A (paraphrased) reading from the Book of Revelation, chapter 12, verses seven through nine:
“Then war broke out in heaven. Godzilla and his angel, Mothra, fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels, called Rodan and others, fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or King Ghidorah, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to Godzilla.
I think it’s appropriate to begin this review of Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters with such an overtly religious plot synopsis. For this Godzilla is an overtly religious film, filled with gods and monsters (often one and the same), cosmic battles, mythologies, worshipers, resurrection, redemption, sacrifice, and a host of other religious symbols. Just look at this shot of King Ghidorah atop a Mexican volcano after having supposedly defeated Godzilla:
Just look at that cross. “Subtle” is not how one would describe Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Instead, it’s awesome, in every sense of the word: inspiring a sense of genuine awe, as well as being, y’know, pretty cool.
It’s also quite stupid. The overall plot and the humans who inhabit it are either overstuffed or under-baked. Some characters are given far too much attention and narrative importance, while others are vacuous avatars for various monster movie tropes: No-Nonsense Military Leader (Aisha Hinds), Snarky Soldier (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Non-American Eco-Terrorist (Charles Dance), Goofball-but-Brilliant Tech Guy (Bradley Whitford). I don’t recall any of these characters’ names, and I don’t have to. The actors all seem like they’re having a good time embodying these stereotypes (especially Whitford, who is totally hamming it up). The basic plot centers around a family of scientists, Mark and Emma Russell (Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga), and their daughter Maddie (Millie Bobby Brown). There was a fourth Russell, a son and brother who died during the battles in San Francisco from the 2014 Godzilla film, a plot detail intended to ground the characters’ decisions as motivated by grief, but often feels like attempting to add pathos to a film that doesn’t ask for it. Since that tragedy–and somehow in connection with Kong: Skull Island (a film I haven’t seen)–the Russells have been part of Monarch, a covert research group with a mission of studying the not-so-dormant Titans (that’s what they call the big beasties). They have developed an audio device MacGuffin, the Orca, which is used to somehow control or speak to the Titans. When Emma, Maddie, and the Orca end up in the hands of eco-terrorists trying to set the Titans free, it prompts Mark to rejoin Monarch, which is being led by Godzilla‘s Ishiro Serizawa (Ken “Let Them Fight” Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins).
Much like director Gareth Edwards’ approach with the 2014 film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is at its best when the Titans are shown to full scale in all their glory, with the puny humans staring up at them in fearful wonder. There are some marvelous images generated here–I would dare to call some of Mothra’s moments beautiful. It’s what makes the original trailer so frisson-inducing and transcendent. When the characters spout off silly lines or unfunny jokes, it distracts from the film’s purpose, very much akin to a priest or minister attempting humor in a sermon while preaching in a vast and lofty cathedral. We’re not here for your jokes, Pastor; just let us gaze at the light shining through the stained glass, feel the weight of the hymns and organ, joyfully partake in the eucharist, to find the glory (thank you Malick).
As Godzilla is portrayed as the rightful and good king over the Titans–indeed, he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords–the connections here between Godzilla and his divine namesake shouldn’t be dismissed as superfluous, even within a silly summer blockbuster of giant CGI monsters duking it out in various global locations. Such an awe-inspiring religious spectacle which is also about humility–about when not to attack but to simply be–is unique and praiseworthy in our cultural ethos. When the prophet Isaiah saw the glory of God in Isaiah chapter 6, his response is to cry out, “Woe is me! for I am undone…for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” It’s an appropriate response to coming face-to-face with a god. Or a Godzilla.
IMDB Listing: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3741700/