Toys R Us
Toy Story 4 is directed by Josh Cooley and stars the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Lori Alan, and Joan Cusack.
Toy Story 3 was about as perfect of an ending to the once-believed-to-be trilogy of Toy Story. By all means: Pixar could have ended things right then and there for one of the most beloved animated film series in existence, and no one would question if there was still a part of the story left untold. We would all happily go on with our lives, fully content with how it all worked out: each film in the trilogy was Pixar at their very best, the first one forever being a watershed moment in animated film history.. Then came the news in November 2014: a fourth Toy Story film was being made. Needless to say, the reactions and speculation in the years leading up to the film's 2019 release were mixed. Should we be super excited that we would get one more chance to watch our favorite animated toys Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jessie, Hamm, Rex, Slinky Dog, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, etc. on the big screen, going on another wacky, hilarious adventure? Or should we be skeptical that Pixar was going to run the risk of tainting what would have been a perfect trilogy? All the big-name voice actors were returning, and infamous Pixar director John Lasseter had a hand in the story's conception, so, at the very least, there was promise that Pixar would find a way to deliver yet again.
Whether you want to consider it a surprise or to consider it no surprise at all, Toy Story 4 hit theaters to massive critical acclaim, and looks to be a pleasant success at the box office too (if not a total smash hit). I myself walked away very impressed, not just in how Pixar was able to put together something that we can easily call a worthy follow-up to the most perfect trilogy closer in Toy Story 3, but in how Pixar was able to find even more precious, memorable story-telling with these characters, when it seemed like the previous three films had exhausted every worthy theme imaginable for a premise that deals with the relationship between kids and their toys. The thing is, Toy Story 4 alters the story-telling to being not so much about how meaningful a toy can be to his or her kid, but towards a more inward look at the toys themselves, and how they view their own purpose in a world where they only come alive when their human companions aren't around.
The film takes place two years after Andy donated all his childhood toys to the young girl Bonnie. Woody and his pals are enjoying their new home alongside Bonnie's other toys. However, Bonnie starts to use Woody less and less during her play time, and she is about to start kindergarten. While the toys worry that Bonnie will be overwhelmed and won't make any friends in kindergarten, Woody sneaks into her backpack to accompany her during her orientation. At the orientation, Bonnie uses a spork from the trash along with some arts and crafts supplies to make a new toy: Forky (Tom Hale). Forky comes to life, but believes he belongs in the trash, causing headaches for Woody as he tries to keep Forky from running away during Bonnie's family road trip. While on the road one night, Forky throws himself out a window, and Woody follows him. The two wind up at an Antique Store, where they come into contact with a doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks). Gabby Gabby notices Woody's voice box, revealing that she wants to take it and replace her own, broken voice box. Woody manages to escape Gabby Gabby and her ventriloquist dummies, but Forky gets left behind. Not to worry: Woody reunites with Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who has been living a free lifestyle ever since Andy's younger sister gave her away years ago.
The return of Bo Peep is no kind of spoiler; the only way her return could surprise you is if you went into the movie having not seen any posters or seen any of the trailers. Of course, there's also the opening flashback scene that shows us Bo Peep being given away, which should automatically tell you that she is going to resurface later on in the movie. So taking all that into account, let's just say that Toy Story 4 does not care at all to try and surprise you with Bo Peep coming back. What you may not expect at first is that Bo Peep turns out to be quite important to the narrative, and not just coming back for the sake of fan service. Her presence creates a fine line that introduces the idea of toys craving possession to their child owners versus toys that no longer have that desire to be played with, wishing to live life on the outside. It's this fine line where Toy Story 4's narrative is at its peak, which, without spoiling any specifics, Pixar executes on gracefully without a hint of cynicism.
- Disney and Pixar's animation has reached such an advanced state and has been firmly established for years as the animation paragon, that it's just utterly pointless now to continue lauding the animation of their feature films. The animation is so impressive that it has basically become a form of photorealism, backgrounds and textures looking like something that was shot in live action. No, really, what is there to say?
- All the Toy Story films have wonderful voice casts and colorful groups of characters, and I took a special liking to the particular group of characters in this film. Not a single new character in the film, whether it's Forky or Gabby Gabby, came off as annoying or useless, the screenplay by Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton doing an impressive job of fleshing out enough of these new characters' personalities and motivations in a 100 minute span. Each Toy Story has been impressive in the way they've each had a memorable villain, and Gabby Gabby, although I use the word villain lightly, is no exception. Her and Forky fit right into the film's narrative concerning a toy's internal dilemma, with Gabby Gabby wanting to take Woody's voice box so that she can no longer be a "broken" toy, while Forky struggles to understand that, while he was made from pieces and parts that were thrown away in the trash, he should not think of himself as trash. The other thing that made these characters more memorable to me is the passionate voice performances by Christina Hendricks and Tom Hale. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, and all the returning veterans are great as usual, but Hendricks and Hale are so invested in their respective performances, that their charm permeates across the entire frame, whenever their characters are talking. Hendricks and Hale obviously benefit the most because they are brand new voices to the franchise, but it's the kind of fresh life blood that prevents Toy Story 4 from seeming like more of the same. It's new characters that we can fully get behind, both from a voice acting and screenwriting perspective.
- I wish I could have the same high praise for other characters in the film as I do for Gabby Gabby and Forky. Poor Buzz Lightyear is reduced to supporting character, with the likes of Jessie, Hamm, the Potato Heads, Rex, and Slinky Dog all given next to nothing to do during the entire film. That's just the unfortunate reality when you gather so many different, notable characters together in the same environment: at least a few of them are going to take a backseat. I normally would be forgiving, but I couldn't help but feel irked by what the movie does with Buzz, mostly because of how Buzz was so integral to the plots of Toy Story and Toy Story 2. How could Buzz Lightyear, arguably Woody's equal in this franchise, could get knocked down to a mere supporting role? To be fair, Buzz isn't completely irrelevant, but the problem is that every meaningful thing he does in the film is not given the time nor the attention it deserves. Retrieving a lost key? Nah, we'll just have the person place the key down right next to Buzz, for the sake of a joke. He doesn't need to fly through the air and do some crazy stunt to get the key. Buzz does no kind of clashing with Woody; whatever Woody proposes, Buzz agrees to it. Just because the two are best friends doesn't mean we can't stop having any sort of conflict between them. I think something that could drive the plot like a heated disagreement between Woody and Buzz would've been very interesting to see. And while we're at it, we could have Jessie, Hamm, and the others all try to do something on their own, something to make this wacky adventure even more crazy. I'm not asking for too much, am I?
The anticipation leading up to Toy Story 4's release was one of the weirdest ones in recent memory. Were we supposed to be excited or skeptical that Pixar had the audacity to say, "Oh no, Toy Story 3 wasn't the end, despite the fact that it very could have and should have been the end." Whether you were excited or skeptical (or both), the decision turned out to be a successful one. Toy Story 4 achieves the seemingly impossible feat of being a worthy follow-up to one of the most pitch perfect trilogy endings in Toy Story 3, loaded with plenty of humor and heart that is perfectly suitable for people of all ages. Christina Hendricks and Tom Hale are superb in the way they bring the franchise's new characters to life, although several veterans like Buzz and Jessie are unfortunately shoved to the sidelines without much to say or do. Regardless, this is still great stuff by Pixar, and it's exciting to hear that now they want to focus on getting back to making more original works, because making non-stop sequels can only work for so long. As for the Toy Story franchise, Toy Story 4 surely will be the final film, at least, that's what we'll all be thinking for the foreseeable future. I highly doubt a Toy Story 5 will ever happen, but in this day and age, you can't rule out any conceivable film idea. Who knows? Maybe a Toy Story 5 will happen one day, and we'll watch it, love it, and think to ourselves, "How does Pixar keep doing it with these characters?" We've known and loved these toy characters for almost twenty five years now. They set the example for what computer animation could be way back in 1995, and for that, we'll always remember them. Instead of being upset that the franchise didn't end with Toy Story 3, Pixar fans should be grateful that these toy characters have continued to hold up, even all these years later.
Recommend? Yes.Be sure to have seen the previous three films.
Escape Room is directed by Adam Robitel and stars Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis, and Nik Dodani.
Escape Room is something of an incomplete jigsaw puzzle. Over the course of the film's 100 minutes, you can get a good idea of what kind of picture the movie is trying to create. The only trouble is: it's a picture that is still missing several parts by the time the end credits start to roll. The poster, consisting of Taylor Russell's jigsaw face with some pieces missing, is about as appropriate (albeit unintentional) of a visual as you can get. I didn't catch the film when it first hit theaters back at the very start of 2019, and now that I've seen it several months later, it doesn't appear that I missed all that much. Here we have the fourth directorial feature of Adam Robitel, the same director behind Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Insidious: The Last Key, so you were excused from going into Escape Room with anything resembling expectations. While Escape Room is easily the best of Robitel's three latest directorial outings, it doesn't mean the film is any sort of work of art.
The film takes place in Chicago and tells the story of a group of people who are each invited to the Minos Escape Room Facility for a chance to win $10,000. The people invited are genius college student Zoey (Taylor Russell), grocery store worker Ben (Logan Miller), Iraq veteran Amanda (Deborah Ann Woll), daytrader Jason (Jay Ellis), truck driver Mike (Tyler Labine), and escape room veteran Danny (Nik Dodani). The group gathers in the facility's waiting room, but quickly discovers they are trapped inside. This is no ordinary escape room: this escape room means death, unless the players are able to find all the clues and advance.
Not a very deep film by any means. Escape Room doesn't care one iota for giving its mashup of cliched characters some semblance of charm, except maybe for Amanda, whose backstory on fighting in Iraq and being traumatized by her war experiences is at least something to grab on to. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik is concocted with the mindset of showing us what sort of personalities would be fun to watch in an escape room setting, and not first showing us a person, and then developing the person in a way such that putting the character in an escape room makes sense. Take Zoey for example: the screenplay wastes no time in telling us that Zoey is super smart. All well and good, except the screenplay never bothers to do anything else with Zoey's supreme intelligence, other than let her be the genius that figures everything out, thereby diminishing the relevance of the other characters, as well as destroying anything resembling suspense. If Schut and Melnik had told us that Zoey was a genius, and then do something in addition to that such as flesh out the idea that Zoey is uncomfortable with being put on the spot and/or that she struggles under pressure, then the movie would have something interesting to work with. But no: to Robitel, Scut, and Melnik, it's all about what happens inside each escape room, and they couldn't care less how flimsy the characters they put into the escape rooms are.
- When it comes to the actual escape rooms, they are all pretty fun and show at least a few ounces of creativity. From opening doors to finding keys to avoiding untimely death, Escape Room always manages to keep each new room totally fresh, offering up various puzzles so that no two rooms play out exactly the same. Some of the escape rooms are also pretty impressive when it comes to visual and production design, my personal favorite being a black and white room in which two characters go into a psychedelic daze. Boring is definitely something the movie is not, and that's largely because the movie also strives to be kind of an interactive experience, in that you want to solve the puzzles yourself, and you can feel all smug by figuring out the puzzles before the characters in the movie do. I wouldn't say the puzzles are the most challenging ones you'll ever find, and the movie never makes it clear if it's ramping up the difficulty as the players move from one room to the next. All in all, there's fun to be had, and that's what mattered most to Sony and the filmmakers involved.
- So I already mentioned the wasted opportunities that Escape Room had when it came to its characters, but that's nowhere near as bad as the film's final twenty-ish minutes, where things really go downhill. The worst crime of all is how lackluster of a job the movie does in communicating its main ideas, which come almost smack-dab out of nowhere and not like anything the movie was building up to. The plot goes from escape room to escape room, but hardly without any subtle hints towards who's the main villain and what this whole predicament was about. When we finally learn what the perilous escape rooms were all about, the message comes in the form of a rushed monologue that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and instead of giving you time to process what you just learned, the movie bolts it way towards its ending, which is as on the nose about setting up a sequel as is Alita: Battle Angel's ending. Is this a new thing that started in late 2018 and early 2019: movies ending by screaming, "We are planning for a sequel!" straight to your face? I saw it in the 2018 Robin Hood, Alita: Battle Angel, and now in Escape Room. What other 2019 films are going to do this?
Sure enough, Escape Room has a sequel scheduled for release in August of 2020, and chances are pretty good I won't be there to see it. The movie is kind of fun with all its different, interesting escape rooms, but the screenplay by Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik leaves so much more to be desired, mostly in its half-baked characters and in its lack of execution when it comes to main ideas. I'm a huge lover of puzzles, and I've done several escape rooms in my own life that I can speak for how fun they can be, so I was pretty intrigued when I first heard about a movie in which it takes escape rooms and adds the extra layer that, if you fail to escape, you die. Unfortunately, the movie settles for the safe PG-13 route, with little to no blood and gore. At least this movie could be something of a fun spin on the Saw franchise, but no, Sony loves their PG-13 rating for movies that clearly should be rated R (*cough cough* Venom *cough cough*). But anyway, Escape Room is still completely watchable, which is enough to keep me from knocking it down too hard. It may not be a very complex puzzle, but it's still a puzzle you can enjoy doing and not feel like you're wasting your time.
Recommend? Only as a good time-waster on a free weeknight or slow weekend.
Birds of a feather flock together
One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest is directed by Milos Forman and is based on the 1962 novel of the same name by author Ken Kesey. The film stars Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Danny DeVito, William Redfield, Will Sampson, Sydney Lassick, Brad Dourif, and Christopher Lloyd. The film won all five major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best (Adapted) Screenplay.
Hollywood Golden Age actor Kirk Douglas came across Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest novel in 1961, instantly taking a liking to the novel and securing the film rights to the story. For the next decade however, Douglas failed to find a studio that was willing to make a film adaptation of the story with him, and so, Douglas sold off the rights to his son Michael (yes, that Michael Douglas), who ended up getting the production company Fantasy Films to agree to a film adaptation. Kirk Douglas was also hoping that, after playing the lead character in a 1963-64 Broadway version of Kesey's novel, he could play the lead character in the film version. However, Douglas was deemed too old for the lead role, and thus, the role eventually went to the younger Jack Nicholson.
It's kind of amazing sometimes to read into a certain film's production history and find out people whom you thought could not at all be attached, are actually quite vital to the film's production. In the case of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Kirk Douglas conceived the idea of a film adaptation, while Michael Douglas found a studio willing to make the adaptation. It wasn't the author Ken Kesey nor was it director Milos Forman who came forth about the possibility of the novel getting a film adaptation. No, it was Kirk Douglas and his son Michael: two people you probably would have never guessed were involved unless you paid close enough attention to the credits or have a vast knowledge of Kirk Douglas and/or Michael Douglas's careers.
But anyway, that's about all I'm going to say about the Douglas' and their involvement with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, because, oh man: any and all discussions about this film are most likely to be composed of Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Milos Forman, and the other wacky collection of characters on hand. When I do a review of a film that was adapted from a novel, I usually have to state that I did not read the novel- I always fail to find time out of my busy schedule to read a book- but this is a time where that is not true! I read Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest way back in my junior year of high school, and I still to this day consider it one of the more engrossing reads of my academic years. My first time watching the film version some years back was also a highly engrossing experience, with a recent second viewing being no worse for wear. The 1970's was one of the best decades for Best Picture winners, mostly because the films that won did a magnificent job of capturing a full spectrum of human emotions, while also being grand representations of the decade's cynical attitude and culture strife. Gone were the days of lovey dovey romances, happy go lucky musicals, and biographical snooze fests that, nowadays, would offer nothing but thankless viewings. And while lovey dovey romances, happy go lucky musicals, and biographical snooze fests would eventually creep their way back into the Best Picture scene years later, it is extremely satisfying to come across a film like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, knowing you can watch it in the year 2019 and still feel a sense of elation.
The specifics of that sense of elation would mean massive spoilers, particularly in the way the film ends, so I am left with no choice but to leave that vagueness as is. The story of the film is basically the same as it is in the novel: longtime criminal Randall McMurphy (Nicholson) is sent to be evaluated at a mental institution in Oregon, following a short sentence at a prison farm for the statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl. The mental institution is run by the controlling, passive-aggressive Nurse Ratched, who frequently holds meeting with other patients, in which she tries to make them feel intimidated and basically like they are the scum of the earth. Some of the patients include the stuttering Billy Bibbitt (Brad Dourif), childish Charlie Chaswick (Sydney Lassick), delusional Martini (Danny DeVito), paranoid Dale Harding (William Redfield), and the unruly Max Taber (Christopher Lloyd). McMurphy quickly strikes up a friendship with these patients, while taking a special liking to another patient: the giant Native American "Chief" Bromden, who is thought to be deaf and mute by everyone else in the institution. While McMurphy is not mentally ill by any means, his rebellious mindset earns him the approval of the other patients, and quickly puts him at odds with Nurse Ratched.
The beauty of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is that it's a fairly easy story to analyze, and an analysis of the way the novel/film goes about topics such as mental health, the corruption of bureaucracy, and what confines the human spirit are all worthwhile topics that can still make significant headway today. And while One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is not a straight-up message film on the importance of mental health, trying to say, "all people in mental institutions are human beings too", it's an uplifting encouragement about how people should not be prisoners of their own minds, and that, under the right circumstances, it's encouraged to break out of the status quo. This kind of approach is a very interesting one. On one hand, Milos Forman is allowing the film to soak in all the cynicism and rebellious attitudes that permeated throughout American culture in the 1970's, evident in the way that McMurphy earns the trust of the other patients and encourages them to stand up and oppose Nurse Ratched: voting to watch the World Series instead of having the nightly group meeting and questioning the medicine they're told to take every day, for example. On the other hand, Forman is encouraging positive messages about soul-searching and being human, primarily seen through the relationship between McMurphy and Chief. The film's cynical attitude and messages about humanity, you would think, should contradict one another, but they don't. The cynicism and positive messages actually complement one another, as if to say there is good to be had if you know where and when to be cynical and rebellious.
- None of the film's messages would feel worthwhile had it not been for some outstanding performances, primarily Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher. McMurphy and Ratched are total opposites: McMurphy is the goofy, fun-loving rebel who tries to encourage everyone around him, while Nurse Ratched is the cold-hearted, all-business enforcer who strictly imposes the rule book on others. When Jack Nicholson is giving his all, he makes sure you know it. There is a not a dull moment to be had when Nicholson is on screen. McMurphy is either going to amuse you by doing/saying something funny, or he's going to explode with frustration and anger (and when he dies, the film takes a sharp dramatic turn). Either way, Nicholson does a great job of giving McMurphy an all-around charming and upbeat feel to him, despite the fact that we know McMurphy's a criminal who we don't want to invite over as the guest of honor to a fancy dinner party.
Fletcher, meanwhile, is magnificent in the way that she makes Nurse Ratched so captivating to watch, and likewise, so despicable when she succeeds. Ratched never smiles or laughs during the film, and in the few times she gets angry or stern, she's very controlled. In the hands of the wrong actress, Nurse Ratched would more likely resemble a robot that is learning how to express emotion, but with Louise Fletcher, she gives Ratched the iron hide she needs without losing that cutting, passive-aggressive edge that makes her performance more human and all the more convincing. Nicholson and Fletcher don't have to be in the frame together in order for their individual performances to thrive. Whether they are on screen together or not, Nicholson and Fletcher show they are fully immersed in their roles, taking the film to soaring heights.
- It's something of a minor spoiler to say that One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is light on plot, but but I think, when you add in the fact that the film clocks in at 133 minutes, it speaks volumes of the screenplay by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman. Good portions of the film are made up of the meetings involving McMurphy, Nurse Ratched, and the other patients, and not once do they ever get boring. That's the other part that makes the lack of plot and longer running time combination more impressive: it's never boring. The dialogue throughout the film gives us engaging and interesting dives into the lives of each patient that come to be in McMurphy's circle of friends, with each and every new meeting becoming more snappy and argumentative. None of the characters go on long monologues about what they've learned in life and what they hope to get out of being in the mental institution. All the conversations are very natural with grounded dialogue, and because of all the different personalities bouncing off one another, it never grows old. Who knows what the likes of Billy Bibbitt or Charlie Chaswick are going to say next? Just when you've think they've said the funniest or craziest thing yet, they might say something new that's even funnier, even crazier, or, hell, maybe both.
- Laughs: that's unfortunately something that One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest doesn't end up having nearly enough of. I get why this movie is normally deemed a comedy-drama, but the problem is that the dramatic component overwhelms too much of the comedy component, so much that the movie struggles to balance a more lighthearted tone with a more serious one and thus, it's hard to tell sometimes when you think the movie is being dramatic, it's actually being funny, and vice versa. Nicholson is the film's main source of comedy, but knowing when and when not to laugh at the other patients feels rather dicey, because you run the risk of coming off as a sick human being who takes joy in others' misery. Then again, isn't all comedy rooted in misery? The point is: it's rather difficult to decipher what is supposed to be funny versus what is not funny from anyone that isn't Jack Nicholson. Maybe it's better if you just don't overthink it and, whatever you laugh it, you won't hate yourself later for it.
The other little bit of trivia I should mention as this review comes to a close is this: Ken Kesey hated the film, saying it "butchered" the story. That's a pretty stunning thing to hear from the author of the novel, who likely had optimistic feelings when Kirk and Michael Douglas worked on getting the film into production. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest has developed a reputation over the years as being one of the greatest films ever made, on top of already being one of the greatest Best Picture winners of all time. Why should it not be? It's a marvelous feat of acting, directing, and screenwriting, taking the cynicism and rebellion that highlighted American culture in the 1960's and 1970's, and magically spinning it into an uplifting film that provides righteous commentary on how conforming to the status quo can make you a prisoner of your own mind. Nicholson and Fletcher are the obvious stand-outs from the cast, and the strong, natural-sounding dialogue from the screenplay by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman never let the film become boring. The only place the film struggles is balancing its drama with its comedy, but when the dramatic parts are as good as they are, it's hard to get too upset about not getting enough laugh-out-loud moments. It's everything a Best Picture winner should be, and the decades since the film's initial release have not harmed it one bit. This is one old bird that still knows how to fly.
Recommend? Yes. Highly recommended.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is directed by Michael Dougherty, and written by Dougherty, Zach Shields, and Max Borenstein. The film stars Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Charles Dance, Sally Hawkins, Thomas Middleditch, and Ken Watanabe, The film is dedicated to executive producer Yoshimitsu Banno and to the original Godzilla suit actor, Haruo Nakajima, both of whom died in 2017.
Being a fan of the now 65 year old Godzilla franchise is tricky business. Anyone with a working knowledge of Godzilla's film history knows of the various ups and downs that the world's most famous kaiju has experienced in the decades following his terrifying 1954 motion picture debut. The king of the monsters started off as a terrifying force of nature that represented the greed and destruction that corroded humanity, specifically the danger of nuclear weapons and their harmful effects on the planet. Then came the 1960s and 70s, which saw Godzilla transform into something of a giant monster superhero, saving Earth from the likes of King Ghidorah and various alien species that looked to wipe out humanity. During that time, Godzilla also acted in the roles of a parent and of an environmentalist. Following a ten year rest during the late 70's and early 80's, Godzilla returned to the big screen in 1984, and from there, he starred in a long lineup of new films that saw him battling several older, classic monsters, as well as a whole host of new monsters. America tried to throw their hat into the Godzilla ring in 1998, but if I only tell you that Roland Emmerich was the director of that 1998 film, you can easily guess how it turned out.
What I'm getting at, basically, is that addressing Godzilla's roller coaster film history is to be expected when it comes to expressing your pride as a Godzilla fan. Several of the older Godzilla films, particularly those from the late 60's and early 70's, are lousy displays of cut-rate special effects, horrendous dubbing, and stories that are often as nonsensical as they are hilarious. And while general improvement in production value did away with many of these issues in later, more recent Godzilla films, the fact remains that no Godzilla film in existence is something you'd want to watch in film school when it comes to learning what it takes to make truly great, compelling cinema. Maybe if that cinema was solely based on entertainment value, I would recommend that Godzilla films be shown in film schools, but let's not kid ourselves here, people: Godzilla is not the film franchise to be looking at if you're looking for Oscar-worthy acting and terrific screenwriting.
Okay, so what's I'm really getting at with all this talk about Godzilla's film history is that American film critics, based on their mixed to negative consensus towards Godzilla: King of the Monsters, are clearly not all super passionate Godzilla fans, and to most of them, King of the Monsters is just a summertime action blockbuster that fails in the story and writing departments. The thing is, it's very difficult to rate/grade a Godzilla film as you would any other film, because, well, all the characters present and writing decisions made have to revolve around the monsters in some way. What else are we here to see aside from giant monsters trampling buildings and fighting each other? Vastly developed characters and one of the greatest stories ever told? My friend, you've come to the wrong place if that's what you're looking for.
Giant monsters fighting each other turns out to be what's at the heart of King of the Monsters' story. The film opens by introducing us to the Russell family: Dr. Mark Russell (Chandler), his wife Emma (Farmiga), and their daughter Madison (Brown). Mark and Emma's son died in the San Francisco attack during the 2014 Godzilla, and the family has been separated ever since. Mark now spends his time researching wolves, while Emma and Madison live together. Emma works as a paleobiologist who researches giant monsters that she refers to as Titans. One day, after interacting with a newly hatched larva of the giant monster Mothra, a group of eco-terrorists, led by Alan Jonah (Dance), kidnap Emma and Madison, intent on using the device that Emma used to interact with the newly hatched Mothra: the Orca. The Orca is capable of giving off sounds that can basically control the mood of any Titan.
The organization known as Monarch, along with doctors Ishiro Serizawa (Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Hawkins), find Mark and inform him of Emma and Madison's capture. Jonah and his men take Emma and Madison to Antarctica, where they free one of the Titans: the golden, three-headed dragon, Monster Zero (and later, Ghidorah). Ghidorah's emergence leads to the awakening of several other Titans, including the flying pteranodon Rodan. As the Titans begin to lay waste to Earth, one atomic-breathing monster must step up to fight Ghidorah and seize the title of King of the Monsters.
The Godzilla: King of the Monsters trailers do not deceive you with what specific monsters make their presence felt throughout the movie. Godzilla is present (duh), as are Ghidorah, Rodan, and Mothra. All other monsters in the film, aside from those four, are of little to no importance and are given only a few meager seconds of screen time. What you may not be able to figure out from the trailers is that King of the Monsters largely shapes up to be a Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah remake, except without aliens and time travel. Godzilla and Ghidorah square off several different times throughout the film, with the bulk of the screenplay dedicated towards doing whatever it takes to get Godzilla and Ghidorah in the same location. Now, that means there isn't a whole lot of variety when it comes to different monster vs. monster action throughout the film, but what it does assure us is that King of the Monsters doesn't at all have a problem with being bloated or like it's trying to cram too much plot within a 132 minute span.
- The bizarre thing about King of the Monsters is that, despite using the Godzilla theme song and making several callbacks to earlier films (Monster Zero? Oxygen Destroyer? Anyone?), it does something to distinguish itself quite a bit from other Godzilla films: breathing life into its human characters. Yes, you read that right. King of the Monsters makes a concerted effort towards giving its human characters more than one dimension. It's not the greatest character development you'll ever see, but the screenplay by Dougherty, Shields, and Borenstein does a decent enough job of making the Russell family reunion arc run steadily alongside the monster action, without making it seem out of place and like it doesn't matter at all. Giant monsters are what tore the Russell family apart in the first place, so giant monsters will be what brings the family back together several years later. Mark is the self-defeating father who lets his marriage fall apart. Emma tries to find hope and reason in a seemingly hopeless world filled with giant monsters (let's not waste time analyzing her motivations involving the Titans). Madison, meanwhile, is the unfortunate daughter caught in between, unable to decide who she really wants to be with. There's just enough meat to these characters that we can at least care about where they're going and where they'll be when all is said and done. For a Godzilla film, that's a pretty impressive accomplishment.
- We were promised more Godzilla in King of the Monsters after the 2014 Godzilla was criticized for not having enough of the Big G. My personal issue with the lack of Godzilla in the 2014 film was that the movie inexplicably decided to cut away right when the action was heating up, as if they either didn't have the budget to show multiple Godzilla fights or they were too lazy to make them. Godzilla definitely has a lot more screen time this time around, but what truly makes the monster action excel is that the movie has long enough breaks in between each monster throw down, such that each fight feels earned and brand new, and not wasting away with diminishing returns. Granted, just about every fight is Godzilla vs. Ghidorah, but there is no lame, cutting away from the action early, and there is plenty of memorable fight choreography that the action is just about everything you were hoping to see, as opposed to the monsters just running and clawing at each other like angry raccoons. No WWE wrestling. No over-the-top karate moves. A part of me was wishing to see Godzilla slide on his tail and do that special kick he did in Godzilla vs. Megalon, but that's asking for too much.
- I am not going to go through this review and act like there aren't any problems at all with the characters or the writing. King of the Monsters should probably not have been released right around the same time as Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, because midway through the film, Emma gives us a lengthy monologue about why all these monsters are appearing, and you'll quickly realize that Emma's motivations are almost identical to those of Thanos. Meanwhile, other characters outside of the Russell family barely pass the tolerant threshold. Poor Sally Hawkins, bless her heart, is given next to nothing to do in her role except give basic exposition. Charles Dance also is given next to nothing to do, other than just stand around and look villainous. Bradley Whitford quickly establishes himself as the movie's comic relief, with nearly all his dialogue dedicated towards delivering one liners (the movie ends before it lets him get too out of hand). In short, there's not a whole lot to love when it comes to the supporting characters. As for the plot, it's about as logical as you can make it for a Godzilla film that features multiple monsters. So does that mean it doesn't make any sense? Brother, you already know the answer to that.
It's probably a little brash for me to say that Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a film designed for the most die-hard Godzilla fans, and no one else. Die-hard fans though, will easily notice the nostalgic theme music, the tiny references to older Godzilla films (Monster Zero, Oxygen Destroyer), and the understanding that plot and character are going to take a backseat to the monsters sooner or later. For everyone else, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is probably nothing more than a dumb summer blockbuster that paves the way for 2020's Godzilla vs. Kong, and you're damn right that I'm gonna be there ASAP when that film hits theaters come March next year. I'm hoping that that film will do just as good, if not better than what Godzilla: King of the Monsters does when it comes to its monster action and its human component. The action is top-notch Godzilla entertainment in King of the Monsters, and the effort towards makings its human characters feel important is a lot more than I can say for many previous Godzilla films. The monster designs, for the most part, are suitable 21st century upgrades, and the CGI is as good as can be for a 2019 monster film. It all adds up to a highly entertaining Godzilla film, and the most successful entry in Legendary's MonsterVerse thus far. Will things get better or worse from here on out? Who knows, but for this Godzilla fan right here, he's just happy that all these beloved kaiju are a popular thing once again, and not completely stuck in the past.
Recommend? Yes. It's highly entertaining, even if you're not the most die-hard Godzilla fan.
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