Release Date(s)2019 (August 27, 2019)
Studio(s)Legendary Pictures/Huahua Media/Toho Studios (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A-
Five years after the events of Godzilla (2014), the world is reeling from the knowledge that MUTOs exist. The US Government demands that Monarch find and destroy them, but the organization is hiding a secret: They’ve found many more than they expected—in hibernation beneath the Earth—and the creatures may actually be important to humanity’s survival. Monarch scientist Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel) has developed a new device, the Orca, which can identify the MUTOs’ bioacoustic signatures and may even allow them to be called or calmed. But just as it proves successful, a team of eco-terrorists led by Alan Jonah (Charles Dance, Game of Thrones) arrives to steal the device and takes Russell and her daughter Madison (Milly Bobby Brown, Stranger Things) hostage. Now her scientist husband, Mark (Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights) must work with Monarch to get them back. But Mark left both Monarch and his wife after the death of their son, who was killed during Godzilla’s attack on San Francisco. And he wants nothing more than to see all the MUTOs eliminated.
The events that unfold from there in Godzilla: King of the Monsters are, of course, preposterous. But then so is the very idea of 40-story monsters crashing through cities to fight one another. Yet this film works for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it never quite takes itself fully seriously—even in moments of the greatest tension, there’s always a signal that yes, the filmmakers know that you know that all of this is ridiculous. So you go with it. The film is exactly the right amount of campy, but the verisimilitude is high indeed, not just with the kaiju genre overall but with the MonsterVerse in particular (think Godzilla (2014) and Kong: Skull Island). And there are a million little callbacks to the classic Toho films, stuff that will delight serious Gojira fans.
It also helps that the film’s casting is perfect. Dance as an eco terrorist? Check. Ken Watanabe (Inception) and Zhang Ziyi (House of Flying Daggers) as Japanese and Chinese scientists who ground the Monarch science team? Check. (Zhang actually plays twin descendants of the original Mothra Shobijin—a very nice touch—and Watanabe and actors Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn reprise their roles from the 2014 Godzilla film.) Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) and Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) are the sarcastic American scientists who provide comic relief. There’s even a likable crew of military grunts led by Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and Elizabeth Ludlow. Most importantly, Brown, Chandler, and Farmiga ground the story firmly, each likable in their own way, and they have a genuine connection together on screen.
The design work is perfect too. Each of these classic monsters has been updated just slightly, but remain true to their classic origins. The film’s editorial pace is swift enough that there’s never a dull moment. Composer Bear McCreary does yeoman’s work here to move things along, not only bringing his own unique percussions to the score, but calling back to Akira Ifukube’s classic Gojira themes too. And yes, those are members of Dethklok performing a cover of Blue Öyster Cult’s Godzilla with vocalist Serj Tankian over the closing credits.
I feel the need to push back here on the notion that King of the Monsters is dumb, as some critics would have you believe. It’s clear to me that writer-director Michael Dougherty and writer-producer Zach Shields are huge fans of this genre and understand it intimately. Every story and character choice they’ve made is deliberate and true to the long legacy of these monsters. If you know the classic Showa-era Gojira films well, you can appreciate the high level at which all of this is actually working. (And I strongly suggest listening to the audio commentary if you doubt this.) Like Kong: Skull Island before it (see my 4K review here), this film knows exactly what it needs to be and nails it. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is crazy, over-the-top, bananas… and a nearly perfect Western puree of the original Japanese canon. I loved every minute of it.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters was shot digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (at both 3.4K and 6.5K) using Arri Alexa cameras and Panavision lenses. It was finished as a 2K digital intermediate and released theatrically in the 2.39:1 “scope” aspect ratio. For this UHD release, the DI was upscaled to 4K and graded for high dynamic range. I’m only reviewing the HDR10 grade, but you’ll be pleased to know that both Dolby Vision and HDR10+ are available too. Overall image detail is actually quite good despite the 2K DI—keep in mind that the higher quality pixels captured in camera make a big difference. Texturing is nice, evident in stone, ice, cloth, and metallics. Note that even if this were a native 4K DI, the sheer volume and density of the atmospheric effects would render much the extra detail impossible to see. This film is filled, from start to finish, with smoke effects, fog, rain, dust, snow, deep water haze, and storm clouds. The wide color gamut enhances the image well, however, enriching the color palette and adding nuance too. What’s more, the HDR makes the brightest areas of the frame nearly eye-reactive, while the shadows are much deeper, adding dimension and depth (I only sampled it, but the Dolby Vision does all of this to a slightly greater effect).
The real star of this disc, however, is the English Dolby Atmos mix. It’s reference quality film audio from start to finish. The soundstage is big and wide, with a crazy amount of activity and smooth movement, wonderful dynamic range, and monstrous bass. The mix will rattle your walls with rumbling MUTO foot-stomps and screeches. But other things impress too, particularly the vertical extension. Rodan’s first appearance is notable in this regard, not just when the creature appears from the Mexican volcano, but its swooping aerial battle with the F-22s. Other impressive moments include the fully-formed Mothra’s arrival over Castle Bravo, Godzilla rising from the ocean depths and roaring after being “recharged,” and Ghidorah’s arrival at Fenway Park. The Orca’s bioacoustic sound effects too seem to move and echo around the listening space in surprising ways. There’s great environmental and atmospheric cues, dialogue is clear and well staged, and the score is presented with pleasing fidelity and emphasis. This mix is pretty special; hats off to whoever created it. Additional audio options include English Descriptive Audio and 5.1 Dolby Digital in English, French, and Latin Spanish, with optional subtitles in English (for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing), French, Traditional Chinese, Cantonese, Korean, Latin Spanish, and Arabic.
The only extra included on the 4K disc itself is:
- Audio Commentary by Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields, and O’Shea Jackson Jr.
But that’s okay, because the package includes the film on regular Blu-ray too, a disc adds the following (all in HD):
- Monsters 101 – Godzilla: Nature’s Fearsome Guardian (:59)
- Monsters 101 – Mothra: Queen of the Monsters (2:01)
- Monsters 101 – Ghidorah: The Living Extinction Machine (1:30)
- Monsters 101 – Rodan: Airborne God of Fire (1:13)
- Evolution of the Titans: Godzilla 2.0 (8:38)
- Evolution of the Titans: Making Mothra (7:00)
- Evolution of the Titans: Creating Ghidorah (6:23)
- Evolution of the Titans: Reimagining Rodan (5:21)
- Monarch in Action: The Yunnan Temple (6:58)
- Monarch in Action: Castle Bravo (6:18)
- Monarch in Action: The Antarctic Base (6:24)
- Monarch in Action: The Isla de Mara Volcano (5:55)
- Monarch in Action: The Undersea Lair (7:18)
- Millie Bobby Brown: Force of Nature (4:07)
- Monster Tech: Monarch Joins the Fight (8:34)
- Monsters Are Real (14:18)
- Welcome to the MonsterVerse (3:42)
- Deleted Scenes (2 scenes – 5:01 in all)
- Theatrical Trailers (Life, Supremacy, Over the Rainbow, and Wonder Rumble – 12:08 in all)
Monsters 101 is a quickie primer to the monsters for the uninitiated, but once you get past this there’s quite a lot of meat to these extras. Color me surprised, but this is actually a very nice Blu-ray special edition! You get solid looks at the design “updating” ethos for all of the monsters, as well as the various Monarch bases. The writer and director appear often, explaining their approach and thought process for each. You get a chance to see how motion capture with real actors was employed to give each of the monsters a bit of human personality. I particularly liked Monsters Are Real (directed by Gary Leva), wherein authors and historians discuss the primal nature of the things we humans have feared over history. There are a couple of nice deleted scenes, one in which we see more of the son Chandler and Farmiga’s characters lost (during the events of the the 2014 Godzilla film) and another where Madison attempts to talk to the outside world via shortwave radio and hears the rest of the world calling for help. The audio commentary on this disc is well worth listening to, as Dougherty, Shields, and Jackson Jr. talk about the story and other production issues. Their love for this material really shines through, and it’s a nice companion to their comments in the various featurettes. The film’s theatrical trailers are here too, some of which are quite good. Note that there’s a Blu-ray 3D version of King of the Monsters available which is not included here. (That’s a shame, but it’s exclusive to Best Buy stores.) You do at least get a Movies Anywhere digital copy code on a paper insert.
If you love kaiju, have a history with the genre, and a deep familiarity with the classic Japanese films, it’s hard to imagine that Godzilla: King of the Monsters wouldn’t delight you. This movie is a throwback gem with a clever modern refresh. If, on the other hand, none of that applies to you, you’re probably just going to shake your head and think, “Meh, stupid.” So be it. I’m not gonna lie, King of the Monsters made me giggle with the remembered joy of many a delightful Saturday afternoon watching giant monster movies as a boy. In my opinion, Legendary’s MonsterVerse is in very good hands.
(PS: Warner, please release Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (2014) in physical Ultra HD too, so fans can watch the complete trilogy on the format. Thank you!)
- Bill Hunt