Last weekend, Godzilla: King of the Monsters opened at $47m domestic, quite a bit below expectations that were already kind of muted for a mega-budget film in an ongoing franchise. I'll get into it more when the next Drawn & Quartered comes around, but for now I'll just point out that in terms of ticket sales, not only was this a big step down from 2014's remake, but also the much-hated 1998 version as well. Hell, even Cloverfield filled more seats on its opening weekend, which was in the middle of winter and on a fraction of the budget. Since next year's Godzilla vs Kong is already shot, we know that we will get at least one more film in this "Monsterverse", but unless that one does Marvel kind of numbers I wouldn't expect to see the titans roaring on the big screen again anytime soon.
And that's a shame, because on an entertainment level the franchise is three for three in my book. Would I have liked a little more action in the 2014 film? Sure. Could Skull Island have been better if John C. Reilly was in it the entire time, and/or if John Goodman wasn't killed off so early? Most definitely. And... well, I actually have no real complaints about King of the Monsters. As a fan of Mike Dougherty's other films, I was ecstatic when he got hired to bring his brand of genre fare (I think of it as "charming horror") to such a massive playground after his largely confined Krampus, and I was not disappointed. The monster fights were truly exciting, and while I'm not about to rush out and buy the action figures, I thought the human characters were an improvement over the 2014 film (Kyle Chandler > the guy who played the other Quicksilver). And I saw it in 4DX, which added immensely to my enjoyment, sending my chair to and fro while water mists and wind blew at my face during the appropriate scenes - it was perfect summer entertainment.
But alas, the box office and "film twitter" type chatter suggests I may be in the minority, at least for the time being. As with the 2014 film, I saw complaints that too much time was devoted to the humans, that the battles weren't spectacular enough, etc. But interestingly, the biggest supporters in my circle were well-versed and longtime fans of the Godzilla franchise as a whole, and if you ask me they'd be the ones that would be hardest to please with an American production. They caught all the Easter Eggs, the homages in Bear McCreary's score, etc and had a great time - but folks who I never heard mention the films before were vocal about their disappointment. And so I got to thinking, and later even heard in no uncertain terms (including from one of my BMD colleagues) that perhaps the problem isn't the movies themselves, but the fact that people seem to like the idea of these films more than they like actually sitting down and watching them, because in reality... well, let's just say that they all ask you to kind of be patient.
Now, I am in no means an expert on this franchise. I've only seen a handful of the 33 films in their entirety, and could probably only identify a few of G's most iconic foes by seeing a picture (Rodan not among them; I needed one of the humans to spell it out for me when he showed up in KOTM). But I've seen enough to know that Dougherty (and Edwards, for that matter) was not doing anything unusual by limiting the Godzilla action to a handful of scenes, as that's been the series' status quo from day one. As a kid, one of my local stations in Boston used to show the movies on Sunday mornings (along with the ripoffs and spinoffs, of course), and I got used to knowing not to bother tuning in until the final showdown between Godzilla and that film's foe, because I knew that most of what came before was light on monster action, and eight year old me didn't care about their yakkety-yak.
So I'm confused as to why some people seem to think that the Monsterverse entries are alone guilty in this approach. Dougherty and Edwards actually followed the formula of the Japanese films pretty closely - Godzilla shows up somewhat early on, has a brief skirmish with another monster later, and after a "defeat", comes roaring back for a rematch at the film's climax. In between those three or four sequences are talky human scenes and people looking at monitors in control rooms, and your mileage will of course vary depending on your own personal tastes and idiosyncrasies. As a father, I found Kyle Chandler's plight in the new film quite compelling - he understood that Godzilla didn't specifically "murder" his young son (during the events of the first film, which was five years ago) and that for the lack of a better term he was the "good guy" in this monster-driven world, but it didn't change the fact that he still hated the thing and wished it dead.
Others might find it boring, and that's fine - as long as they understand that there is literally no such thing as a Godzilla movie without an emphasis on human melodrama. The original and best film has plenty of it - there's even a love triangle that takes up about as much screentime as Godzilla, possibly more. And the 30+ movies in between them were no different; this site (and others) have literally taken a stopwatch to all of the movies (not the new one however) and found that in the 31 tracked films, Godzilla appears in at least nine of them - including the original - even less than he did in 2014's US film. (Amusingly, the film right in the exact middle? The horrible 1998 one.) And there's no correlation that says "More Godzilla = better movie"; one of his longest on-screen appearances was in Godzilla 2000, a film that was critically dismissed in its native Japan for, get this, poor pacing. It seems like there's no way to please everyone, which is precisely what these movies have to do in order to recoup their massive budgets. I doubt any exec sleeps comfortably knowing the Collins' Crypt guy is in their corner when they're opening lower than R-rated fare like John Wick 3 that had a quarter of the cost.
Complaints that the newer films are too serious (Edwards' more than Dougherty's) also baffle me, making me wonder if they had ever actually seen the original and best-regarded film, which has almost no silliness at all unless you count the primitive effects of the time (don't do that). The shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki hangs heavily over the 1954 movie, devastatingly encapsulated around the end of the film's second act, after its biggest Godzilla attack sequence. Once he goes off into the ocean again, we cut to a hospital where the injured are being treated, with shots of children testing positive for radioactive poisoning and parents weeping about their losses. It's downright horrifying to watch, and - at least in the other Japanese films I've seen - never been matched in terms of showing Godzilla as a serious threat with devastating consequences. As the most acclaimed film in the entire series, it's not surprising that the US films would try to emulate it over, say, Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla II. Sure, that sort of thing wouldn't sustain a big franchise, and there's nothing *wrong* with making them more kid-friendly, but there's certainly nothing wrong with trying to recapture that grimmer tone either, especially when it's proven to hold up so nicely after 65 years.
That said, one of the things I really liked about King of the Monsters is that Dougherty found a nice balance between the serious, legit sci-fi approach of that film (and a few others, like the recent Shin Godzilla, which invoked the recent devastation caused by tidal waves for its plot) and the more rambunctious, kiddie matinee appeal of the others (which, again, also kept monster screentime to a minimum). There are three other major monsters in the movie besides the big guy, and they all have their big moments before a big four-way brawl (at Fenway Park!) for the climax, allowing for any number of crowd-pleasing moments and, while I don't have the exact time, a definite increase in action over the 2014 movie. But it's still concerned with some real ideas; the human antagonist is releasing the monsters on purpose in a Thanos-y attempt to reduce the population and prevent the planet from becoming unsustainable, which - as with the actual human drama - is a good idea or a bad one depending on your perspective, but it's an IDEA nonetheless, which is always superior to mindless action in my eyes. I would be bored silly with two hours of non-stop monster action, as then it'd basically be a Transformers sequel with different CGI creations duking it out - the "slow" parts help make the carnage all that more exciting when it happens, as opposed to being numb to it by the time the movie's over.
Then again, maybe it's not the fault of the movie or its paying audience members; it's possible that moviegoers (more so here than overseas, though the new film came up a bit short there as well) simply don't care about giant monsters attacking cities at all. The first film scraped its way to $200m, but when you look at inflation you'd discover that it still sold fewer tickets than the reviled Emmerich movie, and the Pacific Rim entries flat out flopped in the US. Skull Island did OK thanks to being released out of the crowded summer, which should help next year's Godzilla vs Kong as it's also a spring release, but also came in under expectations and failed to match its production budget domestically. The only beasts that American audiences seem to still flock to are sharks and dinosaurs, which are largely confined to the ocean and Isla Nublar, respectively - perhaps the sight of buildings being demolished is too commonplace now for it to be exciting. And what worries me is that future movies will be attempting to cater to an audience that perhaps doesn't even exist, or one driven by erroneous memories of what these movies were in the first place. I know I'll be there for them when they open - I just hope I'm not alone in the theater OR my enthusiasm.