Does this sound familiar: a “new” film comes out that is a somewhat unexpected hit. The studios behind it kick up the franchise manufacturing machine and begin the process of creating a new billion-dollar franchise. In the best case scenario, they can create a new cinematic universe and have the distinction of begin only the second group able to figure out how to make it work. As a result of all of this, the second film in the franchise serves as a jumping off point, and it tasked with setting up all kinds of other films to come down the road. Further as a result, the second film is exponentially larger scale than the first, as it has to one up the previous in spectacle and bombast. This is the narrative for major franchises such as Transformers and Fantastic Beasts, as well as many others. It is in this cinematic purgatory where we can find its newest inhabitant: Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
First off, yes, I know: technically, Kong: Skull Island is the second film in the franchise, with King of the Monsters being the third one. But it is the first of these films not to function as an introduction, so it is the first sequel of the series. And as the first sequel, it suffers from every issue that modern franchise driven sequels suffer from. This film has to spend as much time sewing the threads for future films to latch on to as it does with the actual story present. Before we get into the many plates that this film has to spin behind the scenes, we will discuss the narrative of this film, which has its own laundry list of tasks.
As is teased in the trailer, there are ton of freaking monsters in this film, though there are only four that matter. The titular Godzilla is joined by Mothra as the pair take on Rodan and Ghirdorah (not to be confused with either King Ghidorah or King Geedorah). Sure there are others tearing apart cities all over the world, and we get a glimpse at a couple more which, while reminiscent to older monsters from the Japanese films, are apparently mostly new ones (apparently Anguirus wasn’t sexy enough, sorry brother). And even among these four monsters, rare is the occasion where you get more than two on screen at a time. Outside of the bare-knuckle bar fights between Godzilla and Ghidorah, there actually isn’t an overwhelming amount of monster action. Unfortunately for this film, there is nothing that can compete with some of the shots or sequences from the first film, such as this one, or this one. While the actual amount of monsters is not as excessive as one might think, what is excessive is the level of destruction.
Good heavens, the level of destruction on display for this film is pure banana oil. Entire cities are laid waste in this film as our giant overlords do everything they can to flex all over us and break all of our stuff. Formally, I would think that just finding a reason to set these monster loose in the mountains instead so as to curb some of the obscene destruction, but when your monsters are literally the size of mountains, that becomes a little tough to do. There comes a point where the sheer scale of the monsters and their wakes of terror and fire are too much to handle, and their battles become somewhat comical. In the face of something like this, what else is there to do other than kick your feet up say, “welp, we had a nice run” and welcome your new alien overlords.
Here we get an artistic recreation of all of WB’s attempts to create a cinematic universe.
Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that Ghidorah was from space? In the grand scheme of things, not only is that not weird in any way, but it is also true to the origin of King Ghidorah- or one of them at least. In addition to being a fine little detail for the antagonist, it is one of the many threads from this film whose true purpose is to serve as a clue for eagle eyed viewers and fans to know what is coming up. And by eagle eyed, I mean blind people, as that is all you have to be in order to see some of these coming with how obvious and in your face they are. King Kong and Skull Island are both mentioned as often as humanly possible in this film, and both at least spoken about far more often than poor Rodan. We get it, Godzilla and King Kong are going to duke it out in the future. One mention was enough; we didn’t need 80.
Of course there are many other monsters Godzilla is set to throw hands with thanks to the plethora of teases and mentions in this film. Ghidorah is from space, so Gigan? Check. Space Godzilla? Check. Orga? Check. Monster X? Check. How about the terrestrial threats, who else from our own planet is going to destroy Flagstaff? Well the military debuted a hot new weapon, the oxygen destroyer, so Destoroyah? Check. Godzilla is amphibious and lives in a sick underwater radiation shrine, so Titanosaurus? Sure why not, check. One surprising omission from these teases is Mechagodzilla, one of the real head honchos of the Godzilla world. Considering how often that massive mechanize menace has been used, his absence is very noticeable. When all those threads run out, I eagerly await the end of this franchise when the producers decide to get political and throw down Hedorah and Biollante– who is secretly one of the best Godzilla foes. Also, shout-out to the late Noriyoshi Ohrai who did the poster art for the Heisei era Godzilla films, which are prime and among some of the best poster art ever.
The much superior poster which the international version is clearly paying homage to. If only the film could pay homage to the predecessors in the form of finding room for some more fun.
What we are left with when the credits roll is a smorgasbord of destruction that has left many major cities throughout the world in complete disarray, and will undoubtedly crash the entire global economy. Godzilla is now king of a handful of the more pitiful monsters who made the pilgrimage to visit him, as well as Rodan who is a clearly just a dirty front-runner. His fights with King Ghidorah are fun enough to keep the film going, and it doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong- it just doesn’t do enough right. Regardless, he is now primed and ready to fight King Kong in a redundant battle which surely will have no winner, as Legendary and Warner Brothers would both have to be smoking crack to actually kill one of the two titans. So we’re going to get a silly fight next year between two kings which will have no winner.
Or, we’ll get it at some point. Early returns for this film aren’t great, and apparently there is a possibility that the current 2020 release date could be pushed back in order to tweak the film. Godzilla: King of the Monsters opened at roughly half of what Godzilla did, and made 14 million less than Kong: Skull island did at opening. Warner Brothers is mad jelly at money printing machines that Disney owns, and is desperate for a franchise that can dominate the box office as well as the cultural zeitgeist the way that the MCU has. Their own comic universe has been off to a rocky start in the DCEU, and their attempts to turn the Harry Potter world into a cinematic universe is also in trouble, so they’ve tasked Godzilla to carry the load for them, but apparently even his increased bulk is not enough to bear the burden of carrying Warner Brothers’ hopes and dreams.