Saturday, June 15, 2019

Godzilla: King of Monsters; Deuce of Dialogue

Fire. Mayhem. Destruction. Monsters. Death. No, this isn't the lineup at your local dive bar's amateur heavy metal battle of the bands night. It's the successful formula for a kickass kaiju movie — in particular, a Godzilla movie. Much to the glee of giant monster movie fans like me, the newest instalment in Hollywood's reboot of the franchise, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, smashes through expectations. Mostly.

I've blathered on about my lifelong relationship with the big guy before, so I won't rehash it here. Follow this link if you want to find out why I have such high hopes every time someone takes a crack at Godzilla. So, looking at the ups and downs of the past, I was hopeful, but wary when the first trailers for GKOTM started to stomp around the net. 2014's Godzilla was abominable: boring, with uninteresting human characters, and very little screen time for the titular star of the movie. But 2017's Kong: Skull Island was damn near perfect for a monster movie: a great cast who looked like they were having fun and doing a great job, a story that made sense within the world it set up, reasonably good dialogue, nice worldbuilding in the teaser during the credits to set up GKOTM, plenty of loving allusions to pretty much every previous incarnation of the big ape, and special effects and action sequences that kicked ass and set up Kong as a force to be reckoned with in Warner Brothers' unfolding kaiju universe. So the question was, would this new addition live up to the standards of KSI, or would Godzilla still be stumbling under the weight of the bad writing of the first movie?

Luckily, this time, the big guy seems to have found his stride. For fans of science fictional action flicks, monster movies, kaiju, and Godzilla in particular — or even those just looking for some big, dumb, smash-some-shit-up, drive-in movie fun — this movie hits just about every target. The colossal battles between Godzilla, King Ghidora, Mothra and Rodan are unapologetically frequent, destructive, prolonged, and vicious, and the humans underfoot are by no means spared. The writers and director keep up the good job of worldbuilding for the franchise, with more monsters added; a beautiful-looking sequence in the drowned city of a lost, ancient civilization; and news headlines that allude to Kong and his home of Skull Island (important, since the word is that the next movie is set to slam these legends into each other). And I loved the fact that the film's MacGuffin is a transmitter box that's used to summon Godzilla (and the other monsters) — someone on the creative team was clearly a fan of Hanna Barbera's old Godzilla cartoon! The radio scenes could only have been better if they'd taken place on a ship named Calico crewed by Majors, Brock, Quinn and Pete (But not Godzooky. That's one blast from the past we don't need.).

Where the movie stumbles is its dialogue, which is cheesy, and with the overall story of the human characters. Yes, I know, it's a big, dumb monster movie. We're not watching it for dialogue and human story. Except we can. I don't think that good writing for human characters is too much to expect in a monster movie. Peter Jackson's King Kong remake, Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim, and the aforementioned KSI are eminently watchable for their human stories, and their dialogue isn't cringeworthy. Good writing shouldn't just be a surprising bonus in a kaiju movie, and it's a pity that with the budget Warner was working with for this flick that they couldn't have insisted on a little quality.

But while the human story is a deuce, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is at least a prince in the court of this summer's popcorn action movies and is worth seeing in the theatre, at least on a cheap Tuesday.

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