Godzilla: King the Monsters is already proving to be divisive among critics, with the general consensus being that the Big Boi monster fights are mind-blowing but the human characters might as well be sock puppets for all the impact they make. Having seen the flick, I generally agree with this take, but the one thing director Michael Dougherty, creature designer Ken Barthelmey, and a veritable army of VFX artists unequivocally nailed is just the look of these massive titans; the way they move, the way they hold themselves, the way they interact with their environment. King Ghidorah is sheer chaotic menace from all angles, his three heads snapping and snarling out of sync with each other. Mothra is neon grace, a regal queen that trails light with every movement. And Godzilla, the big guy, the main event, Godzilla is a hefty ol’ chonk. Just an absolute unit. A whole slab of radioactive beef. I’m genuinely shocked that at no point over the course of the film does Bradley Whitford say the words “oh lawd he comin’.”
Honestly? The state of Godzilla’s girth is the best part of the movie. The most iconic of the Kaijus feels legendary in his mass, powerful in his weight. More like King of the Chonksters, imho.
Did you know the original Japanese Gojira comes from a mash-up of the words for gorilla (ゴリラ, “gorira“) and whale ( 鯨, “kujira“)? Did you know that, according to the book Japan’s Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of the Big G, Gojira director Ishirō Honda settled on the word because of an unidentified Very Large Man who worked in the Toho PR department?
“There was a big— I mean huge — fellow working in Toho’s publicity department and other employees would say ‘That guy’s as big as a gorilla’. ‘No he’s almost as big as a kujira.’ Over time, the two mixed and he was named ‘Gojira.‘”
Well now you do, and I can confirm that Godzilla has never felt more of a gorilla-whale than he is in Godzilla: King of the Monsters; this is, for sure, the Very Large Man of Godzillas. In fairness, this seemed inevitable. Over the years, Godzilla has grown to match the rising Tokyo skyline. Originally topping out at 164 feet in 1954, the creature design was morphed and molded in all directions, from the rubbery bug-eyed beast of the early Showa Era movies like Destroy All Monsters (1964) to the much more frightening, T-Rex-tinged look in Heisei Era films like Godzilla vs Biollante (1989). By the time the big guy burst back on to the screen in Gareth Edwards‘ 2014 Godzilla, he was 355-feet-tall and—to use a technical artistry term—built like a brick shithouse.
But five years have passed between Godzilla and King of the Monsters, five years that my dude spent snackin’ and mackin’ at the bottom of the ocean, emerging as the most mountainous monster you could imagine. And it really, really works for what the movie is striving to get across, more so than anything a single human character says. It’s interesting, the way modern-day Godzilla movies use the title beasts’ look to sell a theme. Shin Godzilla turned him into a fiery, googly-eyed nightmare to underscore the sheer fever-dream absurdity of its satire. Edwards’ Godzilla was a powerhouse that shook the Earth with a single step, the only logical ground-crushing conclusion to an hour-plus of Godzilla-less tension-building. Roland Emmerich‘s 1998 Godzilla looked goddamn terrible because that movie was goddamn terrible.
But Dougherty’s Godzilla—as Ken Watanabe‘s Dr. Ishiro Serizawa reminds us again and again and again throughout the film—is a pure force of nature. Something far older than us, straight out of myth, straight off of cave carvings and scroll paintings, an actual god akin to the monsters from Japanese legends that birthed the word Kaiju in the first place. Through this creature design, this solid, colossal look, you feel that. Watching this primordial chonk rise from the ocean waves in King of the Monsters feels and sounds like a tectonic plate shifting, as it should. It’s honestly beautiful in the way it makes you, the audience member, feel small, in the same way a volcanic eruption or a tsunami is horrifyingly beautiful.
It’s such a clean look, too. With all due respect to perhaps the G.O.A.T. monster-lover Guillermo del Toro, the Kaiju of his Pacific Rim were too messy for the eye to latch on to, all clicking and whirring and snapping. Dougherty’s Godzilla is, for lack of a better term, just solid, a living, breathing, moving mass of scale and spikes. Through several city-leveling brawls, you never lose a handle on Godzilla’s scale or positioning. It’s an especially lovely base to the squirmy Ghidorah, whose three heads make him seem like an unimaginably large den of snakes.
If only the story built around Godzilla was as solid as Godzilla himself. Nevertheless, I’d recommend the movie for the creature design alone, especially the Big G himself, the chonky icon and literal god he is. The script might be wonky and the human characters a bore, but King of the Monsters at least managed to breathe life into a beast so wide he can carry an entire film on his back. All hail.