By Michael Tseng
Beyond the flashy explosions and large roaring creatures from the prehistoric era, not much exists besides an unnecessarily drawn-out plot, shoddy dialogue, and confusing character development. The release of 2019’s Godzilla: King of Monsters was a letdown in many ways, but the intense character modeling and vibrant action scenes managed to do the long-time franchise some justice.
It’s like I’m eating a cake. I look on the outside and see beautiful designs with sprinkles, frosting, fruit, the works. But when I finally cut into it and eat, all I taste is old Styrofoam and a sense of regret.
Godzilla has been a Japanese family favorite franchise for decades, yet in Legendary’s Monsterverse, they transform Godzilla into a demonic hero. The original Godzilla (1954) designed the dinosaur kaiju as a terrible product of human nuclear arms testing— a primal creature hellbent on the destruction of human cities. Instead, this skyscraper crushing creature becomes the key to restoring balance to the world (of course, after destroying multiple urban cities), in both supernatural and human standards. It’s the ultimate rival to the alien Ghidorah, and the path to environmental restoration.
Emma Russell’s (Elizabeth Olsen) role as the vengeful, disillusioned mother fails to bring emotional empathy to the audience. The whole film becomes a crusade for environmental maintenance, one that becomes intertwined with terrorism. At this point, the film takes a confusing turn, turning Russell into a one-sided thoughtless villain, who wants to restart humanity by bringing back the Titans. Yet, Michael Dougherty seems adamant on framing the story’s plot on family’s squabbles, turning the story’s major plot-line into trivial circumstances.
There is an upside to this focus, as it places great emphasis on familial bonds, and highlights the importance of coping with loss properly. But when placed under the overarching war between monsters, it’s easily ignored. The film banks everything on its impressive action scenes, from Rodan’s spinning dive, to Ghidorah’s electric shockwave, and Mothra’s shining wings. Because that’s what attracts an international audience.
Thus, the film lacks a feeling of completion when dealing with the action scenes and the family’s struggle to reunite. Both sides are done decent (at least for the fight scenes), but they lack essence. The fight scenes are great, but it’s not clear what the monsters are fighting for. Is Godzilla trying to keep the status quo, or is it involved in something greater? For what purpose does Ghidorah want to terraform the world? As for the humanistic side, Mark (Kyle Chandler) and Emma’s daughter Maddison (Millie Brown), has an ambiguous role in the family, with issues that are never deeply explored, and the responsibilities that tore the family apart never become apparent in the film.
It soon becomes depressing when you realize that the film places the lives of humanity in the hands of world-destroying monsters. It’s a slap-in-the-face from environmentalists, warning the audience that the Earth will end up in some pseudo-dystopian wasteland, and that humans have lost their chance as apex predators.
If you’re just looking to enjoy a series of large explosions, witness the sublime nature of the Titans, get introduced into the Monsterverse, then by all means, take your money and go to the movie theater. But if you want something of substance, an non-accusative narrative, or even the slightest bit of understandable plot flow, I suggest you look somewhere else.