Titanic Thoughts (Godzilla King of the Monsters–Spoilers!)
The very first thing that I can remember, ever, is seeing Godzilla on the television in the living room of the house I grew up in. I guess that means Godzilla imprinted on me, that’s how that works with humans, right?
Beyond that, I grew up on the timeframe where television stations would fill the gap between soap operas and talk shows with movies between three and five in the afternoon. Every few months, they would have some kind of “giant monster week” where those movies were various kaiju films including Godzilla movies.
I absolutely loved those movies, even though I would get very impatient as the silly humans came up with reasons to be important in the movie.
Godzilla in Time
I didn’t see the 1998 Godzilla in theaters. It didn’t look like the Godzilla I grew up with, and it felt like what a lot of movies were doing when they translated media to film. It took the very general concept and completely reenvisioned that concept based on what the studio thought would sell.
“Let’s make it Jurassic Park, but bigger!”
It kind of missed the point that Godzilla has his own mythos that has developed over decades. I can’t claim to have super Godzilla knowledge. I watched the movies when I was in grade school, and I’ve rented Godzilla 2000 and Final Wars in my adulthood. But knowing that Toho gave the producers a list of core Godzilla tenents which they promptly ignored really shows.
Skip forward to 2014, to the first of the Legendary Pictures Godzilla movies. I enjoyed the movie, but it was clear that it was very much playing it safe. By this, I mean that they intentionally gave much more weight to the human stories and how people reacted to the existence of giant monsters than the story of the giant monsters themselves. That said, nothing about the story invalidated a wider mythology for Godzilla, it introduced more kaiju than just Godzilla, and reinforced the “Godzilla is ultimately the hero” trope to the series.
I had no idea what to expect from Kong: Skull Island. I knew it was to exist in the same universe as the Legendary Godzilla movies, but with the slow burn that the 2014 movie had, I was really concerned with how interesting yet another Kong movie would be. I still had the Peter Jackson Kong movie in my head, and as melodramatic and drawn out as the movie is, I really loved a lot of it (it does have its issues). That’s what made me worried that a “safe” Kong movie in the same vein as the 2014 Godzilla movie would be a massive drag.
Turns out, I loved Kong: Skull Island, and tonally, it was way more gonzo than the 2014 Godzilla movie. It was also very much in keeping with the structure of the Godzilla movies–Kong seems to be the scary thing, but turns out to be the ally to the humans against the actual scary monsters.
Despite being over the top giant ape action, the movie managed to do what other “shared world” franchises recently have screwed up. The shared elements of the movie in the main narrative are lightly touched on, with most of the connective tissue existing in the after credits scene, letting the movie be it’s own thing first and foremost. Poor, larval Dark Universe . . .
Despite Legendary’s acquisition by Warner Brothers, the build-up for this cinematic universe felt very much like Marvel’s, but with a slightly faster cycle. Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America all introduced very “true to the core concept” movies that didn’t take the core concepts back to formula, but also very slowly introduced more over the top comic book concepts. Starting slow and having a good foundation let them branch out into alien invasions, magic, and reality warping artifacts, and most of that felt like a logical progression.
In Legendary Godzilla terms, we get Godzilla and some other weird by not overly conceptual kaiju to introduce the concept, then we get Kong and the idea of ancient kaiju all over the place, and Monarch being a bit wider-ranging and more established than 2014 Godzilla may have explicitly stated. By the third movie, it’s easier to introduce super science Monarch with flying fortresses, alien kaiju with world-shaking armageddon powers, and Godzilla and Mothra as literal sort of mystical forces of nature.
The King’s Court
Moving on to the actual content of the movie, I loved it. I can’t really objectively rate the movie, but as someone that has loved Godzilla literally as long as I can remember, it was exactly what I wanted in a modern Godzilla movie. I loved the modernized look of the characters that managed to still make them all recognizable.
The movie continually reminds us of the scale of the creatures by throwing in something for comparison, even in those scenes that take place far removed from any cities.
I have seen some complaints that there were still too many human-focused scenes in this movie. That’s an odd complaint to me. Most of the older Godzilla movies spend a considerable amount of time setting stakes by establishing human protagonists as point of view characters. They did what humans in Godzilla movies usually do–they make things worse to begin with, then help fix the stupid thing they did by the end of the movie. That’s the pattern in many of the films.
In fact, I really enjoyed most of the characters we spent time with. Charles Dance just exuded villainy, and I loved Ken Watanabe’s expanded role and intensity in the movie. Whenever Vera Farmington, Zhan Ziyi, Sally Hawkins, Bradley Whitford, Aisha Hinds were on screen, I liked them, and felt some personality from them. Thomas Middleditch’s character archetype is present in many films, and usually comes across as either hapless or smarmy, but subtle things like his response to Watanabe’s character’s fate added some depth. Millie Bobby Brown wasn’t just a “kid in peril” or getting in over her head, but felt like as much of a character as the adults. And I didn’t hate Kyle Chandler, despite his character being the most boring archetypical white male father husband protagonist they could have come up with.
Thankfully, instead of falling into stupid bravado tropes after establishing the archetype he fell into, there were several points where they just skipped to him doing what needed to be done . . . reluctantly.
Were any of these characters deep? No. Was the plot deep? No. Was the plot a well-executed version of the archetypical Godzilla plot that has developed over the years with the Toho films? Definitely.
I loved the nod to the twin priestesses associated with Mothra over the past decades in this movie. I also can’t help but wonder if it was intentional that Monarch’s flying headquarters, the Argo, is very similar in concept to a SHIELD helicarrier, and that when Marvel had the Godzilla license for comics, there was a dedicated SHIELD helicarrier, the Behemoth, that followed Godzilla around.
This One Goes to Eleven
It’s obvious that the movie is pushing towards the Godzilla versus Kong angle for the next movie, and my guess is that, given that both are “heroic” monsters, they will fight, and then something bigger and badder will come along for them to unite against. I’m not sure if this bigger, badder thing will be the teased threat from the end credits, but I think the movies have prepared audiences well enough for a potential cyborg zombie kaiju in the form of Mecha-Ghidorah.