Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

Director: Michael Dougherty

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

Screenplay: Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields

132 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of monster action violence and destruction, and for some language.

 

The MonsterVerse is one of the more successful cinematic universe to rise out of the shadow of Marvel, probably the fourth best one after the MCU, the DCEU, and The Conjuring Universe. It’s also the one that feels more easily connected, but it also feels like if has nowhere to go after next year’s Godzilla vs. King Kong. That is, until King of the Monsters blew open the floodgates for franchise expansion.

It’s been five years since Godzilla faced off against the MUTOs, and the world has been trying to recover, until a group of eco-terrorists under the command of Alan Jonah (Charles Dance, Gosford Park, Johnny English Strikes Again) kidnap Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air, Annabelle Comes Home) and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown, TV’s Stranger Things) with the intention of using them to help wake up the numerous Titans slumbering all around the world. Now, Emma’s ex-husband Mark (Kyle Chandler, Argo, First Man) has been tasked by MONARCH to help track them down, but he wants nothing to do with Titans after the death of his son during the attacks of 2014. He is forced to come to terms with his hatred for Godzilla as the Titans keep waking up, from the fiery Rodan to the great alien beast King Ghidorah, in order to stop them and save the human race from possible extinction at the hands of the kaiju.

Godzilla 2014 had a problem with the handling of the title creature. Godzilla movies actually do not feature a lot of the great kaiju, but when he is used, it is wonderful. The way Godzilla was hidden for a bulk of the film didn’t work all that well for me, so I’m glad to report that King of the Monsters puts those kaiju on display from the opening scene to the epic finale. In fact, while I liked the previous Godzilla film, it seems like all the problems of the last film are somewhat corrected or at least bettered by King of the Monsters.

The human characters are nothing really special in the sequel, but compared to the human story of the first film, I prefer this rag-tag group of monster hunters trying to track the kaiju awakenings around the work. From Chandler’s Mark to returning favorites Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water, Paddington 2) and Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu). I at least generally liked this group of humans, and I wanted to see them succeed, with one exception.

The way Emma’s character is written is downright terrible. It would be nearly impossible for her character arc to work well given the arc she is given, and Farmiga does what she can in the role, but the character just flat-out doesn’t work, and it takes a lot out of the film given that she’s one of our human leads.

Thankfully, though, this Godzilla movie is about the kaiju, and that’s what really matters. Looking back at the mission statement of this site, to look at what a film is trying to accomplish, King of the Monsters is about the kaiju, and for that, the films works quite well. Godzilla has a fully realized arc, and he is most definitely the king and star of the film. Where director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat, Krampus) shines here is that he gives great attention and love to the lore of the Godzilla expanded franchise. He picks his versions of each of the kaiju quite well, especially where he takes on Mothra. Mothra can be a trickier kaiju to stay grounded with because of all the mythos of the character, but Doughtery showcases his love of this world with his incredible attention to detail.

Dougherty’s favorite kaiju is Rodan, and he takes the opportunity to include the famed creature in his film. The only problem is that Rodan has such a rich history and stands as a kaiju I really love, and I don’t think it has any purpose in this film. For a character with such an interesting background, Rodan could be a film’s main antagonist, but in this film, it stands as just another lackey of Ghidorah, and I didn’t like the way it was put in the film. It could’ve been replaced with just about any other kaiju and the film would feel the exact same.

The director and his co-screenwriter Zach Shields had to expand upon this world, and in that way, the world feels extremely well expanded for future films. There are so many kaiju in the film, and they are merely cameos or introductions to monsters we may see in future films, but the groundwork has been laid quite well. I can see a lot of possibilities for the future of this cinematic universe, using both established characters or the new ones created in this film. It even nicely lays the groundwork for the next film in the franchise without forcing it by introducing the idea that MONARCH has been following Kong’s life since Skull Island. This is a problem tackled in this film that many fledgling cinematic universes can’t get past. BvS and Iron Man 2 tried to shoehorn a cinematic universe together with references and connections abound, and it could have buried their universe. The Mummy tried to do all that in the first film and killed its franchise. What needs to be done is to make a fun and entertaining experience first, and give blink-and-you’ll-miss-it details next while using your credits to set up the future. That’s why I never understood the aversion to post-credits scenes after the success of the MCU. It’s like a teaser for what comes next without ending every film on a cliffhanger. King of the Monsters is one of the most successful universe-building installments ever.

Dougherty has fun with the film because he understands the tone of his stories, and that’s what has made him such a fun storyteller to watch, from his work on Trick ‘r Treat to Krampus, he’s just a blast of a filmmaker. He finally used the Blue Oyster Cult song Godzilla, and he used it well!

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a better film than its predecessor, and while it doesn’t perfect the art of kaiju films with its occasionally flawed characters and reliance on spectacle over story, it’s a damn fun movie, one that kept me looking on with childhood glee and praising its visual sense and creative creature design. This is a fun movie, done.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s Kong: Skull Island, click here.

For my review of Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla, click here.

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu (2019)

Director: Rob Letterman

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Suki Waterhouse, Omar Chaparro, Chris Geere, Ken Watanabe, Bill Nighy

Screenplay: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Nicole Perlman

104 mins. Rated PG for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements.

 

After decades of waiting, a live-action Pokemon movie exists, and it follows Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town as he…wait? It doesn’t? Then who’s it about? Detective Pikachu? Seriously? Okay, let’s start this one again.

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith, Paper Towns, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) works in the high-stakes world of insurance, and he has no interest in being a Pokemon trainer, but when Tim learns of his father’s death, he goes to Ryme City to settle things. When Tim arrives at his father’s apartment, he comes across a Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool, The Croods) sporting detective wear and claiming to belong to Harry, Tim’s father. The crazy thing is that he and the Pikachu completely understand each other as if they’re speaking the same language. Pikachu wants to solve the case of Harry’s possible murder, but he has amnesia and doesn’t remember anything. The two unlikely heroes join forces to find the culprits, and their search brings them to a conspiracy neither one ever expected.

I was really disappointed to hear that the first live-action Pokemon movie would be a Detective Pikachu movie, mostly because there was so much material to be mined in the Pokemon Universe, and choosing to focus on a game that was largely unreleased in North America until recently seemed like a really odd choice. Then, I heard Ryan Reynolds was voicing Pikachu and I got really concerned. It seemed to me like this whole franchise was coming together in a really bad way. Then, the poster looked okay. Then, the trailer looked silly, but it also looked like fun, so I became increasingly excited about the prospect of a Detective Pikachu movie, but there was still that lingering confusion as to the narrative purpose of a Detective Pikachu movie. It was only after seeing the film that I got it. There is a very important narrative purpose to this movie, and while I still would have like to see a straight-forward Pokemon adventure, Detective Pikachu is a great introductory course for Pokemon fans, and it has the potential to bring in a lot of new fans.

For the most part, Ryan Reynold’s voice work is pretty solid for him and the writing gives him a lot to play with. His chemistry as a CG-character actually melded pretty well with Justice Smith’s Tim. Their central relationship is the reason for watching the movie, as many of the secondary characters serve a purpose to that central relationship but little else.

Director Rob Letterman (Monsters vs. Aliens, Goosebumps) injected a lot of little references and visually appealing fan moments into the movie. I had some concern about the use of legendary characters like Mewtwo in this movie, and how they would be incorporated in an interesting way, and overall, it was mostly done with care. Again, the whole Mewtwo has a purpose in the film and a narrative reason to appear, albeit a thin one. What’s great is that, even with Mewtwo, his lore from the animated films and games appears to be intact and built into the character’s past. That’s one of reasons that I couldn’t look away from the screen during the movie. I have been a Pokemon fan since it hit stateside, and I was glued to the screen for every little CG critter to show up.

The biggest flaw of the film is that it caters to one demographic age range, which was a silly choice. This is a kid’s movie, and before you say DUH! I want to say that Pokemon, as a franchise is now multi-generational, much like the Toy Story movies. Kids who grew up with Pokemon when it started are not adults with their very own children, and if Detective Pikachu aimed their narrative at both kids and adults, it would have been more successful. I had a lot of fun watching, but the plotting was a little simplistic and I put it together rather easily. The final turn of the film surprised me a bit, and it was a good little hook to the narrative, but the overarching plotline was rather simplistic. Too much so.

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu now holds the distinction of being the best video game movie ever, at least from a critical viewpoint, and I truly enjoyed it. It’s the kind of movie that Pokemon fans will like and non-Pokemon fans can at least understand. It’s plot is a little too rudimentary, but the central comradery between Pikachu and Tim is strong enough to carry, and it has plenty of cute little monsters to keep the spectacle alive.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my theory involving Detective Pikachu’s connection to Home Alone, click here.

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

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Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Titus Welliver, Bingbing Li, T.J. Miller

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger

165 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo.

 

It has been seven years since Transformers came out. I can’t believe I’m sitting here writing a review of the fourth film in this series, Transformers: Age of Extinction. This film is a bit of a departure in that it takes place five years after The Battle of Chicago, as it is referred to (which took place in Dark of the Moon) and features an entirely new cast of characters. Literally, nobody returns to this franchise for the fourth film except some of the voice actors for the Transformers.

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This installment introduces us to Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg, Boogie Nights, Ted 2), a novice inventor, and his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz, TV’s Bates Motel, The Last Airbender). Cade is a picker who scavenges for parts to use in his various inventions. He and his assistant Lucas (T.J. Miller, Cloverfield, Big Hero 6) come across a truck in an old abandoned theater and take it home to discover it is Optimus Prime in hiding. A government official named Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer, TV’s Cheers, The Expendables 3) has hired a human hitman (Titus Welliver, The Town, Promised Land) and a bounty hunter Decepticon named Lockdown to hunt down and destroy the remaining Transformers. Meanwhile, a big-time business named Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci, The Hunger Games, Muppets Most Wanted) is developing new technology incorporating Autobot tech and using it to build his own Transformers.

The plot is at least a new direction for this series. I was getting tired of the limited character development of Shia LaBeouf. This film isn’t great, but it certainly epitomizes the Michael Bay promise: likable trash. I had a lot of fun watching this movie. It just felt newer, and it had a lot more in terms of acting prowess (from Wahlberg, Tucci, Grammer, and Miller). The plot runs on for damn near forever, but I’ve come to expect that from this series and I didn’t feel as restless as I had from the last few movies.

I also absolutely love the design of the new Transformers in this installment. Hound (voiced by John Goodman) is a new Autobot who plays off like an old army colonel. He is an absolutely fantastic and angry beast who actually transforms to have a cigar in his mouth, too. Drift (voiced by Ken Watanabe) is a samurai who has blades that come from his transformation into an Apache helicopter. The faces are so well-defined that this is the first Transformers movie where I know all the Transformers based on looks. These are different characters.

And then there’s Lockdown. This is a complex character who is joining the US government to take on the Autobots and also has plans of his own.

I enjoyed this movie more so than I thought, and perhaps that comes from hearing all these bad reviews coming out of this movie’s initial release. I guess I had my hopes down.

One major flaw came from Galvatron, who is one of the new lead villains, a man-made Decepticon who feels so underdeveloped that it becomes really tough to fear him.

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All in all, this was more fun than expected. Make sure you have a comfortable chair, because you will be here awhile, and non-Transformers fans need not apply.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction? Did it transform into a masterpiece or did you “Roll Out” of the theater? Let me know!

 

For my review of Transformers, click here.

For my review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, click here.

For my review of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, click here.

Godzilla (2014)

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Director: Gareth Edwards.

Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Straithairn, Bryan Cranston.

Screenplay: Max Borenstein.

123 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence.

 

Back in 2010, relatively unknown director Gareth Edwards released Monsters, a technical masterpiece of hard work, mostly completed by Edwards himself. His handling of a difficult workload in post-production proved that he was capable of controlling a film shoot. Now, he has his hands on one of the most important releases of the year: the second attempt at an American Godzilla franchise. A daunting task to be certain, but not impossible.

Edwards’ film isn’t exactly the no-holds-barred masterpiece we have hoped for, but it isn’t 1998’s Godzilla either. This film comes in somewhere in between, with both pros and cons but still capable of triggering a follow-up. In fact, it already seems like Godzilla will be the first of a (so-far) trilogy, with two sequels on the way from Edwards himself. He seems like the kind of filmmaker to learn from his mistakes, so let’s hope for the best.

Anyway, back to this film. This incarnation of the mythos is centered around the Brody family and the effect that these kaiju, have had on their lives. The patriarch, Joe (Bryan Cranston, TV’s Breaking Bad, Argo), survives an initial event back in 1999 that takes the life of his wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche, The English Patient, Cosmopolis). Flash-forward to present day Tokyo, where Joe has slowly slipped into madness by the many conspiracy theories he has pursued involving the destruction of his home. He quickly pulls his estranged son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kick-Ass, Anna Karenina) into the mix chasing creatures nicknamed MUTOs. Who will come to the rescue? Cough. Cough.

Godzilla. Godzilla does.

Godzilla is a far different creature than the one introduced to American audiences in our previous flimsy attempt. This Godzilla is a heroic one. Now, Godzilla has been seen as a hero in many installments of Toho’s three series (Showa, Heisei, and Millenium).  He is a protector, and pretty damn awesome.

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Let’s talk performances here, because this is where the failings begin to manifest. We have some pretty big actors here: Taylor-Johnson, Cranston, Binoche, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, and David Straithairn. The problem? The only characters with any development are Joe Brody (who doesn’t have enough screentime to carry) and Watanabe’s Dr. Ishiro Serizawa. The rest of these are wasted on character the screenwriter (Max Borenstein) didn’t bother to actually develop. Bryan Cranston carries a powerhouse performance with limited time. This is a character that delivered the most important moments in the film.

Ken Watanabe also delivers a unique performance here. As Dr. Serizawa, we see a character reminiscent of many previous characters in older Godzilla films. The doc is designed to create ambience around a creature who we largely don’t see until at least an hour in.

Who’s the star of this film? It certainly isn’t Godzilla. The beast itself doesn’t take up much screen time. I didn’t mind this approach, reminiscent of older monster movies, like The Wolf Man or Jaws, if the main characters were developed enough to make up for it. They weren’t.

The cinematography  here is gorgeous. The editing of the shots, though, drew me out of the film. Every time the MUTOs or Godzilla show up, they cut away to the aftermath. Now, I find reservations with this, as this is one of the big things about Godzilla: Destruction!

The visual effects are also top notch here. Godzilla being modeled after komodo dragons and bears makes for a beautiful creature.  I’m almost certain we will see Godzilla on the shortlist for Best Visual Effects at next year’s Oscars. Quote it.

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After reviewing all the individual pieces here, I can say that this film was far from perfect, but it showed a lot of potential in creating a franchise, which I hope happens soon, as the ending was completely left open! Give us more, Gareth! More!

Have you seen Godzilla? What did you think? Was it enough Kaiju-on-Kaiju action or were you squirming in your seat? Comment below!

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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