**_Very loud, very dumb, and very entertaining_**
>_And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man's heart was given to it. And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, "Arise, devour much flesh." After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, whic__h had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns._
- Daniel 7:3-7
>_Behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth_ [...] _And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea_ [...] _And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, "Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?"_ [...] _And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world._
- Revelation 12:3-13:8
I really enjoyed Gareth Edwards's 2014 _Godzilla_. Sure, there were plot holes through which you could drive an entire fleet of trains carrying nuclear weapons, it featured coincidences that stretched believability even by Hollywood's standards, the human characters were paper-thin, and it took itself very, very seriously. But I enjoyed it. As Edwards had already proved with his debut film, the superb _Monsters_ (2010) and as he would subsequently prove with _Rogue One: A Star Wars Story_ (2016), he has a knack for wedding large-scale CGI grandiosity to stories that feel contemplative and personalised. And I don't care how long this franchise may run, and how many films get churned out, Godzilla's mic-drop moment, when he holds the female MUTO's mouth open and breathes blue fire down its throat will never be topped in its "holy shit"-ness. Ironically enough though, what I admired most about the film is the same thing that a lot of people disliked - the fact that Edwards kept Godzilla's appearances so fleeting; it took over an hour before we first saw him, and then he got only seven minutes total screen time. Personally, I thought it was a masterclass in directorial restraint, and it had the effect that when the big final fight came, it hit home on so many levels because here, finally, we were getting to see the big guy throw down. Remember when Hulk Hogan was the WWF champion for three years running? He didn't wrestle on every show, he didn't even appear on every show. So when Wrestlemania came around, and we knew the Hulkster would be headlining, it meant more than if we'd just seen him the week prior. Same thing with _Godzilla_. However, I understand why some people were unimpressed that a film called _Godzilla_ featured so little, well, Godzilla!
The third film in Legendary Entertainment's "MonsterVerse" franchise, _King of the Monsters_ is a direct sequel to Edwards's film (although sadly, he doesn't return as director), and sets up Adam Wingard's _Godzilla vs. Kong_, which has already wrapped shooting, and is scheduled for release next summer. However, whereas Edwards held Godzilla back and made the action feel smaller by focalising it through the human characters, new director Michael Dougherty (_Trick 'r Treat_; _Krampus_) essentially inverts that formula, putting Godzilla front and centre for pretty much the entire runtime (there are four big fight scenes within the first half-hour alone), and shooting the action in such a way as to make it seem as grandiose as possible. Indeed, he told Collider, "_I would call it the_ Aliens _to Gareth's_ Alien." And although Dougherty isn't half the director that Edwards is, _King of the Monsters_ works pretty well in a braindead summer action movie that's wall-to-wall giant monsters fighting one another kind of way. Sure, there are significant problems (all the best shots are in the trailer, the plot is beyond laughable, the characters are so thinly sketched as to make those in the first film feel Shakespearean, clichés abound, the talented cast is wasted), but all things considered, I enjoyed it, as it accomplished exactly what it set out to accomplish, and you really can't fault a film for succeeding at its primary objective.
Five years since Godzilla defeated the MUTOs, many more creatures (newly dubbed Titans) have been found throughout the world, all in various forms of hibernation. In charge of studying and protecting them is the private company Monarch Sciences (introduced in a fledgeling state in Jordan Vogt-Roberts's _Kong: Skull Island_, which took place in 1973). As the film begins, Monarch employees Dr. Ishirô Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), both returning from the previous film, are attempting to convince the Senate that under no circumstances should control of the Titans be turned over to the military, something with which Admiral William Stenz (the great David Strathairn, also returning from the first film) strongly disagrees. Meanwhile, in China, paleobiologist Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) watch the awakening of the larval form of Mothra. However, when Mothra becomes distressed, Emma is able to calm it using the ORCA, a device which monitors the Titans' bioacoustics and transmits a dominant "alpha signal" capable of placating them. Soon thereafter, eco-terrorist Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) and his private army storm the facility, stealing the ORCA, and kidnapping Emma and Madison. In response, Monarch track down Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), Emma's estranged husband, and co-designer of the ORCA, hoping he might be able to help find Jonah. Mark and Emma lost a son in San Francisco during the fight between Godzilla and the MUTOs, and whereas Emma came to feel the Titans could help humanity, Mark became convinced they should all be eradicated. Meanwhile, Jonah heads to the Monarch facility in Antarctica and unleashes the only non-terrestrial Titan, a fearsome three-headed dragon codenamed "Monster Zero", but whom ancient humans knew as King Ghidorah. Arguing that humanity has brought the planet to the point of destruction, Jonah believes that if the Titans are awoken, the ensuing conflict would wipe out most of human civilisation, allowing the planet the time it needs to heal. And so, with Ghidorah awakening the various Titans throughout the world, Godzilla emerges to stand against him.
With production wrapping on _King of the Monsters_ in 2017, and with two release dates scrapped, the film was beginning to accrue some pretty bad buzz. Then that magisterial first trailer dropped, showing Mothra spanning her glorious wings scored with a remix of Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune" from _Suite bergamasque_ (1890) and promising a film of pensive apocalyptic goings-on. It was the sort of trailer to turn even the biggest naysayer around. The good news is that all the best bits from the trailer are in the film. The bad news is that most of the best bits from the film are in the trailer.
Godzilla was originally created by Tomoyuki Tanaka, Ishirô Honda, and Eiji Tsuburaya, and first seen on screen in 1954's _Gojira_ (released in North America in 1956 as _Godzilla, King of the Monsters!_, a reedited version of the original with additional scenes and new actors). Over the last six decades, he has appeared in all manner of films and TV shows, from action flicks to eco-metaphors to kid's cartoons to comedy to whatever the hell Roland Emmerich's 1998 version was. Conceived in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the Daigo Fukuryū Maru incident, Godzilla was intended as a metaphor for the destructive power of nuclear weaponry. Thematically speaking, the highpoint of the "Kaiju" (Japanese for "strange beast") genre thus far is probably Hideaki Anno's _Shin Gojira_ (2016), which was a political satire inspired by the Japanese government's response to the 2011 Tôhoku earthquake and tsunami, and the subsequent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident.
_King of the Monsters_ has one eye on its themes too (a dire warning of oncoming eco-disaster, biodiversity, co-existence with other species, military impulsiveness, the insignificance of humanity compared to the vastness of nature), but really, the sermonising, exposition-heavy script by Dougherty and Zach Shields, from a story by Max Borenstein, is so badly put together, with the characters' motivations so poorly delineated, that any thematic concerns dissipate into nothing. Part of this is that the narrative simplifies Godzilla's 'morality'. Traditionally, Godzilla is inherently benevolent. However, in the 2014 version, Edwards muddied this concept brilliantly, depicting a monster that was fairly indifferent to humanity and was far more concerned with the biological drive to reassert his alpha status. In _King of the Monsters_, both Godzilla and Mothra are fundamentally good, and they wish to protect humanity from Ghidorah, which is more binary and not nearly as interesting a position to take.
And yes, the film does address the fact that through inattention and greed, humanity is on the brink of ensuring its own extinction. Jonah, of course, believes that giving the earth back to the Titans is all humanity deserves, and is exactly what the planet needs (it's revealed early in the film that the Titans leave behind biomatter which results in the rapid growth of vegetation). For her part, Emma compares humanity to a virus, and the Titans to a "fever" that could eradicate it. Elsewhere, obviously with one eye on the issue of American isolationism under Trump, as well as the unstable geopolitical situation, Serizawa states, "_sometimes, the only way to heal a wound is to make peace with the demon who caused it_". The problem with all of this is that the script is so ham-fisted and poorly structured, the eco themes so preachy, and the organic integration of those themes into the action so lacking, that they come across as background irrelevancies at best, and distracting moralising at worst. And in any case, the film ultimately undermines all of this in favour of reaffirming the clichéd old notion of human perseverance in the face of adversity.
As we're discussing the script, another problem is repetition. For example, on several occasions, Godzilla is getting his ass handed to him, only to make an 'unexpected' comeback, whilst not one, not two, but three characters sacrifice themselves for the greater good (all at different times), resulting in none of the sacrifices really meaning anything. There are also some hideous clichés. At one point, on their flagship the ARGO, the Monarch people are listening to Godzilla's heartbeat, which is becoming weaker and weaker, and Dr. Rick Stanton (a criminally underused Bradley Whitford) implores, all earnest-like, "_c'mon big guy_." It's supposed to be a moment of great pathos, tapping into the audience's empathy for Godzilla. Instead, at the screening I attended, everyone laughed, so clunky and self-serious was the moment.
Another scene that doesn't work, although in a completely different way, is the death of a major character; it happens so suddenly, amidst so much chaos, with the camera not even focused on them, that in the very next scene, the film has to show us their face on a monitor with the word "Deceased" written underneath. Not exactly the best way to handle a major death. There's also a (predictable) twist based on what could charitably be called ill-defined character motivations. The character of Mark is also peculiarly written. Played by the top-billed Kyle Chandler, he has precious little to do for most of the film other than look at monitors with a concerned expression, coming off more as a fed-up dad than the protagonist of a Kaiju film. There are also far too many scenes of characters standing on the bridge of the ARGO, spouting expositional word-dumps at one another, oftentimes even narrating their motivations. In any case, not a single character in the film comes across as three-dimensional, with not a hint of interiority amongst the lot of them. Additionally, because the scale of the fights is so massive, and the humans so poorly written, Dougherty is unable to make the characters seem even remotely significant. This was another area where Edwards did well, marrying the spectacle with smaller human drama, but Dougherty allows the spectacle to overwhelm everything else.
There are also some hilarious spatial hijinks going on. I get that the ARGO is supposed to be a super-advanced high-tech mobile fortress, but it seems capable of flying from one side of the planet to the other in about ten minutes. From Colorado to China to Bermuda to Antarctica to Mexico to Massachusetts, unless the ARGO is capable of transportation, there's some _Game of Thrones_-level compression of distances going on. Related to this is that Zhang Ziyi plays twins (Dr. Ilene Chen and Dr. Ling Chen), who we never see together. Except I didn't even realise there were two of them until I read a few reviews. Sure, I noticed what I thought was a singular character appear to be in two places at once, but because the ARGO had already been globe-hopping all over the place by that point, I just put it down to the film's lack of geographic realism. The fact that it's so easy to miss that there are twins is spectacularly bad writing, especially considering they're supposed to be a modernised version of the Shobijin, two fairies that speak for Mothra. Also, Aisha Hinds as Colonel Diane Foster, O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Chief Warrant Officer Jackson Barnes, and Thomas Middleditch as Dr. Sam Coleman may as well not be in the film at all, so little are they given to do. The same could be said for most of the Titans. Apart from the central tag-teams of Godzilla and Mothra facing off against Ghidorah and Rodan, most of the rest (including those newly created for the film - Baphomet, Typhon, Abaddon, Bunyip, and Methuselah) are seen only in news reports and a montage that plays behind the closing credits, although a few do turn up for one scene.
But for all that, however, I thoroughly enjoyed _King of the Monsters_. Although the trailer does promise what the film can't deliver, aesthetically, there's a lot to admire. The sound design by Erik Aadahl (_I, Robot_; _The Tree of Life_; _A Quiet Place_) Brandon Jones (_13 Hours_; _The Shallows_), and Tim Walston (_The Incredible Hulk_; _Pacific Rim_; _Chronicle_) is suitably deafening, and the cinematography by Lawrence Sher (_The Hangover_; _War Dogs_; _Joker_) has a well-judged sense of scale, especially in the 2.39:1 3D IMAX format. This is complemented by the editing by Roger Barton (_Gone in 60 Seconds_; _Pearl Harbor_; _The Grey_), Bob Ducsay (_Season of the Witch_; _Looper_; _Rampage_), and Richard Pearson (_The Bourne Supremacy_; _Quantum of Solace_; _Iron Man 2_), who maintain the rhythm of even the most chaotic action scenes. And even though pretty much the entire film takes place at night in the midst of a storm of the Titans' own making, it never becomes difficult to follow or see what's happening.
The film also does some interesting things with colour. Whereas the palette is predominantly mixed when we're with the human characters, the Titans are coded in binary elemental colours: Mothra glows blue as a larva and gold in her final form, Rodan reflects the hardened red of the lava from which he emerges, Godzilla is the green of nature, Ghidorah is a neutralising dark brown. There are also some extraordinary individual shots (most of which have unfortunately been spoiled by the trailer); Mothra spreading her wings for the first time, Ghidorah perched atop an erupting volcano with a crucifix looming in the foreground, the reveal of Godzilla's lair. And the final shot is a goosebumps moment with which no Kaiju fan could possibly be dissatisfied. Purely at the level of craft, this is a hugely impressive film.
_Citizen Kane_ it most certainly isn't, but who expected (or wanted) it to be. The key to really parsing the film is to consider the context, looking at what it was trying to be. And in this sense, it's a success. Sure, the script is hideous, and Dougherty is no Edwards, struggling to accomplish what Edwards seemed to do with ease; bring his own personality to the spectacle. However, if you approach it for what it is, a dumb summer blockbuster about large monsters punching each other, you'll like it just fine.