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Thursday, May 30, 2019 01:26 pm

Visual middle steals Monsters’ thunder

 

While Warner Brothers has stumbled badly in creating its own shared universe of superhero movies and Universal Pictures’ efforts to do the same with its famous stable of monsters is getting a reboot, Legendary Pictures has been quietly constructing a series of interlocking movies – a la Marvel Films’ game-changing, juggernaut franchises – that is proving to be far more satisfying than expected.  2014’s Godzilla was a satisfactory reboot of everyone’s favorite radiated, giant lizard while 2017’s Kong: Skull Island was a rousing reimagining of the big hairy romantic who apparently didn’t meet his end at the top of the Empire State Building.

A post-credits scene to Island gave us a hint that more was coming and it has arrived in the form of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which brings back not simply that title creature but introduces his oversized, destructive brethren Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah.  (For the uninitiated, Rodan is an atomic-fueled pterodactyl, Mothra is a really, really big moth and Ghidorah is a three-headed dragon.  No need to buy a scorecard now…).  These creatures were all featured in their own knock-off movies once Godzilla and its sequels proved to be major hits for Japan’s Toho Studios.  They would all come together for the cheesy epic Destroy All Monsters! (1968) which must have been made for 1% of the newest film’s $200 million budget.

This time out, the monster mash is being monitored by the secret agency known as Monarch. They have found 17 enormous creatures, dubbed “Titans,” around the world, most of them in hibernation. However, Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) has developed a gizmo that she can use to communicate with them and has formed a shaky alliance with mercenary Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) to track them down and wake them up.  This doesn’t sit well with her estranged husband, Mark (Kyle Chandler), or her daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), while various monster doctors at Monarch (played by Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, Bradley Whitford and Ziyi Zhang) set out to stop her.

This is the very definition of a popcorn movie; the best thing you can do is check your brain at the door and let this nonsense wash over you.  After all, you’re not here to suffer through a flimsy familial drama or see who in the veteran cast can convincingly deliver inane dialogue (Whitford is the winner, hands down), you’re here to see Godzilla and his cohorts tear stuff up real good.  

To be sure, there is no shortage of monster throwdowns; however, director Michael Dougherty seems intent on obscuring the action, rather than delivering the goods.  Each battle takes place amidst murky, overcast skies in pouring rain, which results in a visual muddle.  Far too many of the encounters occur in close up so we can only see glimpses of these computer-generated wonders, while the frantic editing simply adds the confusion.  The result is more frustrating than exciting, the creatures taking a back seat far too often when they should be front-and-center.

At over two hours, the film is too long as the story employs a couple too many superfluous plot points.  That the humans involved are bland as white rice doesn’t help.  Still, I liked the wrinkles that were added to the Godzilla mythology, and whenever he’s on screen, the film finds its footing.  In the end, once Lionsgate’s Monsterverse comes to an end, King of the Monsters will be seen as a placeholder in the franchise, an elaborate set-up for what hopefully, as the post-credit scenes promise, will be a more satisfying payoff.   

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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