by Jason McCullum
In concept and execution, Warner Brothers MonsterVerse franchise is far more complicated than most people give it credit for. It took five years and three movies for me to understand the cinematic universe’s ultimate goals and shortcomings. After seeing Godzilla: King of the Monsters in 2019, I spoke with a friend about my primarily negative experience, specifically crediting that prioritizing big action sequences over intriguing storytelling was the movie’s main Achilles heel. My friend replied bluntly, “Sounds like you don’t understand how a Godzilla movie works.” At the time, I assumed he was right, definitively ending my relationship with giant monster franchises. That was until earlier this year when I finally watched Kong: Skull Island.
Immediately, the film redefined my feelings about the MonsterVerse and offered clarity to my KOTM experience. While Skull Island’s story is weak, it manages to include plenty of action and highlight a fantastically well-rounded cast. These two factors dramatically elevate the film, which inspired me to re-watch Godzilla (2014) for the first time since its release. While this movie is not nearly as good as Skull Island, it remains superior to KOTM primarily thanks to its excellent cast. The biggest flaw that Godzilla (2014) presents is the major lack of appearances from its titular character. Finally obtaining a full picture of what Warner’s MonsterVerse presents, I recognized that a monster movie’s biggest issue is not having too much fun or focusing too much on the action; it is hiring a shitty cast that cannot manage to keep an audience member (or at least this audience member) invested long enough to enjoy the eventual fight scenes.
Case in point, Godzilla vs. Kong. The film stretches out scenes without titans which is problematic as much of the cast does pretty underwhelming work, albeit a bit stronger than KOTM. However, when Godzilla suddenly shows, the titular giants punch each other over and over in the most absurdly captivating way. Battle sequences similar to this essentially go on to make up the rest of the movie as it quickly gives up on trying to include any sort of plot development. Ultimately, this works in its favor. So on immediate instinct, this is a good popcorn movie which is exactly what it should be. But all of this begs the question; how efficiently entertaining is the MonsterVerse?
If judgment was purely based on surface-level enjoyment, then Warner is currently three for four, which is pretty admirable. However, things are nowhere near that simple. Specifically, regarding Godzilla vs. Kong, I backtracked to pin down that the first fight scene is not presented until 38 minutes in. At that point, there is an hour and seven minutes to go, excluding credits. By rough calculations, more than a third of the movie was unenjoyable for me, which hardly represents the good time I had during my initial viewing. What this mildly proves, however, is more useful in analyzing how huge monster movies potentially negatively adapt audience expectations. The shift in viewer assumption would likely reflect that many accept a smaller amount of interest compared to other film franchises. Personally, this looked like sending text and email responses throughout Godzilla vs. Kong, which is particularly rare for me.
However, there is one major difference between Godzilla vs. Kong and the rest of the MonsterVerse; this movie was released on HBO Max. While I am well aware that this was a pandemic-induced decision, it was ultimately a brilliant one. Staying engaged through KOTM in a theater was a challenge but who’s to say that it would not have gone over far better at home where I could take my time. Certainly, it is unlikely that Warner Brothers would make films that cost $200 million to make per movie and send it straight to digital each time. But as a consumer who typically would gravitate toward the in-theater experience, I feel that MonsterVerse films fall into a tiny section of cinema that I would “wait to watch on DVD”.
Still, that does not answer the overarching question: is the MonsterVerse effectively entertaining? It remains complicated, because so rarely would I prefer to watch something for the first time at home rather than see it in a movie theater. Furthermore, a movie that is only enjoyable for less than two-thirds of the picture would typically be considered a relatively poor viewing experience. Yet my typical movie viewing preferences are drastically changed by these MonsterVerse films in which I am elated to have enjoyed over half of them and I find them to be extra captivating at home. I will leave the question up to you if these changes are positive or negative ones, and then you can determine whether these films have been effectively entertaining.