The Monsterverse – A Reflection and Review on the Large Scale Universe

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Godzilla Roars Towards the Sky

I was three when Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake landed in theaters. About two years later, I somehow became aware of King Kong, and one day I pointed some movie at the consignment shop. Due to my five year old speech, I exclaimed “Look, it’s King Corn!” Nearly fourteen years later, I sat down and, over the course of two days, basically inhaled everything “Monsterverse,” from Godzilla and Kong (who I still sometimes think of as ‘Corn’), to learning the lore and backgrounds seen in the comics. In a sea of failed Cinematic Universes and franchises, the Monsterverse series continues to stomp one large foot in front of the other, with more connectivity than what the DCEU currently has, or what the “Dark Universe” could’ve been.

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW FOR: Godzilla (1998), Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island (2017), King Kong (1933), and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

It all began in 1998. Like all “Man, I hoped this would be good” stories, Godzilla dropped into cinemas to a whopping thud. American made, Godzilla was depicted as a slithery, fast creature, looking more akin to a dinosaur than the actual Godzilla we know. Matthew Broderick played a beret wearing, wisecracking character that grated on viewers. To many, this was the first and final nail in the coffin to the idea that Americans could make a good Godzilla film.

And, you know, there’s a point to be made there.

Godzilla was created in 1954 as a response to the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There’s a point to be made that in Japanese popular culture, when a creature – be it a human or an ancient, underwater lizard – is affected by nuclear radiation, the creature turns into a grotesque, large monster that wrecks havoc on society. In America, radiation gives comic heroes superpowers, like Peter Parker as Spider-man, or Bruce Banner as the Hulk. Sure, in some cases, like the Hulk, there’s issues of feeling like a monster, but the Hulk is a hero nonetheless. An attempt on making Godzilla in an American context misses the entire point of trying to use the character.

Yes, he’s appeared silly in countless, tamer depictions. He can one day play basketball with Charles Barkley, the next destroying a large city, and then the day after that he can be seen riding on his tail, as though it’s a sleigh.

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Oh Boy he’s Balling!

But, nonetheless, it’s not something American filmmakers should touch without the guiding hand of Toho, the creators of the creature. That’s not what happened in 1998. The directors were given a lengthy bible of how Godzilla should be portrayed, and it appeared as though they placed this to the side in exchange for something to “rival” Jurassic Park.

Due to the negative reaction, Americans did not attempt another Godzilla for over a decade… Until 2014.

The first trailer had dropped in 2013. A large group of army men are skydiving, performing a “Halo Jump” into a city. As they dive, red flares leave a trail behind them. They enter a decimated city, and we’re shown scenes of destruction and panic. At the end, we catch a small glimpse at the new, American Godzilla, which appears to be accurate in it’s depiction. Gone is the slithery creature, we now have the slow, large monster, similar to it’s Japanese depiction.

This movie would kick off the Monsterverse, a multimedia project full of stories to tell, comics to read, and movies to watch. To me, however, Godzilla was a slow mess, full of dialogue and lore and buildup to the actual reveal of Godzilla, who only appears near the end of the film for eight minutes. Before, I had watched “Godzilla” from 1953, and “Shin Godzilla” from 2016, both amazing films in their own right, and the amount of ‘zilla we had seen in those had eclipsed 2014’s Godzilla, who’s full design was shadowed in darkness, only seen by firelight.

The film revolved around the release of two monsters, both titled “MUTOs.” Looking like a tripod from War of the Worlds, the MUTOs wreck havoc, all the while Aaron Taylor Johnson’s character Lieutenant Brody works with the Military to try to contain the threat and diminish the loss of life. It’s focused more on that, rather than on the force of nature that is Godzilla, and Lieutenant Brody does not appear in any of the other movies in the franchise. The cinematography is really well done, which is a bonus to an otherwise slow film.

I had not seen this movie until yesterday, February the fourth, 2021, but if I had seen it in 2014, I would not have known this would be the start of a franchise, and to some it seemed like it shouldn’t. It was panned by some reviewers, and it sits barely above average on IMDB at a 6.4/10. I would’ve given it about a 6/10, mainly because of the one thing these Monsterverse films get right:

The sense of scale.

With alternating angles, closeups and wide shots, shaky first person views, a viewer will feel as though these monsters are real, that they’re genuinely moving on screen. Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters all felt real. The monsters are so detailed and intricate in their designs too, so it feels realistic to watch them fight. Each blow thrown has impact, and buildings crumble realistically. It’s amazing.

After Godzilla, we had Kong: Skull Island. King Kong’s story is literally the three act structure followed to a tee: Giant Ape is kidnapped from home, Giant Ape falls in love with a human woman he can’t have, Giant Ape dies due to raging and escaping. Skull Island is full of movie stars, like Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, John C. Reilly, and John Goodman. In a change of formula, there’s no kidnapping of Kong. Rather than bringing Kong to the human world, the human world brings themselves to Kong. Skull Island is full of different monsters, and here, Kong rules.

Not to get all “film auteur” on y’all, but Kong: Skull Island is very much an anti-Vietnam, or anti-war movie. The movie takes place at the end of the Vietnam War, and the American Military comes onto a piece of land that, to some, didn’t need to be invaded upon. The love interest character, played by Brie Larson, is an Anti-War photographer, and she’s the only one able to reach towards Kong to realize that these people care about him and don’t want to hurt him, only that others are forcing them to. The refusal by some of the American Military to accept that they “lost” the Vietnam war leads to brash actions that only ends up costing more American lives. This is a Monster Movie in the Monsterverse with actual substance, while the other two don’t seem to have much of that.

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Kong stands in front of the sun, evoking Apocalypse Now

Kong: Skull Island is honestly one of my favorite movies ever because of how it’s shot and the compelling characters. The color choice is amazing, evoking cinematography of Apocalypse Now. The dialogue is natural and even funny at times, I felt like I didn’t want to see anyone in this movie die. And the action… oh my, the action. It’s easy to follow and it’s engaging. I wanted more like this, and when I swiftly moved on to watching King of the Monsters, I felt really really disappointed.

KotM is more action and less drama. There’s a whole subplot about an evil mother, and the father who’s trying to rescue his daughter, but the true substance is in the kaiju fights, which revolves around Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and the biggest of the bad, the three headed, lightning spitting King Ghidorah. Godzilla is now known as a force that keeps a balance between nature and humanity, and the world has begun to understand that, yet more “Titans” as they’re called have been coming out of hibernation ever since the 2014 attacks on San Francisco. This is more about the shady organization “Monarch” than military personnel, but it tells a thriller that, despite all the action, feels muddy. It’s so confusing to know what’s going on with the frequent explosions, and it doesn’t strike that same balance that Skull Island did.

So… Where to next?

Setting up a universe is an arduous task. I haven’t even talked about the comics, and I don’t really want to, as they’re optional stories that improves on the rest of the world. I’m a bit nervous for the Monsterverse, as after the upcoming film Godzilla vs. Kong, I don’t know where it could go. Does it go into space? Should all the monsters return for another epic duel? Where do you go from here? Personally, I’d have the Monsterverse end at Godzilla vs. Kong, and use television shows to flesh out more things in the universe. They’ve already announced a “Skull Island” animated TV show, maybe they can do more things like that?

I’m excited for Godzilla vs. Kong, as I have my own personal speculation that Kong will be the victor, but I also recognize that there’s a certain theming to how a character vs. character movie goes down, and I’m sure it’ll end in something similar. There’s so many hints in the trailer that someone can already piece together this plot point, but I’m so excited to see it actually unfold, and hopefully there’ll be some normalcy by then so that I could see it in theaters, with some popcorn in my hand and a smile across my face. All I’ll say is this: there can only be one true king.

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