One of the first movies to which I can remember being taken as a child was a 1968 Japanese free-for-all called Destroy All Monsters. The story had the Toho kaiju gang—Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, etc—living peaceably on an island under the control of a scientific organization. The control systems are sabotaged by aliens, and the monsters run amok, trashing the great cities of the world, but in the end they band together, at the foot of Mt. Fuji, to defend humanity from the three-headed flying Ghidorah, aka “Monster Zero.”
The plot of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, in broad outline, is very similar; the monsters are confined not on an island but around the world at stations of the scientific agency Monarch, and the saboteurs this time are human, not alien. But we still get a whirlwind world tour of destruction, everywhere from Antarctica to Mexico to Washington D.C. to Sedona, and it still ends with the big gang-up of Godzilla and his pals against Monster Zero, this time in the streets of Boston.
Stalwart, growly Kyle Chandler leads a pretty distinguished international cast that includes Millie Bobby Brown, Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe, Aisha Hinds, Bradley Whitford, Charles Dance, Sally Hawkins, Zhang Ziyi, and Thomas Middleditch. All of them are good company, but of course, that’s of secondary importance. What matters is if this sequel to the disappointing 2014 American Godzilla gets the monsters right.
And for me, it does. Like 2017’s excellent Kong: Skull Island, King of the Monsters serves up truly wild-and-woolly—or is it wild-and-scaly?—monster action. More importantly, director and co-writer Michael Dougherty and the special effects folks endow their monsters—sorry, the politically correct term, we’re told here, is “titans”—with personality: Godzilla with his perpetually galled face and his rusty-hinge roar; Mothra with her graceful, deceptively demure beauty; sly-eyed, sinister Rodan, and Ghidorah, whose three heads seem, at times, to get on each other’s nerves.
Old-school monster fans will appreciate the loving nods to the early Japanese films; the borrowing of the title from the original 1956 American release of Gojira, for instance, the intermingling of Akira Ifukube’s haunting original Godzilla theme with Bear McCreary’s fine score, or the use of vintage plot devices from the original, like a weapon called the “Oxygen Destroyer.” The titanic brawls are staged with a splendid ponderousness, especially the big Beantown finale, with Fenway Park as its ground zero; amongst all these globetrotting beasts, this movie even manages to include a singularly American Green Monster.