SciFi Japan

    GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS -- International Praise and Dissent

    GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS marquee in the lobby of the Kabukicho Shinjuku Toho Cinemas. Photo by Edward L. Holland. © 2019 Legendary, All Rights Reserved. TM & © TOHO CO.,LTD. MONSTERVERSE TM & © Legendary

    Author: Edward L. Holland Official Movie Site: Godzillamovie.com Critic rating systems have little bearing on the aggregate support of Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019) by a big majority of North American fans during the 65th anniversary of Toho Studios’ trademarked kaiju. True and fair-weather enthusiasts continually saw the movie, some upwards of 6, even 8 times in theaters. One stalwart fan in South Korea watched the latest film a whopping 24 times. Whereas Gareth Edwards’ GODZILLA (2014) has more fortitude in character development, it lacks bombastic smackdowns compared to the current outing by director Michael Dougherty (KRAMPUS, SUPERMAN RETURNS). Dougherty’s film did not blow the box office away as some had imagined, but his effort and passion are deeply ingrained in the 2-hour 12-minute installment of the longest running movie franchise.

    © 2019 Legendary, All Rights Reserved. TM & © TOHO CO.,LTD. MONSTERVERSE TM & © Legendary

    A plethora of critics stated this Hollywood sequel was not a hit, nor extremely popular with fans, however it received a moderate reception by a solid group of theatergoers. Many were quick to defend it while others opined that big budget, summer monster films need stronger storylines, period. All disputes aside, it was a fun, raucous, captivating clash of the titans, that fans valiantly boosted ticket sales with subsequent ventures back to movie houses. Despite lower ticket returns than expected ,the public received one more Godzilla film with stand-out developments of classic foes King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Rodan. This treatment needed less dysfunctional family melodrama and could have benefited from complete edits to tiresome scenarios in the first American battle between Toho’s greatest contenders of the Showa era. However, Dougherty’s entry was not the total box office disaster some critics say it is, because it perpetuates and keeps the mythos of Kong alive as the release of GODZILLA VS. KONG (2020) looms even closer. Some alarming claims went as far to state that this single movie decidedly ended the series in advance of the next chapter, already in post-production. Since its premiere, varying opinions and critiques online look unfavorably upon the motion picture with some groups so polarized, they called for the end of the Monsterverse, while others applauded it on its imagery and design merits. In Japan, the motion picture debuted at number one with TV reports flooding morning news programs, then dropped to number 2 against Disney’s ALADDIN (2019) in its second week. In America, the drop plummeted further, creating faux panic among supporters, despite still running at venues.

    Toho opened a Godzilla pop-up shop as part of their promotion for the new movie. Photo by Edward L. Holland. TM & © TOHO CO.,LTD.

    Proponents and critics have weighed in from England, Japan, the United States and around the globe. Jim Ballard of Tokyo Monsters mentioned, “The film moves at breakneck speed, introducing and discarding major story elements on a whim, leaving the feeling that half of the film was left on the cutting room floor. However, I won’t deny I still enjoyed what felt like the first attempt in the better part of 20 years to create a Godzilla movie that was simply a lot of fun!” Famed kaiju illustrator Yuji Kaida said, “I am satisfied with the gorgeous monster co-stars, but dissatisfied with the poor script, especially in the last scene where monsters are impersonating human beings [as in the case of Rodan bowing down to Godzilla]. The movie producers should primarily entertain ordinary movie fans, rather than please just kaiju fans, which was evident in the movie.” In discussion with longtime followers of the series, overwhelmingly the role most enjoyed was Doctor Serizawa, played respectfully by Ken Watanabe. The Japanese language dubbed version of the movie worked in favor of Watanabe’s performance, while contrarily the English spoken version de-emphasized his acting prowess. The unfortunate wooden script and flat jokes did not translate into Japanese very well, and these missteps in humor did not add any redeeming qualities. Many agree that senseless dialogue should have been excised, particularly in scenes where banter created lingering, awkward transitions.The cussing and embarrassing one liners did not move the action along either, or add majesty to the magnificent monsters on screen. Some of the acting pool talent was clearly wasted on this flawed script. The monster battles accompanied by Akira Ifukube themes from composer Bear McCreary were fantastic, solemn tributes to the maestro, but accompanying narrative faltered when it should have soared, backed by such a poignant score. Plot, action, and pacing were hard to follow in darkly composed scenes obscured by rain, snow, smoke, fire, and debris. Artistically speaking, if more elements from concept art featured in Abbie Bernstein’s The Art of Godzilla: King of the Monsters had been used, such style would have lit audiences up to a brighter level, distracting them from direction shortcomings.

    © 2019 Legendary, All Rights Reserved. TM & © TOHO CO.,LTD. MONSTERVERSE TM & © Legendary

    Those that knock Dougherty’s treatment in one breath, also counter it by claiming his production was handled with absolute care for fans of Godzilla films. Such extreme concern, however, does not always solicit big numbers at local Cineplexes. Kyle Yount, controller of the popular podcast Kaijucast chimed in, “I absolutely loved the film overall, the story and special effects really worked for me and I actually connected with the characters too, but it wasn’t without its issues, like every Godzilla film ever. It’s very clear to me that the director is a fan of the series and kaiju genre and it shows as the film is not just a love letter to the genre, but an entire collection of love notes to Godzilla and all his rubber suited foes.” The monster action was phenomenal, as noted by Japanese manga artist Hiroshi Kanatani who enthusiastically reacted, “I really enjoyed the film. I feel America understands what real kaiju films are, and I would very much like to see more of these kinds of films!” Many reveled in seeing a modern version return to the Mothra twins, and a few are saying they will be sad to see the current Godzilla go after next year’s movie, feeling lucky that they got Dougherty’s vision on screens in their hometown. YouTuber Alyssa Mitchell said the movie was, “A feast that treats the eyes and souls of kaiju addicts everywhere. KING OF THE MONSTERS will tug you through a month’s worth of emotions in two hours with awe, nostalgia, and vicarious victory.” With more female fans joining the ranks studios should note that stronger heroine characters are highly warranted and welcomed in any subsequent projects on both sides of the pond. Godzilla film production crew member and tokusastu author Masahiko Shiraishi said, “KING OF THE MONSTERS has a healthy amount of respect for Heisei Godzilla, and the staff seemed proud to make such a movie, though I felt disappointed with some of the aspects of production. Interestingly, many noticed the mania surrounding all the attention the movie is receiving on social media pushing Godzilla forward [in Japan and the world].” Anime author and scholar Helen McCarthy from England added, “This is the most successful American take on the titan of Japanese monsters, the world’s longest running movie franchise. Its monster action is superb and perhaps has a little more diversity than usual for a mall cinema headlining film.”

    Pop-up shop items. Photo by Edward L. Holland. TM & © TOHO CO.,LTD.

    Japanese Toho Cinemas theaters as always pulled out all the stops with ample amounts of merchandise to support and promote their take on the Monsterverse, including netsuke charms, clear files, theater programs, ballpens, mechanical pencils, lenticular postcards, stickers, coffee cups, shirts, towels, backpacks, Hibiya Square exclusives, Gashapon capsules, and the elusive Oxygen Destroyer 65th anniversary key chain which quickly sold out. There was even an all-inclusive pop-up shop in Tokyo offering a floor dedicated to goods from past and present, including GODZILLA (1998), for a limited time. Rounding out this review is a proselytizing note from Popular Mechanics’ Joe Pappalardo, who extrapolates in ad nauseam about the improbability of military efforts in the blockbuster. Pappalardo begins by telling readers, “Let’s just take a deep breath and set some rules about how to judge monster movies.” To my knowledge most fans are not aware of any rules or preconceived notions required to decide the fate of any movie, particularly kaiju films. The scale of the tech and gadgets were nowhere near the expertise of Toho’s fantastic arsenal like the maser tanks in WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966), but respective mecha worked wellif you suspend disbelief and keep in mind this is a science fiction movie about giant monsters. Jakarri McFolley, an active duty Navy Chief Boatswain’s Mate after seeing the movie said, “I loved it, c’mon it’s a monster movie. Godzilla is fighting and scrapping some of my favorites on the big screen! How could I not enjoy that?” At some military screenings members were heard cheering as Godzilla steamed ahead full force with a fleet of super vessels and aircraft at his disposal.

    © 2019 Legendary, All Rights Reserved. TM & © TOHO CO.,LTD. MONSTERVERSE TM & © Legendary

    In a recent interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun, acclaimed sculptor and monster suit designer Yuji Sakai commented, “The Hollywood version shows respect for Japan’s Godzilla movies in such aspects as the monsters’ features and how they present themselves. Their approach to presentation differs because of cultural differences, yet the Hollywood version made me feel that they share the same love and respect for the monsters.” In hopes of increasing confidence and respect towards the series it has been reported that Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures may be rethinking next year’s release strategy in effort to maximize larger box office returns. Remember it was not long ago when people were scrounging for anything Godzilla and his films were screening only in Japan. We have come a long way since then as KING OF THE MONSTERS pop-up shops in America add more fuel to the appeal factor of the worldwide iconic brand. With multiple Godzilla U.S. films tucked under his belt, fans are now enjoying the home market release of their favorite summer attraction to relish in private. The latest edition was an adventurous roller coaster ride from beginning to end, with enough entertainment value to keep audiences coming back to the event often. The monster action was grand and, despite weaknesses in character development, plot pacing, and a lackluster script, GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS marginally strengthens the Toho canon of kaiju and, without a doubt, further defines Legendary’s titanic Monsterverse. In the end, the admirable nods to director/executive producer Yoshimitsu Banno and the God of Suits, Haruo Nakajima were heart-felt bookends significantly appreciated by Godzilla devotees of every caliber. Edward L. Holland is a photojournalist, longtime contributor to SciFi Japan, has written for various publications covering tokusatsu culture, and has coordinated events for artists in the U.S. and Japan.

    Entrance to the 109 Cinemas Kawasaki. Photo by Edward L. Holland. © 2019 Legendary, All Rights Reserved. TM & © TOHO CO.,LTD. MONSTERVERSE TM & © Legendary
    Banner in the Toho Cinemas lobby. Photo by Edward L. Holland. © 2019 Legendary, All Rights Reserved. TM & © TOHO CO.,LTD. MONSTERVERSE TM & © Legendary
    GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS theater standee. Photo by Edward L. Holland. © 2019 Legendary, All Rights Reserved. TM & © TOHO CO.,LTD. MONSTERVERSE TM & © Legendary
    Gashapon machine. Photo by Edward L. Holland. © 2019 Legendary, All Rights Reserved. TM & © TOHO CO.,LTD. MONSTERVERSE TM & © Legendary
    Godzilla 65th anniversary coin. Photo by Edward L. Holland. TM & © TOHO CO.,LTD.
    Products based on the Chibi Godzilla by writer and artist Chiharu Sakazaki. Photo by Edward L. Holland. TM & © TOHO CO.,LTD.
    GKOTM Mothra and Godzilla netsuke. Photo by Edward L. Holland. © 2019 Legendary, All Rights Reserved. TM & © TOHO CO.,LTD. MONSTERVERSE TM & © Legendary
    Pop-up shop S.H. MonsterArts display. Photo by Edward L. Holland. © 2019 Legendary, All Rights Reserved. TM & © TOHO CO.,LTD. MONSTERVERSE TM & © Legendary
    GKOTM keychains, coins, pins and ID holders. Photo by Edward L. Holland. © 2019 Legendary, All Rights Reserved. TM & © TOHO CO.,LTD. MONSTERVERSE TM & © Legendary
    The GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS display at Wonder Festival. Photo by Edward L. Holland. © 2019 Legendary, All Rights Reserved. TM & © TOHO CO.,LTD. MONSTERVERSE TM & © Legendary
    Photo by Edward L. Holland. © 2019 Legendary, All Rights Reserved. TM & © TOHO CO.,LTD. MONSTERVERSE TM & © Legendary
    © 2019 Legendary, All Rights Reserved. TM & © TOHO CO.,LTD. MONSTERVERSE TM & © Legendary

    For more information on GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS, please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan:


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