Godzilla: King of the Monsters ballyhoo outside the Toho Cinemas near Osaka Station. Photo by Brett Homenick.
How's this for a headline? Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) is the best Godzilla film since Godzilla: Final Wars (2004).
Granted, that in and of itself isn't a major accomplishment, as everything else released after Final Wars with Godzilla's name on it has been terrible. But King of the Monsters is genuinely entertaining, and I'd give it a full-throated recommendation.
The movie just works. I was interested in the story, I laughed in the right spots, and I enjoyed the references. (Not only are there the obvious Godzilla references, but there are more than a couple to John Carpenter's The Thing.) What's more, the scope of the movie is truly outstanding. The filmmakers used the worldwide locations to their fullest potential. What can I say? I'm not sure I enjoyed a summer blockbuster so much since the late '90s.
That said, the movie isn't perfect. The biggest flaw is that the monsters are, for the most part, just big monsters. You get very little sense of personality (though they certainly tried with Ghidorah's three heads). I wish more would have been done with Mothra and especially Rodan. Also, the CGI battles seemed a bit generic and basically what I would have expected.
I have to admit that my moviegoing experience was probably helped more than a little by the clever marketing campaign. It's been a lot of fun seeing all the signage and assorted ballyhoo all over Japan. (In contrast, when the 2014 Godzilla came out over here, I remember seeing a few posters in the subway and not much else.) When I walked out of the movie, I was able to buy Godzilla socks in the theater lobby. Who wouldn't want a pair of Godzilla socks?
In summary, Michael Dougherty got it right where Gareth Edwards got it so woefully wrong. The 2014 Godzilla was one of the driest, dullest, and blandest movies I've seen in a while. The most interesting characters (to the extent there were any) were killed off far too soon. The marketing campaign was oddly misleading, making it seem as if it were Godzilla (and not the MUTOs) sending us back to the Stone Age. Suffice it to say, Legendary Pictures and Michael Dougherty took note of the many ways in which the previous film failed and made a winner.
Oh, and Bear McCreary knocked it out of the park with his versions of Akira Ifukube and Yuji Koseki's music. Again, this team just nailed it.
By the way, there's a nice tribute to Yoshimitsu Banno and Haruo Nakajima at the end of the credits (right before the obligatory post-credits sequence). It's well worth seeing.
My verdict: It's the Godzilla movie we've been waiting for since 2004.