As other non-Marvel cinematic universes either crumble (Dark Universe), or limp along on life support between occasional jolts of excitement (DCEU), the MonsterVerse has been slowly gaining momentum like a long-dormant giant. It started in 2014 with Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, a technically solid monster flick with excellent creature design that was unfortunately more invested in the thin human characters and the procedures of FEMA camps than in its namesake. In 2017, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island defied expectations with genuine emotions, great action, and an exciting story that remembered to put the namesake monster front and center.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the latest installment directed and co-written by Michael Dougherty, lives up to its predecessors and its name by getting its priorities right. We’re living in the Titans’ world, not they in ours, so the goings-on of humans is only interesting inasmuch as it is in service of or reaction to the Titans. The beasts wreaking havoc, whether sympathetic or not, are characters in their own right and need to be treated accordingly. Each monster has a personality, a backstory, strengths and weaknesses, and a larger mythology based on eons of life and interactions with civilization. They look great and sound even better. I couldn’t even tell you the name of a human character without looking it up—and that’s the way it should be in a monster movie.
Some years after the destruction of San Francisco, humanity wrestles with how to react to the existence of these monsters. Do we try to destroy them? Control them? Or simply accept them and not interfere in their ancient conflicts? This schism is responsible for the split between members of the Russell family, scientists who lost one of their two children in San Francisco. Emma (Vera Farmiga) lives and works with her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), looking to further our understanding of the Titans. Some are long dormant, some are ready to emerge, and miraculously, some appear benevolent towards people. Mark (Kyle Chandler) invented the technology that Emma uses to communicate with the beasts, but has sworn off all participation after losing their son Andrew in San Francisco. Between the insecure populace with murky intentions, competing ideologies and tactics, and new monsters being discovered all the time, an explosion is building—literally, in the form of volcanic three-headed dragon Ghidorah.
After this overlong setup, all other plot developments are only in service to seeing and learning about the Titans—the might and terror of Ghidorah, the resolve of Godzilla, and the grace of Mothra, deservingly dubbed Queen of the Monsters. There is some top-shelf talent here in Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Bradley Whitford, Charles Dance, Joe Morton, David Strathairn, O’Shea Jackson, Jr.—all of whom sell the awe of the spectacle.
Visually, King of the Monsters is a treat. Dragons, beasts, quasi-gods—these are all primal ideas in our collective psyche and lore, and the design keeps in mind that these things will eventually need to punch each other. To this end, the Titans look and sound physically real, even when serving as manifestations of our deepest fears. Godzilla has a bright future stomping on the cities of America. Will yours be next?
Godzilla: King of the Monsters / PG-13, 132 minute / Violet Crown Cinema
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema 377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056, drafthouse.com/charlottesville z Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213, regmovies.com z Violet Crown Cinema 200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000, charlottesville.violetcrown.com z Check theater websites for listings.
See it again
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service / PG, 142 minutes / Alamo Drafthouse Cinema / June 10