The Bigger They Come Part 14 (Godzilla, the King of the Monsters, 2019)

Godzilla_King_of_the_Monsters_PosterReturning to the present after Kong Skull Island’s 70’s setting, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is our chance for some giant monster against monster action.

With a quick revisit to the destruction of the end of 2014’s Godzilla by Gareth Edwards, we meet the Russell family who are searching for their son while Godzilla fights the MUTOs.

Jumping to the present, Mark and Emma Russell are estranged, with Emma continuing her scientific work with Monarch. When Emma and their daughter Maddie are kidnapped by Echo-Terrorists, along with a weapon that allows for some communication with the titans, Mark is recruited by Monarch to help get them back.

It turns out to be more complex than that, some believe that the Titans are the key to healing the planet.  But their confidence lacks important data that could doom the planet and humanity.

So… One of my complaints with Edward’s Godzilla was it’s slow drawn out reveal of Godzilla. This was the umpteenth version of Godzilla and the slow reveal was unnecessary and pretty annoying. Here, we get to start seeing the titans very quickly and dramatically.  Director Michael Dougherty knows that a movie called Godzilla: King of the Monsters will need to deliver on the monsters.

And boy does he.  The film has several exciting sequences as Godzilla fights the new renditions of classic ToHo monsters. The designs of the creatures are great, they have a sense of life and threat.

I also liked the human characters in this film. It was nice to see Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins return from the previous film. Chandler is solid as a character who would just as soon see the titans all dead, but is forced to confront his anger and bitterness to save his family and the world. Vera Farmiga is both sympathetic and frustrating as Emma, who loves her family, but seems to skirt the line of ethics in her choices.  And Stranger Thing’s Millie Bobby Brown is very good as the surviving child who really wants to do what is right and also honor her lost brother.  The film has a fun supporting cast as well.

I really enjoyed this film.  The myth building, the action and the characters came together for crazy monster bashing fun.


The Bigger They Come Part 14 (Godzilla 2000, 1999)

Godzilla_2000_posterRight on the heels of the failed American-Zilla Toho answered back with…well, the most Traditional Godzilla they could imagine.  No computer generated lizard here (though, there are plenty of digital effects).  Just a good old man in a suit.  Unlike Godzilla 84, this is much lighter fare.

Godzilla 2000 follows a young photo-journalist who is forced by her editor to ride along with a father daughter team who run the GPN, or the Godzilla Prediction Network.  Apparently, Godzilla is as sort of predictable as thunderstorms.

Elsewhere, scientists are researching a large meteor found deep in the Japan Trench.  It turns out to be a spaceship which, once, raised to the surface comes back to life.  This culminates in a massive battle between Godzilla and the alien within.

After Godzilla 1984, the franchise went back to the more popular “Godzilla Fights Other Big Monsters” approach.  This pretty much works here.  The overall tone is light, with characters being over the top to silliness.  Generally, the effects work.  There are some moments that seem simple errors were made.  One specific example is as the GPN are fleeing Godzilla and the green screen effect makes it appear that Godzilla is growing larger and larger.

For what it is, Godzilla 2000 is a perfectly entertaining diversion.

The Bigger They Come Part 13 (Godzilla, 1998)

godzilla_1998_posterInstead of  just re-editing existing films, American  studios got the rights to produce an actual American Godzilla feature.  And so, being an American feature, they thought they should rebuild Godzilla from the ground up.  So we get a totally new look for Godzilla.  But in the end, we get something that kind of looks like Godzilla, but not really.

The film tells us that Godzilla is the result of nuclear irradiated iguana eggs.  Which, takes away the epic nature of the monster.  And while the original Godzilla feasted on atomic power?  Our American monster desires fish.  Lots and lots of fish.

The film focuses on Mathew Broderick’s Nico a scientist called in to try and determine what Godzilla is for the American military.  There are a ridiculously large amount of ongoing plots competing with each other (failed romance, french spies, government ignorance, giant eggs!).

Everything in the film is big, as this is the dawn of the “event film” as we now know them.  I get not going with a “man in a suit” approach, but the redesign feels unnecessarily extreme.  They so reduce Godzilla to a typical animal, much is lost.  There is no atomic fire breathing, because this Godzilla is just a mutated lizard.  By keeping it so “down to earth”, it keeps the film from having to much fun with this crazy notion of a giant lizard wandering New York.  When all is said and done, this is an uninspired remake that finds a way to make Godzilla a bit boring.

The Bigger They Come Part 12 (The Return of Godzilla, 1984)

godzilla_1984_poster_2This Godzilla film was released with a few different titles.  Return of Godzilla, Godzilla 1984, Godzilla and Godzilla 1985 (The American Edit).  The American Godzilla 1985 brings back Raymond Burr’s Steve Martin.  But if you watch the original version of the film (Godzilla 1984 or Return of Godzilla) you will  not deal Burr at all.  This review is of the original Japanese version of the film.

The 1984 film is notable for a return to a more serious treatment of Godzilla that we had seen for many years, where Godzilla became more of a kid’s hero.  This film has no monsters.  Ignoring thirty years of films, Return of Godzilla features no monsters outside of Godzilla himself, and a more dramatic tone.  The film is meant as a direct sequel to the 1954 original.  When it is discovered that Godzilla is back, the Japanese Government tries to keep it a secret.  Only when the world is on the verge of nuclear war do they confess the truth.godzilla_1984_poster

The story works quite well.  Godzilla’s motive is simple, he is seeking food and, well, he eats nuclear power.  There is political intrigue as a reporter tries to expose the truth about the return of the giant beast.By and large, most of the characters are likable, if rather simplistic in motivations.

Visually, while the budget is larger, the studio sticks with what works.  By 1984, they had improved some of the technology greatly.  Godzilla’s face is a bit more emotive in the film.  Overall, this is a rather successful sequel that appeals to those who appreciate the charms of the original classic.

The Bigger They Come Part 8 (Godzilla: King of Monsters, 1956)

Godzilla_1956_PosterFilmmakers wanted to bring Godzilla to American audiences, and what they thought Godzilla needed was a white guy’s perspective.  Godzilla: King of Monsters was not so much a remake as it was a revision of the original film.  Adding footage of Raymond Burr, the film becomes a narrated flash black.

Opening in the wake of Godzilla’s attack, Burr’s American journalist Steve Martin starts to recount the destruction.  The story is basically the same, except it is now all told through a white American’s eyes.  Suddenly, the human stories of the film feel less personal and more foreign than they should.

The atomic fears are not removed, but altered a bit by changing the perspective of the story to America’s eyes.  It is still an entertaining story, but it feels like the cliff notes version.

The Bigger They Come Part 7 (Godzilla, 1954)

Godzilla_1954_Japanese_posterIn 1954 with fears of nuclear annihilation feeding filmmakers hearts, it is no surprise Japan provided the most memorable monster of all.

The film begins with a series of mysterious freighter accidents.  As attempts to determine the cause turn up no answers, an unseen threat is creeping towards Tokyo.  This is, of course, our titular monster.  Godzilla makes land and starts to terrorize the locals.

A lot is made of what Godzilla himself represents in the fears of the atomic age.  Certainly, the dramatic images of Godzilla’s destruction evoke the horrors of Hiroshima.  But when it comes to the fears of atomic weaponry, we see it in the character Serizawa-hakase, a scientist who stumbles upon the creation of a weapon so horrible, he dare not share it with the world.  When it is discovered, he is called upon to provide it for stopping Godzilla…but is it worth the sacrifice?

While Godzilla is pretty obviously a man in a suit smashing miniatures, the storytelling is very effective and the characters compelling.  Ishirô Honda tells a tale that overcomes the limitations.  Which says a lot, considering this first incarnation of Godzilla is a bit bug eyed and flails like Donald Trump at a rally.



The Bigger They Come Part 2 (Godzilla, 2014)

godzilla_2014_posterGodzilla has always seemed to have some trouble when Hollywood takes the reins.  1998’s misguided spectacle is the pinnacle of this.  Gareth Edwards and his team opted to take a step back.  They did not, of course, go with the “Man in Rubber Suit” approach…but their digital Godzilla is far more in line with the traditional Godzilla.

Starting in 1999, there is a mysterious and horrifying event at a nuclear power plant in Janjira, Japan.  American employee Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) loses his wife (Juliette Binoche) in the event, while his relationship with his son Ford becomes estranged as the years pass and Cranston’s obsession with the accident grows.  In 2014, Ford is in the military and returning home to his wife and son.  He gets a call that his father (still in Japan) has been arrested.  The location of the event is off limits to the public, due to claims of radiation.  Joe convinces Ford to explore Janjira one more time…and they discover a a secret research facility and some large monster referred to as a Muto that appears to be in hibernation. Of course, it wakes up and starts seeking it’s other half.

This results in the awakening of something else that comes in to fight these giants.  You know…Godzilla.  Godzilla is setup in this film as the hero, with no questions by the end of how people see him.

Edwards takes a very slow reveal approach.  This serves the film well, making it very satisfying when the audience gets to see Godzilla in full monster lizard glory.  At the same time, the film’s primary focus is on Ford and nurse (and wife) Elle.  And honestly?  They are tremendously boring characters.  So, when the film does not have Cranston or Ken Watanabe or Godzilla on screen, things get dull fast.

The opening credits are really nicely done, giving the audience old news reels indicating the existence of monsters…we get brief hints of Godzilla (mostly his back-plates) and evidence the military attempted to kill him.

Overall, the story is pretty simple, giant monsters appear and fight and cause destruction.  It is a fairly strong attempt to capture the feel of older Godzilla films, and in some ways does it smashingly well.  It is the centering of Ford and Elle that lacks any emotional punch that is needed in a film like this.  What makes it a bit more disappointing is Cranston and Binoche do have chemistry that makes them compelling…and they pull it off in about ten minutes of screen time.

The Bigger They Come

So, starting with the Kong Skull Island review, I am going to be looking back at other Giant Monster films.  There may be some breaks as I catch up on some older films. But I am going to see how comprehensive a set of reviews I can assemble for this theme.


The Bigger They Come (Kong: Skull Island, 2017)

Kong-Skull-Island-PosterKing Kong and variations on the Giant Ape concept are older than even Godzilla.  Kong: Skull Island has opted to not re-tell the story of King Kong.  Instead, this is a new story.  Not new in the sense of it completely new territory.  You have the mismatched band of explorers arriving on Skull Island, encountering monsters and natives.

The film opens in 1944 where an American and Japanese pilot crash land on Skull Island.  They fight until they stumble on a frightening sight that changes everything for them.  The film jumps to 1973, with soldiers about to leave Vietnam.  They are brought in by the mysterious Monarch company as a military escort on a top secret mission to visit and explore a newly discovered island.  The company has also brought along an award winning anti-war photojournalist and a tracker to help then go through the wilderness.

Of course, the mission goes very wrong.  Hope that does not spoil anything.

Really, the film sets everything up at a fast pace.  They give you what you need to know without giving the film a chance to get boring.  And unlike previous Kong film outings, the filmmakers introduce us to Kong very quickly.  No hiding him, just Kong smashing helicopters.

The characters are engaging to various degrees, though John C. Reilly is the strongest and most memorable.  Samuel L. Jackson is…well, Samuel L. Jackson.  I found myself liking Hiddleston’s James Conrad and Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver…but I must admit, most of what separates the characters is who is performing them.  You also know which soldiers are “important” because they get a lot of set up, while most of the soldiers are just “people to die”.  Of course, they also give Jackson his motive for wanting to destroy King Kong.

But the truth is, I found Kong Skull Island a lot of fun.  Yes, the post credit scene confirms that Legendary has plans of a “Giant Monster-verse”…and Kong Skull Island serves the purpose, in part, to set it all up (It is supposedly connected to 2014’s Godzilla film as well, with the tie being the Monarch organization).  But I did a far better job of still telling it’s own story than some other attempts to create a shared universe franchise.

Really, Kong Skull Island is no game changer, but it is a lot of fun.  Visually, it is good, and the digital monsters look great.  The cast is great and make for an overall very entertaining film.

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