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.

Kyle’s Top Ten Films of 2017

 

Hey folks, another year has come and gone and here we sit, at the end of it, looking back on what was. 2017 had some truly great films and I’m going to count down my top ten today.

Just a couple notes before we get into all this:

  • These are my personal top ten films of the year from the many I have seen. I judge the films from my list in their success as a film in what they are trying to accomplish.
  • I haven’t seen all the movies released in 2017. If you read this list and find that something is missing, let me know, drop a comment, and start the conversation. Everyone loves a good recommendation.
  • Due to some of the heavy-hitters of Oscar season still on the way, this is a tentative list and it will change as more limited release films open up.

There, with all that out of the way, my Top Ten Films of 2017.

 

  1. Wind River

-I was not entirely excited about Wind River. That’s not to say anything wrong about the marketing, but I didn’t know anything about it and, living in an area with intense cold several months of the year, I wasn’t all that interested to see it in the summer. Thankfully, my other plans fell through and I ended up at the theater. Wind River is the powerful tale of a murder on an Native American Reservation and the unlikely duo who team up to solve the mystery. It’s been said a lot but this is Jeremy Renner’s best performance of his entire career. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water, Sicario) jumps into the director’s chair this time around and crafts a tightly-paced and shocking look at these characters and their world. It’s emotional, exciting and thought-provoking in every stroke.

 

  1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi is an incredible new addition to the Star Wars lore for the simple fact that it surprised me. I haven’t been genuinely surprised in a Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back. Writer/Director Rian Johnson created a follow-up that subverts expectations while simultaneously honoring what has come before and driving forward on a new path. Not everyone loved it (someone once said that the people who hate Star Wars the most are the fans) but I enjoyed it for all the reasons that others didn’t love it. It’s exciting, emotional, and funny, and I cannot wait to see it again.

 

  1. Thor: Ragnarok

-With Thor: Ragnarok, Director Taika Waititi and Marvel Studios have given the public the closest thing to a new Flash Gordon that we are likely to get. A rollicking 80s road-trip style space movie with everyone’s favorite god of thunder and his pal the Incredible Hulk,  Ragnarok embodies the best of what the MCU has to offer, an incredibly fun and riveting blast of a film that stands on its own while contributing to a larger narrative. In Hela, we get an interesting villain with ties to Thor, and new characters like The Grandmaster, the Valkyrie, and Korg keep the thrills light and fluffy.

 

  1. Okja

Okja is one of the best films that Netflix has ever released. It is a strange tale, a unique tale, a funny-at-times tale, and a heartfelt tale. It’s the story of a girl and her superpig Okja. The company that created Okja , Mirando, has invested a lot of money in crafting a creature that is environmentally conscious with a minimal carbon footprint that tastes great, and now they plan on harvesting Okja to make billions for themselves, but Mija is not about to let the company take her friend. The film is one of the weirdest I’ve seen in a long time, but thanks to top-notch directing from Writer/Director Bong Joon-Ho from a great screenplay by him and Jon Ronson, Okja is a powerful ride from beginning to end.

 

  1. Dunkirk

Dunkirk is a film made for the theater experience. I was lucky that a colleague of mine got tickets to the 70mm/IMAX presentation and I was floored by the majesty of it all. The scenes in the air were breathtaking. The sequences on the beach were thrilling. The scenes on the boat were emotional. The whole film experience was astounding. Then, I watched it again when it hit home video. The film is still exhilarating. Even with the loss of the massive screen, this is a tightly-packed narrative that has so much going on but still feels so focused.

 

  1. Blade Runner 2049

-Who would’ve guessed that a sequel to a cult classic sci-fi thriller would be good? Blade Runner 2049 is even better than the original! How the hell did that happen? Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario) takes what works about the original film and crafts a companion piece that stands on its own and connects really nicely to the original film. Blade Runner and its sequel become two sides of the same coin, a breathtaking double-feature that is well worth the lengthy runtime. Harrison Ford returns as Deckard and joins Ryan Gosling’s Agent K, providing some of the best work in either of their careers.

 

  1. Lady Bird

-Greta Gerwig directs Lady Bird with such realism that it brought me back to a time in my youth when I was very much like Saoirse Ronan’s Christine. This incredible coming-of-age story feels like it’s the first of its kind in a world where dozens of similar films are released each year. The terrific chemistry between Christine and her mother is palpable and real. The film wanders through Lady Bird’s life as she encounters situations that many of us have been through in this interesting semi-autobiographical look at adolescence from a fantastic up-and-coming director.  I can’t wait to see what she does next.

 

  1. War for the Planet of the Apes

-How the hell did Planet of the Apes craft one of the best trilogies of all time? How does that happen? Matt Reeves takes on his second film in this franchise following Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and after having seen a few times, I can honestly say that War tops it. Andy Serkis is an actor who deserves performance credit for his role as the immensely complex Caesar, and he is matched on the battlefield by the chameleon that is Woody Harrelson, a man that can be joyful in one instant and terrifying in the next. Matt Reeves should be considered one of the hottest acts in Hollywood right now for his recent track record, and I look forward to his take on The Batman (if it ever does happen).

 

  1. The Big Sick

The Big Sick has been a critical darling since it was released in early 2017. The story, based on true events, is a dramedy based on the relationship of Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily. The movie mixes emotion and comedy to present one of the best and truest representations of love I’ve ever seen. The performances in it are all fantastic, especially Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily’s parents. The Big Sick has a lot of award consideration and I’d be more than happy to see it take away some Oscars when the time comes as it hasn’t had a wide viewing outside of the general film community, and a few statues may help with that.

 

  1. The Shape of Water

-I hadn’t even heard of The Shape of Water at the beginning of 2017. In fact, it was only during an interview for The Bye Bye Man that Doug Jones even dropped he was working on a fish romance film with Guillermo del Toro that I even knew of the film’s existence but little else. Thankfully, late last year I was able to catch a screening for the film, and I just fell in love with it. I had always said that Pan’s Labyrinth would likely be del Toro’s masterpiece, but The Shape of Water is just so personal and lovely and strange and beautiful that I couldn’t get it out of my mind long after my initial viewing. Doug Jones, like Andy Serkis, won’t garner awards recognition for his work here and that’s a shame. Thankfully, Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, and Michael Shannon turn in career-topping work here and the film is getting a lot of talk now. See this movie. It’s the best film of 2017.

 

Well, there you have it. These are my favorite films of the year. I look forward to #2018oscardeathrace to begin, and I may see a few favorites get knocked off as I continue catching up on what I missed in 2017, but overall, it was another great year for films. We’ll see you in 2018 (which is like, right now).

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

The Shape of Water (2017)

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg

Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor

123 mins. Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language.

 

Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak) is a director known for his visual flair and attention to detail, but he has yet to cross the barrier into household name. His newest film, The Shape of Water, is his most deeply personal and intimate. The film is garnering some critical and festival praise right now, but is that warranted? This writer has been excited for the film since early this year, and I was overjoyed to catch a screening of it earlier this week.

The film stars Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky, Godzilla) as Elisa Esposito, a mute woman who works overnights as a janitor for the Occam Aerospace Research Center. She is perhaps too curious to discover that a strange new asset has been delivered to the facility one night, a dangerous new creature discovered in South America. As the creature is unable to communicate with sound, he quickly takes to Elisa’s use of sign language as well as the gifts of boiled eggs she brings him. When Elisa learns what the creature’s handler, Strickland (Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), plans to do with him, she hatches a plan to save the amphibious being and, along the way, discovers that her affection for the creature has grown exponentially.

I’m going to say it right now: The Shape of Water is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The plot is familiar enough in its simplest terms, but del Toro proves yet again that isn’t the story you tell but rather how you tell it that makes a masterpiece, and this one might be the director’s best work to date. The story he tells is one of love, attraction, repression, and loneliness using the central relationship between Elisa and the amphibious creature, played brilliantly by del Toro favorite Doug Jones (Hellboy II: The Golden Army, TV’s Star Trek: Discovery).

While Elisa and the Creature are the central relationship of the film, the secondary relationships give a nice contrast, showing Elisa’s friendship with chatty co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures, The Divergent Series: Allegiant) and the tenderness of her friendship with neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins, The Visitor, LBJ). The web is stretched further to show the way that Zelda behaves toward her husband and also how Giles, a closeted homosexual, pursues an attraction in an era where repression has made him self-conscious and very lonely. Then, there’s the polarized opposition of Strickland’s family dynamic and the way he treats his colleagues, specifically Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man, Arrival). The film’s near-constant unraveling of every relationship is fascinating and introspective in all the right ways.

The Shape of Water might be the best film I’ve seen this year. There’s a lot to unpack, and it feels like I need to see it again to fully connect to it, but the film, while a bit lengthy in its second act, is an exemplary look at love and attraction presented in its most unique fashion. This movie will challenge audiences and I hope you leave with as many questions as I did. That is, after all, the beauty in it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen The Shape of Water? What did you think? What’s your favorite relationship in the film? Let me know/drop a comment below!

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

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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