On DVD: Godzilla: King of the Monsters

I’m not a Godzilla person. Or at least I wasn’t until 2014, when I was a year into dating a certified Godzilla person and Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla was released, and I was shocked to discover that I was weirdly into giant monsters beating the shit out of each other. I even told my grandpa, who I thought was a Godzilla person, that this new one was pretty good. He looked at me sideways and said, quite calmly, “Aly, I think you’ve lost your mind.”

Well, maybe I did, because I married that Godzilla person, watched from the sidelines as he dove in headfirst into 65 years of Godzilla movies and wrote an opus about them, had a baby with him, and watched Godzilla: King of the Monsters with said Godzilla person and Son of Godzilla person, not once, but twice — twice! — since receiving a review copy of the DVD/Blu-ray. (The baby tried to eat my face after the first viewing — parenting win!)

This is all a long-winded way of saying I never would have predicted that I would be in the apparent minority of people who loved Godzilla: King of the Monsters. This was the blockbuster that critics chose to lambast upon its release in May. Because, like the 2014 film, the humans are one-dimensional? Because, unlike the 2014 film, there are too many monster fights? Those are criticisms I don’t agree with or understand because they’re exactly what make King of the Monsters a good Godzilla movie. Maybe even a great one.

If unironically loving Alien: Covenant (and, to a lesser extent, Prometheus) has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes you have to let go of caring about the human characters and root for the monsters (and / or robots) instead. The central family of Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown and their emotional journeys are fairly milquetoast. Their names are Emma, Mark, and Madison, for crying out loud, and the parents separated after their son Andrew was killed during the events of Godzilla … but who cares? While some of them play a more active role in the story, literally waking monsters, they’re really nothing but human witnesses of a world that must change in order to undo the damage humans have done to it.

This story is too big for humans to be either the protagonists or antagonists. Some fall one way or another, of course, but it’s the monsters — the Titans — who are the real heroes and villains. Some, like Godzilla and Mothra, want to save the world; others, like Ghidorah and Rodan, want to destroy it. None of them really care about the tiny humans who either try to help in the tiniest of ways, fuck up in some majorly royal ones or wisely flee at the sight of real, tangible Gods. 

You see that photo at the top? That’s it. That’s the movie. Godzilla has always worked best as an allegory for the consequences of human destruction, whether it’s nuclear testing or climate change. Do you think those consequences give a shit about whatever story we’ve been telling ourselves for generations to make ourselves feel better about how small we are? 

That’s a hard no.

From top to bottom, and from incredibly beautiful monster shot to monster shot, director and co-writer Michael Dougherty understands this about Godzilla. If that isn’t clear from the movie itself, it certainly is with the Blu-ray / DVD’s special features, which are not only robust but thoroughly enjoyable. Collections of short featurettes on the Titans and Monarch, the agency that studies them, provide excellent insight into the superb blending of tradition and innovation within the 35th installment of the Godzilla franchise. 

The best example of this blending is the discussion of motion-capture performance. Both Godzilla and Ghidorah were performed by motion-capture artists (each one of Ghidorah’s heads was played by a different actor!), and Dougherty calls this the natural evolution from the man in the rubber suit in the original Toho films. He’s not wrong, and this is a pretty decent way to recontextualize a method of acting that has been underappreciated at least since the days of Gollum.

Most tellingly, though, Dougherty smiles throughout every single one of his talking heads. Most directors undoubtedly love what they do, but it rarely shows in special features; even Taika Waititi sounds bored out of his mind during the Thor: Ragnarok commentary. So it’s pretty wonderful to see one who is so genuinely enthusiastic about his film and the franchise in which he’s playing. It’s worth watching all the special features for Dougherty’s contributions alone.

Another aspect of King of the Monsters that I adore is its reverence and incorporation of world mythologies into Godzilla lore. I could probably go on about that forever, but the DVD has me covered: a dorky 15-minute featurette called “Monsters Are Real” interviews various professors and cryptozoologists about this very topic. It’s not necessarily the best special feature — I would say those would be the “Evolution of the Titans” and “Monarch in Action” collections — but it’s worth a view if only because it leans so hard into the campier aspects of Godzilla, for better or for worse.

And that’s ultimately the deciding factor on whether or not King of the Monsters is for you. The “science” isn’t any stupider than what you’d find in Star Wars or the like. The humans are just humans. The monster fights are, and I don’t say this lightly, the fucking tits. This movie is beautiful on Blu-ray, and the special features are actually special. So overall I’d recommend adding this to your collection, should you find yourself a Godzilla person and not a total stick-in-the-mud.

My name is Aly, and I guess I’m a Godzilla person now. Long live the king.

GO, GO, GODZILLA! Godzilla: King of the Monsters is now available on 4K, digital, Blu-ray and DVD.



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Aly Caviness is lifelong film obsessive, co-owner / administrator of Midwest Film Journal, and member of the Indiana Film Journalist's Association. Through Lynch, her grandmother taught her how to spot “The Girl,” and through Frankenstein, her grandfather taught her how to love in spite of fear. She blames Jack Sparrow for her MA in colonial Atlantic history and Guy Pearce for her marriage.


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