers, they kill Sally Hawkins, and no one even mentions it, really.  Ken Watanbe sacrifices himself by blowing up a nuke in Godzilla's drowsy face, and I'm not sure I ever understood what he was doing for a living in these films (hint: 5 years is a real long time between movies you haven't rewatched).

Director Dougherty also had a hand in the screenplay (he started out as a writer), and, man, does this whole thing work and sound like a big, dumb-ass 90's action movie that has to explain everything in the dumbest terms and catch up the slow kids in the back row.  Except for the key part where Coach's estranged wife turns out to be a turncoat.  There the film decides to not explain until much later - but it doesn't give a real reason why.  And she's not sad her new pals killed her friends, just that her daughter (who she is including in this whole operation) decides mom is maybe wrong to kill all of humanity.

There's Hollow Earth and theory of Atlantis stuff that would make Raymond Stantz or Art Bell very happy, indeed, in this film, but it never goes anywhere or does anything.  They also borrow the original Godzilla march, which is okay- but worse, but then wind up the movie with the worst credits-sequence song of the decade.  I feel stupider just thinking about it.

Anyway - I am sure if you've seen it, you've got your own complaints.  But I'll return to one from 2014:

This Godzilla looks stupid.  It's a very bad design.

My guess is that someone read a book somewhere about scaling up animals and why those really gigantic bronotosaurus type dinosaurs have big fat feet and stuff.  But it's just depressing seeing pretty faithful adaptations of Godzilla's friends and foes on screen, and there's Godzilla looking like he shops for husky-boy jeans and has no neck to speak of.  They even write in an opportunity to update his look right on screen, and don't do it.

All of this is to say, go watch Shin Godzilla instead.  It's much better.

*look, these movies rely on the idea of super-ancient Titans, but somehow a furry man-beast as tall as a sky-scraper just doesn't feel like part of the same world anymore than when they make Frankenstein a giant so can also fight kaiju.


Groboclown said...

I attempted to get into itm but the film kept pushing me out and then it made me angry.

I wanted to like it, but nothing had emotional weight. They introduced the Oxygen Bomb, and I was excited until that massive emotional aspect of the original film blew up five minutes after introducing it.

One aspect that made me angry at first, my wife had to explain that it was close to the originals. They kept throwing stupid science at me. However, that lines up with things like "regenerator G".

I'll agree with the comment about the end song. At first I thought it was fun that they included the Blue Oyster Cult song, but then realized that it wasn't, and I became mad again.

The League said...

Oh, yeah. There were so many things I didn't like, at least mentioning the Oxygen bomb was something to hang onto - until it didn't do anything. And, yeah, the original films have some seriously goofy science, at least in the translation.

I was just bummed by the end song. It seemed aggressively stupid, and you could see what the suits thought they were making in the song selection.