“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019)

Action

130 Minutes

Written by: Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields

Directed by: Michael Dougherty

Featuring: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe and Zhang Ziyi

Senator Williams: “So you’d want to make Godzilla our pet.”

[laughter]

Dr. Ishiro Serizawa: “No. We would be his.”

Critical review

This week sees the release of one of the more anticipated blockbusters of the US Summer on 4K blu-ray in the sequel “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019), which also is the third part of the Warner Brothers ‘monsterverse’ and is a taster for next years “Godzilla vs. Kong” (2020). Of course, one of the main differences in using Godzilla as either a protagonist or antagonist is that for any audience that is clued into this character realise he has been around for over fifty years appearing in a multitude of movies from Japan as well as remakes from the US which can be a positive as well as a negative. Of course being a sequel as well as being linked to “Kong: Skull Island” (2017) means that this new instalment needs to not only up the ante on expanding the world but it also has to attempt to correct some of the criticism of the previous movies, which to its credit is accomplished by creating more tension, introducing new characters as well as incorporating some more of the ‘Godzilla’ lore from its Japanese origins in embracing some of the more iconic monsters from Toho, the original production company that still retain the rights to their entire monster catalog. 

“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is a major step up from both previous movies, the lack of actual monster action that seemed to be part of “Godzilla” (2014), which was seen as a weakness has definitely been addressed here as the action sequences in this new movie are nothing short of breathtaking with not only monster on monster battles galore but human against monster as well which as you would expect  become futile as you begin to expect the main titular character will need to sort out his unruly brethren. The other aspect of that movie as well as the follow-up “Kong: Skull Island” was that the human characters were either dull, unlikeable or caricatures, here the writers and directors have attempted to right that ship as well with a more complex human story as well as much more humour and a narrative that at times feels like there are stakes involved as we do see some key people being killed. Unlike the previous two movies where most of the human cast that were killed were either pale imitations or over the top, the victims here have been built up so that we feel some real emotion when they meet their end. The actual narrative of the movie which is a little muddled is framed around overpopulation, global warming and the general nature of our planet with humans being at the centre of the problem and solution. On the smaller side it is about a family coning together after the loss of a child as well as a sibling which for the most part rings true, that is, in a fantasy action movie. 

This new movie is based around the efforts of the crypto-zoological agency Monarch as its members face off against a battery of god-sized monsters, including the mighty Godzilla, who collides with Mothra, Rodan, and his ultimate nemesis, the three-headed King Ghidorah. When these ancient super-species—thought to be mere myths—rise again, they all vie for supremacy, leaving humanity’s very existence hanging in the balance.

“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” has been co-written and directed by Michael Dougherty who has a background in horror, although both his previous efforts have been tinged with humour as well as based around two major US events, those being Halloween and Christmas in the excellent “Trick ‘r Treat” (2007) and the underrated “Krampus” (2015) respectively. Doherty while not the most obvious choice to direct a US$200 million movie but he does fit the mould of the other directors in this Universe with all of them originating from low budget genre movies in Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Gareth Edwards and Adam Wingard. What was extremely pleasing for me was the way Dougherty used his effects team to deliver on a promise of Earth-shaking action that involved one monster we had seen before (Godzilla) and a host of other monsters that had their own signatures and personalities which come to the fore almost immediately. As this is set up as a major tentpole movie there are certain aspects that are de rigueursuch as the involvement of children, a family dynamic, large special effects, a third act that is over the top and involves resolution. Now to the credit of Dougherty he has included all of these but has also included some other elements such as some truly city destroying effects that for me felt more real than the last movie, not only that but this movie actually sets up an alternate Earth where monsters are the new normal, there is no hiding from them or the consequences of their actions which set up the sequel that will arrive next year. 

Like so many Hollywood Summer blockbusters there is a tendency to cast well-known actors to bring some cachet to a movie, however what “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” has opted to do is to cast Millie Bobby Brown the face of super hit series “Stranger Things” (2016-present) as the heart of this movie, luckily she has the talent to pull off the performance although I would have preferred less screaming as after a while this does become repetitive. In support we have some talent that plays second fiddle to the effects which is a shame as Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe and Zhang Ziyi all deserve better than what they receive but they all do have their own moments one way or another. It is actually surprising there is enough time devoted to the actor with so many action set pieces going on at any one time something that again goes to the skill of the director.

This movie goes a long way to not only tip its hat to “Kong: Skull Island” with its continual reference to many conspiracy theories such as the hollow Earth and crypto-zoology theories but it also warms the audience to the re-introduction of Kong net year which at times is heavy handed but the film-makers are at pains to point to the fact that these two monsters share the same world, even though it has obviously changed a lot. It is unfortunate then that “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” does have some major flaws which all mostly derive from the logic that the human characters go through to get from point A so that separate story elements are possible which is a shame as more thought and care could have gone into this aspect of the production, but it is by no means surprising. These logical gaps are not the sole domain of this movie, they exist in almost all modern blockbusters, it seems that in creating these behemoths that it is required that all human characters need to either be stupid or have never seen a movie before, those characteristics are present here which is a real shame as it means there is complexity to the people we are viewing onscreen. 

All in all, though I had low expectations of this movie but I was wrong, this was a wild ride that I enjoyed immensely it was everything I hoped in terms of action which was spectacular, but it did have human elements that I thought were very good. There is no doubt that the strengths of this movie lie in the monster battles and special effects that have been utilised to hammer home the size and destructive force of the all the monsters which look amazing. It keeps the emotion dialled up and there are more narrative twists than one might be expecting which is welcome, some an audience may not see coming. I would say this is a movie that would be great to see on a Friday or Saturday night with a group of people who should love what they have been offered, it should not let anyone down, if it does then you have missed the point of the entire exercise.

Technical review

Warner Home Video brings “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” to Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack. The triple-layered UHD100 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 disc, and both are housed inside a black, eco-cutout case with a shiny slipcover. At startup, viewers are taken to a static screen with the usual options along the bottom and music playing in the background.

Video

“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” arrives on Ultra HD with an excellent HEVC H.265 encode, struck from a 2K digital intermediate, which was itself sourced from a combination of Arri Alexa cameras capable of 3.4K and 6.5K resolutions. 

The 4K video has improved contrast and balance, brightening up the action somewhat but also looking noticeably darker overall than the Blu-ray. Although not immediately apparent given Sher’s creative photography, the boost in contrast delivers crisper, cleaner whites. At the same time, black levels are richer and inkier with incredible gradational differences between the various shades, allowing for excellent visibility within the darkest, velvety shadows.

Audio

“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” arrives with a reference-quality Dolby Atmos soundtrack. The object-based mix is front-heavy with effects littering the visuals and keeping things engaging. Lots of background activity fluidly moves between the three front channels and the top heights, generating a splendidly broad and spacious half-dome soundstage. Imaging exhibits distinct clarity and superb definition in the mid-range, even during the loudest, ear-deafening moments, making every screeching roar, every explosive fire blast and every tiny piece of rubble reverb through the room with extraordinary detail. For most of the runtime, the bass coasts in the mid-20Hz range at high decibels.

Extras

  • Audio Commentary: Director and co-writer Michael Dougherty sits down with screenwriter Zach Shields and actor O’Shea Jackson Jr. to chat about various aspects of the production.
  • Monarch in Action (HD, 33 min): Featuring storyboards, pre-viz animation, concept art and BTS footage, the five-part doc focuses on the various locations seen in the movie.
  • Evolution of the Titans (HD, 27 min): Four-part doc detailing the film’s four central monsters.
  • Monsters Are Real (HD, 14 min): Experts discuss our fascination monsters and mythology.
  • Monster Tech: Monarch Joins the Fight (HD, 9 min): Closer look at the company’s tech.
  • Monsters 101 (HD, 6 min): Cast & crew share their thoughts on the four monsters.
  • Millie Bobby Brown: Force of Nature (HD, 4 min): The actor talks about her involvement.
  • Welcome to the Monsterverse (HD, 4 min): A piece connecting the movie to Skull Island.
  • Deleted Scenes (HD, 5 min).
  • Trailers (HD, 12 min).

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