Godzilla: King of the Monsters Relies On Plot-Induced Denseness and Dubious Science

There is a point in the new Godzilla film where one of the human characters looks at another human character and whispers the words: “You’re a monster.”

The entire theater around me burst into laughter, much to my relief. Because all metaphors in this film are legitimately hilarious.

If you really like monster battles, and that’s all you came for, you might enjoy this latest Godzilla flick. There have been complaints from some quarters that there are too many monster mashes at the expense of character work, but that’s not true. If anything, having more monster fights would have distracted the audience from the larger problem in the film—all of the characters in this movie are missing their brains. They do not behave like real people whatsoever, and that’s not for lack of screen time. It’s entirely intentional on part of the film, which could have been a legitimate choice if the movie hadn’t wasted so much time pretending that it wanted us to care about said characters. (On a side note, please stop giving Ken Watanabe parts in films like these. Not to ever begrudge an actor a paycheck, but he deserves so much more, he is literally one of the best actors of our era and everyone is wasting him.)

Most of the actors in this film are playing modified versions of characters they’ve already played before in other movies, so they’re not required to do much heavy lifting. You know these people, and either already like them, or you don’t. Millie Bobby Brown is just here to prove she should be in more movies after Stranger Things, which was already a given. Bradley Whitford is here to make people laugh, and he does okay with it, but he’s not as effective as Charlie Day in Pacific Rim with the same type of character. The soundtrack by Bear McCreary is gorgeous, so that’s something to legitimately look forward to.

This Godzilla is a sequel to 2014’s Godzilla and the third installment in Legendary’s “MonsterVerse” that’s slowly been building up. This film centers itself around yet another largely hapless (and again white, suburban, middle class) family who believes they can understand the monsters and their purpose better than a multitude of professionals around them with more knowledge and experience than they’ve ever dreamed. But at the end of the day, that’s what this film is about: being aggressively ignorant in the face of certain doom. Knowledge is not important in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. In fact, knowledge is actively sidestepped in the most egregious ways possible. There’s a point where the characters find an underwater city, and one of the characters says “This looks Egyptian… or maybe Roman.” These two societies and their art and architecture are really not similar at all, but that’s his best guess. Cool.

I cannot stress enough how aggravating it is that the filmmakers chose to frame this MonsterVerse around nuclear power. The fear of nuclear devastation is only one metaphor that Godzilla is steeped in, and it’s not even the first or most interesting one. Godzilla works best when the monster stands as a metaphor for how rapidly the world is changing around us, and how little we can control. Godzilla is best when it represents the raw power of nature and its indifference to human plans and ambition. The movie clearly thinks it’s saying this by batting around the (ultimately incorrect) concept that Godzilla and the other monsters are solutions to how we’re destroying the planet with pollution and war, but this is not a cake you can have and eat too—the last film makes it clear that these monsters are powered by nuclear energy, at which point, you are literally saying that the answer to humanity’s problems is “drop a bunch of nukes on bad things”. It doesn’t matter if Godzilla is harnessing that energy and using it consciously because that concept literally makes no sense whatsoever. The only takeaway possible is that nuclear power is extremely useful for killing off all threats to humanity, which is a wildly unethical and thoughtless stance to take.

Also, at this point, the entire earth should be completely devastated from monster attacks and several nuclear events, so how do we even have a planet to protect? The idea of Godzilla working in symbiosis with humanity is great, but not when you don’t bother to consider how planetwide devastation works. This is part of the reason why the best film in Legendary’s MonsterVerse has been Kong: Skull Island—the action of the film was isolated and thought through, and the insistence on painting more complicated characters was actually well considered so that it jived with the film’s plot.

This is without calling attention to the most irritating flub of the entire film: the insistence that pack animals have an “alpha”. First off, Godzilla is not the same species as his monster pals, so calling them a pack is something that requires more explanation than what we’re given. Second, and it really needs to be emphasized, the entire concept of alpha animals was an error that has been disproved over and over. It’s bad science, and it reinforces really screwy hierarchical thinking in humans. And that’s without adding an extra, seismic error into the film’s central conceit: Godzilla cannot be the world’s alpha monster and exist in symbiosis with the rest of us. These two concepts are fundamentally averse, but the film keeps insisting that it’s truth anyhow. Sure, it’s a movie, and sure, movies don’t have to have perfect science. I love handwaving that stuff. But these concepts are so basic and widespread, there’s really no excuse for using them in a movie. This easily could have been smarter. It wouldn’t have taken that much thought at all.

On the plus side, knowing that Godzilla vs. Kong is on the way in 2020, I do have a preference for the victor after that mealy, soggy mush of a film. Team Kong, all the way.

Emily Asher-Perrin still wants to know how everyone in that film isn’t dead of radiation poisoning. You can bug him on Twitter, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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