“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is a title that pretty much tells you how the movie ends. If you also know that a follow-up is planned for Godzilla to meet King Kong (“Godzilla vs. Kong”), then you know who’s going to win these kaiju confrontations. “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” in 4DX extreme version is like an amazing Comic-Con activation or a Universal or Disneyland non-roller coaster ride that would be well-worth the wait in line.
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is the 35th Godzilla movie in the franchise which has several different timelines, the third completed by a Hollywood studio and the sequel to the 2014 “Godzilla.”
In “Godzilla,” scientists for the Monarch organization, Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) discover a giant skeleton in a collapsed uranium mine and two pods/eggs or whatever you want to call them. One has already hatched and its hatchling ended up at the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant, destroying it to build a chrysalis. The other is taken to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada. Fifteen later, a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) emerges and the siblings want to meet and mate in San Francisco. The Japan-born MUTO decides to visit Honolulu for his bachelor party which involves meeting and making mayhem with Godzilla. The male MUTO then heads to San Francisco, with a nuclear warhead as an offering to the Nevada-born bride who’s building a nest in Chinatown. Before the two can get cozy, Godzilla arrives and kills the twosome. Totally exhausted Godzilla takes a nap before disappearing back into the sea. The movie ended with the newspaper asking: “King of the Monsters – savior of our city?”
“Godzilla” centered around the Brody family: Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), former lead engineer at the Janjira nuclear plant who is a white American for no discernible reason; his adult son US Navy lieutenant Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who lost his mother, Sandra Brody (Juliette Binoche), when the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant became a MUTO hatchery; Ford Brody’s wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) who is a nurse at the San Francisco General Hospital and Ford and Elle’s son Sam Brody (Carson Bolde). You might wonder why it would make any sense to focus on a white family in Japan, especially having them hold important positions at a Japanese nuclear power plant. It’s as if the Japanese didn’t have anyone highly educated enough or with enough authority to deal with nuclear power.
In 2019 for “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” we start with a different white family. Even though San Francisco is 47.24% white (and that includes West Asians and Arabs) and 34.17% Asian (5.28% black if you need to know) and the MUTO nested in Chinatown, we have to focus on another white family: The Russells. The father, Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), is an animal behavior and communications specialist who at one time was researching how to communicate with the kaiju, called Titans here. He developed and destroyed the Orca, a machine that in no way resembles Shamu, but had the possible use of controlling the Titans via bioacoustics on a sonar level.
After the San Francisco terror of the Titans resulted in the loss of a son, Mark and his paleobiologist wife, Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), and co-inventor of Orca, divorced. Emma has custody of their remaining child, 12-year-old Madison (Millie Bobby Brown). Emma works with Monarch in a place where you’d really expect to find a lot of white people, China. Don’t worry…the millions of Chinese are represented by Zhang Ziyi as twin sisters Dr. Ilene Chen and Dr. Ling, but not even in the China-based workers for Monarch.
The twins are, of course, a nod to the twin female fairies who summoned Mothra by singing the “Song of Mothra” in the original movies.
Monarch has secretly kept tabs on numerous Titans all over the world, but Godzilla has been gone and under the radar for five years.
In the Monarch station based in China (Hunan Rainforest), Mothra emerges as a large caterpillar and the Emma uses the Orca to sooth it until a bunch of ecoterrorists led by a former British Army colonel and MI-6 agent, Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) break in and kidnap Emma and Madison.
This brings Mark away from his studies on wolf behavior and pushes him into reluctant hero mode. He joins Serizawa and Serizawa’s paleozoologist colleague, Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) along with the Chinese twins in the Monarch efforts to retrieve Emma and control the Titans who have been monitored and controlled all over the globe.
Alan takes Emma and Madison to Antarctica where Orca is used to reawaken another apex predator, dubbed “Zero,” but Godzilla fans will identify as King Ghidorah. Despite being frozen for hundreds of years, no freezer-burn is involved, but Ghidorah, who is basically a three-headed dragon, is actually an invasive alien species. While Serizawa feels that Godzilla and the Titans would return balance to the earth, Ghidorah would destroy it.
The Titans are emerging everywhere and after his first battle with Ghidorah, Godzilla disappears.
There’s a plot twist here, that I won’t reveal. Most of this makes no sense in terms of science or history. Particularly laughable is the inclusion of katakana in the ancient underseas ruins, dating the images as younger than Chinese civilization.
The diversity casting is in place. There’s a female G-team leader, Colonel Diane Foster (Aisha Hinds) and CCH Pounder plays Senator Williams. Anthony Ramos plays a Staff Sergeant. The movie does take us to Latin America where Rodan emerges from a volcano near Isla de Mara, Mexico. And the mere existence of volcanoes makes you wonder about Dr. Rick Stanton’s (Bradley Whitford) assertion that the earth has hollow areas where Godzilla disappears and travels through.
The Isla de Mara is a fictional place and was originally Isla de Mona until people pointed out it was a real place but in Puerto Rico. Hunan (湖南) is an actual province in the People’s Republic of China. The name means “south of the lake” and is located in South Central China. In the Wulingyuan ( 武陵源) district of the province has a scenic area that includes four national parks. I’m pretty sure you can find a lot of Chinese there. You won’t find them in this movie.
As with the first of the series, TJ Storm performs the motion capture for Godzilla. Three actors–Jason Liles, Alan Maxson and Richard Norton perform the motion capture for the three heads of King Ghidorah. Liles is the mo-cap man for Rodan. You won’t be disappointed with the CGI giants joining this MonsterVerse. The big disappointment is that although Watanabe’s Serizawa plays a vital and heroic role in the movie (“Sometimes the only way to heal our wounds is to make peace with the things that created them” he tells Mark), most of Asia as far as Asian people go has been taken out of this installment of Godzilla.
It’s almost as if the Raymond Burr tradition in the US has been reversed. Burr was added to the original Godzilla movie when it was dubbed into English. For his scenes, actors resembling the Japanese cast from the back were used to simulate interaction between Burr and the Japanese cast. Now although everyone knows Godzilla is a Japanese creation, the East Asians seem little more than tokens.
Real animal behaviorists, including those who study wolves, will weep at this movie’s theory of alpha and apex predators, but that’s an article for a different time. You’ll wonder how the March of the Penguins is going when Ghidorah bursts on the scene. One imagines this won’t be a good season for penguins, but the movie peddles an eco-friendly message: Earth is saved from the human “infection” by the “fever” of the Titans.
Director and co-writer Michael Dougherty have given Godzilla fans what they want–a believable CGI monster whose intentions are ambiguous and who doesn’t have to worry about the collateral damage (how many people killed) or damage assessments after buildings and cities are crushed. It’s unfettered destruction but salvaged by the upbeat eco-message ending. Do I care about the humans? Not really, except in the weird absence of East Asians.
The real star here is Godzilla and for those who want the earth to shake every time Godzilla plants his foot down on terra firma, 4DX makes it so and then some. The watery environs inspires mists of water and the air really whooshes against your face during some scenes. You don’t feel the cold of Antartica (and apparently neither do the actors who don’t cover their heads or faces), but little flurries of snow appear along with fog. As cities and towns are destroyed, there’s even some smoke. You also got to experience some smells–nothing nasty like decaying flesh or even burnt toast for breakfast.
Leaving the 4DX lab Tuesday night, I was convinced that all Godzilla movies would be improved by the 4DX experience. The 4DX extreme experience I had gets four stars. The movie gets, mostly because of the CGI and winning interpretations of classic kaiju.