The King of Monsters Caged Within a Pauper’s Movie
About the Film
Monster movies occupy a special place in cinema. The iconic creatures are some of Hollywood’s oldest and most beloved stars. None more so than the so-called ‘king of the monsters’— Godzilla. This film is sequel to the 2014 film and also a set-up that will ultimately lead to next year’s showdown between Godzilla and his big ape rival (2020’s Godzilla vs. Kong). Does this film live up to the legend of its titular monster? Godzilla (the monster) is great. Unfortunately, Godzilla (the movie) is not.
I’ll admit that I have an irrational affinity for smaller monster flicks. I will gladly die on my hill proclaiming that JAWS is the greatest film ever made. At the same time, my interest generally wanes in direct proportion to the increasing size of the monster. The latter tends to lose the personal and grounded human element of the former, often reducing the film to mere destructive and impersonal spectacle. This is certainly the case with Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The film serves up a super-sized buffet of epic monster battles, which have never looked better. There are several epic cinematic shots that are as impressive as anything I’ve ever seen on a movie screen. Unfortunately, that’s about all this film has to offer. This movie is void of compelling characters, dramatic tension, or believable stakes—all of which give way to make room for the eventual mind-numbing spectacle of CGI world destruction.
On the Surface—(Profanity, Sexual content, violence, etc.).
There is a fair amount of profanity, with at least 10+ minor profanities (mostly starting with the letter S), and the one token F-bomb allowable for a PG13 movie. Many of these are spoken by a teenage character which makes them even more disappointing.
While there is no blood or gore, there is a high amount of death. This is an understandable consequence of the destruction wrought by the monsters, but the deaths themselves are often played casually and without any gravity or weight.
Beneath the Surface— (Themes, philosophical messages, worldview, etc.)
- Of Gods and Men
This is less a movie about monsters, and more a movie about gods. The monsters are referred to several times as the “first gods.” The film explores a world where humans must come to terms with the truth that there are powerful godlike beings in the universe that are far superior to ourselves. Some humans respond in fear, others in reverence; some look to them as our savior, others as our doom.
In one sense, the film is essentially a re-imaging (to use C. S. Lewis’ term) of the gospel. Godzilla is treated as a Christ figure; the savior and only hope of the world (the word “redemption” comes up multiple times). At one point, a human character urges his companions, “We must keep our faith in Godzilla.” Later, believing they have inadvertently destroyed him, the characters lament, “We killed the only one who can save us,” and “He fought and died for us.”
Playing the Lucifer to Godzilla’s Christ, is Ghidorah—a three-headed alpha monster. The creature is described as an alien that has come to earth from beyond the stars, and who desires to shape the world to its own evil desires as, according to one character, a “false king.” One of the most visually stunning shots in the film has Ghidorah displayed in all its terrible glory before the image of a wooden cross (see image below).
The film is not, however, a clear gospel allegory. The film is also heavily influenced by Greek mythology (the monsters themselves are called “titans”). Like the ancient pagan mythology, the film drives home the insignificance of mortal man as mere pawns in the cosmic games of the gods. This is most evident in the final spoken words of the film. As the humans stare in awe at Godzilla, one mutters the curse “Jesus…”, to which another character adds, “I’m glad he’s on our side,” before a third character ominously concludes, “For now….”
2. Spectacle and Humanity
The greatness of movies like JAWS and Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) is often credited to their decision to not over-showcase their monsters. While this is true, what is often ignored is that such films could take this approach only because the human characters (Roy Scheider’s Chief Brody and Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley) were so compelling in their own right. Godzilla cannot equal this feat. The human characters are present primarily to give the monsters (and presumably the movie studio’s special effects budget) a rest. The film drags whenever the monsters are not on screen. This was the main criticism of the earlier 2014 film (“More monsters! Less humans!”), and King of the Monsters attempts to rectify this by showcasing much more of monsters than before (there is even a tragically underused wooly mammoth-inspired monster that is now my new favorite movie character ever). As a result, the monsters—while impressive—eventually overstay their welcome.
The initial spectacle of the gigantic monsters is compelling and glorious, but by the end of the 2-hour runtime, the gleam fades. Watching a fleet of fighter jets launch missiles at a giant three-headed dragon monster is great fun the first time around, but by the third such scene it becomes wearisome. Even the most spectacular spectacle becomes tiresome if it’s not grounded with enough humanity and narrative.
I believe a movie should be judged on their own terms. No one should go into a Godzilla movie expecting The Shawshank Redemption. In that sense, this is a ridiculous movie that exists for the sole purpose of providing the mindless spectacle of giant monsters fighting. In this, King of the Monsters is cinematic cotton candy—it’s a tasty treat for a moment, but lacks any real substance and, by the end, you just feel sick and wonder if the sugar rush was worth it. While the movie does explore some really interesting concepts and questions about faith, the natural and supernatural order, and our place in world, it simply isn’t enjoyable enough of an experience to justify the 2 hour investment.
Recommendation: If monsters are your thing, then this movie is made to be seen on the biggest screen possible. For anyone else, there is not much reason to see it. I also wouldn’t recommend taking younger children due to the profanity and high death count.