Godzilla King of the Monsters: A Review

If you love Classic Japanese Monsters and Monster Battles then you are in for a world of chaotic wonder.

As someone who watched the original 1964 “Mothra vs Godzilla” and “Ghidorah the Three Headed Monster,” the new “Godzilla King of the Monsters” is a MAJOR recommendation. (Be warned there will be some spoilers in this review.)

My top three Kaiju (Japanese for Strange Beast or in English layman’s terms Giant Japanese Monsters) are King Ghidorah, Mothra and the titular Godzilla. As someone who really likes the aforementioned monsters,  Legendary Pictures did a brilliant job portraying these creatures, not only in sound and creature design by making iconic the cries/roars sound like they came from an actual beast and giving the Kaiju designs a more realistic look but also referencing the original designs from their debut films. However where they really shined was in the music, in the characterizations and in the thematic elements.

King Ghidorah is a powerful and menacing beast and considered to be a creature that meant the destruction of civilization. Being not of this world, just as he was in his debut film “Ghidorah the Three Headed Monster” where he had come as a meteorite to do unto earth what he had done to the Venusian civilization, although here it was stated through exposition that he was an extraterrestrial invasive species instead of being shown he was. Another thing I noticed about him is in the aforementioned film his three heads possessed only linear thought. However in “Godzilla King of the Monsters” while his heads are unified as an apex predator they each have a subtle unique personality, especially with one of the head’s liking to proverbially and literally play with its food with the central head acting the one in charge. Adding to his symbolism as a Devil-like destroyer figure is not only in the iconic imagery of him rising out of a volcano with golden wings outstretched before a red darkening sky before a cross in the foreground, but also in his musical theme. In King Ghidorah’s theme they had Japanese Buddhist Heart Sutra (prayer) chants within the theme (a Catholic/Christian equivalent would be the Kyrie Eleison) in which the sutra/prayer is requesting mercy from the devine, in a sense a request of salvation to the divine as who wouldn’t call on the Divine in the face of absolute evil, considering the destroyer King Ghidorah was called in promotional material for the film “the Devil {who} has three heads” which adds more to his symbolism as a Judeo-Christian Devil-like figure. To quote from the Book of Revelation: “They have a King over them, the angel of the Abyss. A star fallen from Heaven to Earth, he opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like that of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened.”

My favorite, Mothra, is beautifully portrayed as a benevolent yet powerful guardian. In her debut film in 1961 she was a goddess attempting to rescue her fairy priestesses and was the guardian of Infant Island. This is showcased in “Godzilla King of the Monsters” when faced with hostile humans in her larval state she doesn’t physically harm them. Rather she immobilizes them and when she completes her metamorphosis, she appears before the humans making them realize their one chance of combating Ghidorah is before them, giving them hope. This is also portrayed in her musical theme too. The composer, Bear McCreary (who also composed the music for God of War 4), didn’t have to do this but he utilized a Chinese style orchestration combined with tribal drums to the original theme of Mothra from 1961. In the original film the song is sung by her priestesses to summon her which gave them hope of rescue whereas in “Godzilla King of the Monsters” her song (although without lyrics the tune is exactly the same) is played when she awakens from her cocoon in an iconic reveal of her wings from a waterfall, giving humanity hope. (Personal note I did start slightly tearing up when I heard her song in this moment.) In my opinion on this portrayal, the moth goddess has earned her place as the Queen of the Monsters.

As for the big beast himself the titular character Godzilla is amazingly portrayed. As a callback to his first appearance in 1954, he was awakened due to nuclear testing and is powered by nuclear energy. He is neither good or evil like in previous 1950-1960’s films. His original creation was in response to nuclear weaponry as the Japanese were the first and only country to suffer from the effects of the atomic blast. Like the Bhagaved Gita used by J. Robert Oppenheimer: “Now I have become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds,” Godzilla has caused damage to humans (especially with the main human characters and the real villain of the film) but he is willing to work alongside them to combat the greatest threat to his world; the extraterrestrial golden dragon of destruction King Ghidorah. The foreshadowing of their battle was found in the Legendary film “Kong: Skull Island” in the ending montage that showcased Godzilla’s seeming eternal battle with the golden beast and this film pays off in not only near deaths and defeats against his nemesis, the false King, but Godzilla proves himself to be the true King of the Monsters as he obliterates the usurper. Not only did they make a realistic portrayal of his classical roar but they also created an amazing orchestral version (complete with a regal Babylonian chanting when arriving to his “temple” under the sea to revitalize him along with the iconic Japanese chant of “Gojira”) of his original theme from 1954. In my opinion, Godzilla was meant to be portrayed as a god-like King who can be both malevolent and benevolent and in the film that bears his name and title… this was an amazing portrayal of such an iconic character.

I could go on a long while about what callbacks the film has made. However I will limit myself to mentioning how the film made respectable nods to the Japanese for giving us memorable beloved monsters along with giving an end credit memorial to the actors who played the original Godzilla at the end of the film.

There were however some minor complaints on my end. The story is indeed a thin story; however, the visuals and characterization of the monsters make up for that in my opinion. It’s a common complaint I myself have made about the monster films from the 1950’s-1960’s era. Another complaint would be a scene where a prized piece of tech is left out with no security especially when its shown the character who stole it was questioning the individuals who co-opted the tech. Along with that the individual who was built up to be the major human antagonist, Alan Jonah, barely had any screen time and was shown to be a bit of a stereotypical villain. But I did enjoy how he was acted as he was played by Charles Dance who played Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones. He has a Christopher Lee level charm to him.

As for the other human characters, my favorites had to be Doctor Ishiro Serizawa by Ken Watanabe who’s character arc comes to a completion from the 2014 film “Godzilla” in a wonderful way. Doctor Chen and Doctor Ling-Chen played by Ziyi Zhang (both of whom played the Chairman and Sayuri respectively in the film Memoirs of a Geisha) act as spiritual stands in for Mothra’s priestesses from the original 1961 Mothra film as they’re twins from Infant Island who focus on the mythology behind the Titans and one of them is present upon Mothra’s awakening. Finally there’s Doctor Mark Russell (played by Kyle Chandler who played Bruce Baxter in the 2005 edition of King Kong) who goes through the character arc of a man who hates Godzilla after the death of his son in San Francisco in 2014 to realizing if the world is to be saved from King Ghidorah, he has  to put aside his hatred of Godzilla to save the world from a greater threat; so not only does he have to face his demons (in the form of Godzilla) but also make peace with them. I liked how these characters were handled and portrayed in the film and I like the respectable self sacrifice one character made for Godzilla.

Along with the human characters we get to see some philosophical questions raised by the film: can humanity co-exist with the Titans? Each faction in the film portrays a different answer to this question. With Jonah’s forces and the actual villain (who were pointed out to be in the wrong, along with committing horrible acts towards humanity and pointed out to be more of a monster than the other Titans), they believe humanity is a “disease to be eradicated” from the planet and humans must be destroyed for the sake of the planet and have the Titans become once again the true owners of the globe. (Personal note: as a Conservative I couldn’t help but be reminded of the extremist Left as the villain’s ideology is along the lines of the Far Left’s in the belief that all white people are inherently racist and must die out because of so called “inherent oppressors.” In my opinion this suicidal ideology is along the lines of Jonah’s eco-terrorist group and is just as dangerous as the aforementioned belief and I’m glad the film actually called out this line of thinking as not only dangerous but monstrous.) Then there’s the US government who believe if human life is to be protected the Titans must be wiped out for the sake of humanity’s protection and this extremism ends up almost destroying the world in the form of the iconic Oxygen Destroyer a weapon more dangerous than a plutonium based atomic bomb. Finally there’s the middle ground which is presented by Monarch who believe in coexistence with the Titans and is embodied by Doctor Serizawa in his character arc, idealized by Doctor Chen (who has generationally worked with Monarch researching the Titans) and realized by Doctor Russell.

If I were to rate the film I would give this film four stars out of five. If you are a fan of classic Japanese Monster films and want to see epic fights between iconic Kaiju you are in for a chaotic world of wonder. If you’re there for the story it is as thin as previous Japanese monster films. Verdict: this singing vampire diva gives this film two thumbs way up and a standing ovation just for the music alone.