“Trick ‘r Treat” director Michael Dougherty’s “Godzilla, The King of the Monsters” (**** OUT OF ****) qualifies as the rare sequel that surpasses its impressive predecessor, “Rogue One” director Garth Edwards’ above-average, larger-than-life “Godzilla” (2014), with Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Elizabeth Olsen. Edwards’ “Godzilla” rebooted the American “Godzilla” franchise after “Stargate” director Roland Emmerich gave us his own entertaining epic “Godzilla” (1998), starring Matthew Broderick.

While Emmerich’s “Godzilla” was goofy fun, it spawned no sequels. In contrast, Edwards’ stomping, chomping reboot laid the groundwork for Dougherty’s slam-bang, high-octane follow-up. Not only is “Godzilla, King of the Monsters” bigger and better, adding the wicked three-headed, space dragon King Ghidorah, along with Mothra and Rodan, but its human characters also are far more relevant than those in its forerunner. For a change, the scientists, their families, and their subordinates play a stronger, integral role in the storyline.

Comparably, Dougherty’s “Godzilla” is reminiscent of the Toho Studios’ 1968 vintage “Destroy All Monsters,” which featured Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, Gorosaurus, Minya, and King Ghidorah. Interestingly enough, the villains in “Destroy All Monsters” were the Kilaaks, an alien race languishing on an asteroid planet orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. The Kilaaks gained control of these monsters and freed them from the confines of an island prison.

Asserting control over their minds, the Kilaaks harnessed them as weapons of mass destruction to wipe out mankind. The fiendish Kilaaks teleported Godzilla and the other monsters from one metropolis to another to decimate the Earth. Similarly, in “Godzilla, King of the Monsters,” an army of murderous ecoterrorists release King Ghidorah from Antarctica and Rodan from a volcano to rout Godzilla and Mothra, so other chimerical behemoths like them, called the Titans, can restore the Earth’s ecological prosperity.

These ecoterrorists behave like Thanos in the “Avengers” movies. Despite the global apocalypse liable to ensue if they succeed, the Earth will undergo a makeover, and life will be far better for the survivors. These ecoterrorists insist that out of this tragic wholesale devastation, the Earth will flourish and return to an Eden-like paradise.

Paleobiologist Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga of “The Conjuring”) and her ex-husband Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler of “Zero Dark Thirty”) have created an apparatus called the ‘Orca’ that transmits frequencies which can influence the behavior of the Titans. This couple emerged from the catastrophe of San Francisco, but they lost their adolescent son, Andrew.

Their daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown of Netflix’s “Stranger Things”) survived the ordeal and lives with Emma in a remote outpost in China established by Monarch, a billion-dollar governmental agency that monitors the Titans. As the film unfolds, Emma and Madison are about to see the birth of a larva, Mothra, when Alan Jonah (Charles Dance of “Alien³”) and his eco-terrorists storm the premises.

Mothra escapes before Jonah and his henchmen stop it. Nevertheless, they take Emma and Madison hostage along with the Orca. Monarch scientists Dr. Ishirō Serizawa (Ken Watanabe of “The Last Samurai”) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins of “The Shape of Water”) recruit Mark Russell to help them find his ex-wife and daughter. At this point, Mark urges Monarch to destroy Godzilla and all the Titans. Eventually, he realizes Godzilla isn’t the problem, but perhaps represents the solution to their nightmare.

Later, Mark is shocked to learn Emma has been conspiring with Jonah, and she believes the only salvation for life on Earth lies with the Titans. She helps Jonah release not only King Ghidorah, but also Rodan. Initially, King Ghidorah defeats Godzilla after an oxygen-destroying bomb is detonated during an Armageddon of a fracas.

Godzilla takes refuge in a cavern to recuperate while Ghidorah dominates the planet. Dr. Serizawa replenishes the radiation the ailing Godzilla needs so it can confront King Ghidorah in a showdown. Madison steals the Orca from Emma and flees to her hometown, Boston, Massachusetts, where she broadcasts the Orca signals, and Godzilla rallies for the ultimate mêlée with King Ghidorah.

Writer & director Michael Dougherty and “Krampus” scenarist Zach Shields, adapting a story each co-wrote with Max Borenstein of “Kong: Skull Island,” have conjured up a stupendous saga. Incredibly, these filmmakers have created a no-holds-barred magnum opus that alternates between spectacular bouts with legendary Japanese leviathans as well as two ideological factions of scientists intent on saving the world by virtually annihilating it. The collateral damage that the Titans inflict dwarfs anything in all of Marvel’s “Avengers” movies.

Amazingly, no characters get short-changed in this boisterous, PG-13 rated, 132-minute, extravaganza that keeps drumming up surprises atop surprises. At least three uppermost human characters sacrifice their lives to save Godzilla from his aggressive new adversary. Everything in “Godzilla, King of the Monsters” is enormous in both scale and scope. Monarch, the crypto-zoological coalition, has established outposts around the globe that serve as shelters for the Titans. The scientists clash with Congress over their mandate. These politicians demand to know if Monarch is trying to domesticate Godzilla as man’s pet. Dr. Serizawa scorns this peculiar notion and explains mankind is really Godzilla’s pet.

Unlike the inferior special effects in the Japanese “Godzilla” movies, Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures spent between $175 to $200 million reportedly to make the giant monster fights appear as lifelike as possible. Godzilla devours one of King Ghidorah’s three heads, but the evil space dragon—a legendary hydra itself— grows another head.

The producers have gone to melodramatic extremes to stage these monumental battles, and fans of the Japanese originals will appreciate Daugherty for making Godzilla sound like his venerable Toho Studios self. “Black Sails” composer Bear McCreary contributes a thoroughly atmospheric score that features traditional musical cues from original “Godzilla” composer Akira Ifukube.

Actor Bradley Whitford blurts out several memorable one-liners about Godzilla, and sagacious Charles Dance makes an insidiously evil foe. “Godzilla, King of the Monsters” qualifies as an unforgettable experience. Furthermore, audiences should not evacuate the premises immediately, but wait until after the end credits. One brief but final scene ties up an important plot thread. For more great movie reviews click here and enjoy: https://theplanetweekly.com/category/entertainment/

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