Godzilla: King of the Monsters review

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS

Director: Michael Dougherty
Cast : Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe, Zhang Ziyi, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., David Strathairn
Genre : Action/Adventure/Sci-fi
Run Time : 2 h 12 mins
Opens : 30 May 2019
Rating : PG13

            The king of all monsters is back, and he’s brought friends and enemies with him in this sequel to 2014’s Godzilla.

It has been five years since Godzilla triumphed over the MUTOs in San Francisco. The organisation Monarch has discovered that there are several more ancient megafauna known collectively as ‘Titans’ lying dormant around the world. Dr Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), a paleobiologist working for Monarch, has developed a device called the Orca that can communicate with the Titans. She has separated from her animal behaviourist husband Mark (Kyle Chandler), formerly also a Monarch employee, and their daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) lives with her.

Alan Jonah (Charles Dance), a defected British Army Colonel who is obsessed with restoring balance to the world, sets off a chain of events that awakens the Titans. These include the benevolent Mothra and the hostile King Ghidorah and Rodan. A team of Monarch scientists led by Dr Ishirō Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) must figure out the best way to put an end to the global rampage caused by the ancient monsters.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a movie that gives the people what they want: lots of monsters that fight each other a lot. The film has a rather tricky task of balancing the absurd spectacle and inherent silliness of the kaiju movie genre with a certain gravity to the colossal destruction. Director Michael Dougherty is mostly up to the task, delivering a movie that is reverent of the illustrious history of kaiju films but one that’s also unafraid to have ludicrous amounts of fun.

Part of the beauty of this movie is that it very much knows what it is, and all the actors are aware of this too. It is hard to care too much about the human characters, but the movie knows that the human characters are secondary to the Titans. As a result, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that the dialogue is very cheesy, and that everyone talks exactly how you’d expect characters in a disaster movie to talk. Godzilla: King of the Monsters often stays on just the right side of stupid, and like Kong: Skull Island before it, is very much a B-movie with an A-movie budget.

The visual effects, supervised by Guillaume Rocheron, are plentiful and astounding, with a huge number of creatures and environments to be created in CGI. Many scenes are awe-inspiring, but this reviewer found a quiet sequence in which a submarine comes across an ancient sunken city to be the biggest ‘wow’ moment in the film. The dogfight sequence which pits the Pterodactyl-like Rodan against a squadron of fighter jets is thrilling, satisfying and is the kind of thing that could’ve only been assembled by someone with an abiding affection for this genre.

While the monsters are created digitally, Dougherty took the right approach in hiring special effects houses known for animatronic and prosthetic effects to design them. Amalgamated Dynamics provided the design for Rodan, while Legacy Effects designed Mothra and King Ghidorah. Both studios were founded by former collaborators of Stan Winston, and there are times when the Titans feel like they could be animatronic or performer-in-suit creatures like those seen in Jurassic Park and Aliens. This is also helped by the motion capture performers TJ Storm, who reprises the role of Godzilla from the 2014 film, and Jason Liles, Alan Maxson and Richard Dorton, who play King Ghidorah’s three heads.

Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown, who play the film’s central family, are taking things seriously enough. While the characters’ back-story and their link to the events of the 2014 film is established effectively, there is not much that’s truly compelling about these characters. Like the rest of the human characters, they are mostly there to react to all the monster mayhem, but Brown especially continues to show what a natural and talented actor she is.

This film gives Ken Watanabe’s Dr Seriwaza more to do besides making grave proclamations, though he still does plenty of that. We get two characters who squarely serve as comic relief and little else, played by Thomas Middleditch and Bradley Whitford. Whitford’s character Rick Stanton is nakedly based on the brilliant but constantly drunk and chaos-prone Rick Sanchez from the Rick and Morty cartoon. This is where the movie is dangerously close to crossing into 90s disaster movie-levels of silliness, but Dougherty doesn’t let the humour get too self-indulgent.

Charles Dance can always be called upon to deliver gravitas with a sinister tinge, which is just what he does here. He’s there to ominously intone lines like “we’ve opened Pandora’s box, and there’s no closing it now,” with just the slightest whiff of irony.

The idea behind Zhang Ziyi’s character is more interesting than the character is in execution is: she’s a third-generation Monarch scientist whose speciality is mythology. The film’s constant references to the legends of old and how mythological beasts were depictions of the Titans is a rich vein that could be further explored in future MonsterVerse movies.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters can sometimes feel like overkill, but then again, a movie about a giant monster battle royale should feel like overkill. The film’s playfulness is exemplified in its choice of end credits song: a cover of Blue Öyster Cult’s “Godzilla” by Serj Tankian and Dethklok, as arranged by the film’s composer Bear McCreary. This is exactly the right approach for a Godzilla movie, and indicates that the film is intent on delivering B-movie delights on a grand scale. It achieves this.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Krampus

For F*** Magazine

KRAMPUS

Director : Michael Dougherty
Cast : Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Allison Tolman, David Koechner, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Conchata Ferrell, Krista Stadler
Genre : Horror/Comedy
Run Time : 98 mins
Opens : 3 December 2015
Rating : PG13 (Frightening Scenes)

This Christmas, the weather outside is far from the only thing that’s frightful. Tommy (Scott) and Sarah (Collette) Engel, along with their children Max (Anthony) and Beth (Owen), are gearing up for the annual torture that is their relatives visiting for Christmas. Sarah’s sister Linda (Tolman) arrives with her husband Howard (Koechner), their four children and Aunt Dorothy (Ferrell) in tow. They’re stuck inside with no electricity due to a ferocious blizzard. Tommy’s mother (Stadler) begins acting strangely, as she usually does around Christmas, and soon the family is terrorised by some particularly nasty uninvited guests. It turns out that Max has inadvertently summoned the Christmas demon Krampus, Santa Claus’ evil counterpart, and good cheer is not on the agenda.


            Krampus, the cloaked, horned figure from Germanic folklore who punishes misbehaving children during Christmas, has only recently entered American popular culture. Krampus seems like a natural antagonist for a film of the holiday horror subgenre and we’re getting two this festive season, the other one being a Canadian anthology movie called A Christmas Horror Story. Michael Dougherty, who helmed the acclaimed cult anthology horror film Trick ‘r Treat, wrote and directed Krampus. While he does ensure the film is tonally consistent and doesn’t stray too far into campiness, Krampus is far from the hearty Christmas meal horror fans have been hoping it would be.  

            The Krampus mythology is one that most American audiences wouldn’t be familiar with, and the inclusion of a slightly creepy German grandmother figure hints that the film will dive headlong into the trove of tales surrounding this dark anti-Santa. We do get a haunting animated flashback sequence, but there is very little that makes Krampus and his minions stand out from being run-of-the-mill horror movie monsters. There are some fantastic creature effects furnished by Weta Workshop, but apart from CGI gingerbread men attacking David Koechner with a nail gun, there aren’t any particularly inventive set-pieces to be had. The justification that is given for Krampus selecting this particular family as his target is quite flimsy, and the moral of treasuring one’s relatives in spite of how annoying they might be comes off as half-hearted. The film’s scathing opening sequence is set to Bing Crosby’s It’s Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas and depicts crowds violently jostling each other in a frenzy while Christmas shopping at a mall. It suggests a bitter satirical edge which is not followed up on.

            Scott and Collette play it straight and their steadfastness in refusing to wink and nod at the audience does help the material. Anthony, memorably loveable as Jon Favreau’s on-screen son in Chef, is a convincingly earnest good kid. While none of the performances are terrible, everyone here is a family comedy cliché: we have the harried mother who has to hold the fort when the relatives descend on her home, the teenage daughter who is never more than a minute away from rolling her eyes, the boorish uncle, and the belligerent, alcoholic grandaunt. Austrian actress Krista Stadler does lend the film some texture, keeping “Omi” from being a full-on “creepy grandma” type ala The Visit.



            The first half of Krampus has dysfunctional family members squabbling, the second half has said family members chased through the house by an assortment of Christmas-themed monsters and the ending is vague at best, a howl-worthy cop-out at worst. The Krampus legend has all the makings of a terrific horror flick, showcasing the dark side of a holiday that’s associated with commercialised cheeriness. There are some effective atmospheric touches, such as the incorporation of the already-kinda creepy Carol of the Bells into the soundtrack. At times, the film almost feels like it could be something in the vein of Gremlins, though it lacks the demented energy to reach that level. Unfortunately, Krampus doesn’t make optimal use of the legend and its PG-13 rating does somewhat hamper the scares it can provide.

Summary: There’s talent behind this horror comedy, but the rich, fascinatingly spooky Krampus legend is left largely unmined.

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong