In recent years, the phrase “fan service” seems to have developed a negative connotation in the realm of film criticism… and honestly, I don’t understand why. After all, what’s wrong with giving the people what they want? I, for example, am a huge fan of kaiju movies, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters certainly served me a generous helping of everything I love about the genre, from the music (Mothra’s introductory scene, for instance, incorporates an orchestral rendition of The Peanuts’ classic theme song) to the character arcs (Doctor Serizawa’s journey, in particular, pays homage to that of his namesake in the original Gojira) to the digitally-animated stars themselves—awesome re-imaginings of Toho’s four most famous city-demolishing Titans.
I’ve seen several reviewers complain that the narrative places too much emphasis on the human cast, which is a valid observation… but that’s also the entire point; the clash between the mundane and supernatural worlds has always been a key theme in these kinds of stories, and in this case, that conflict helps to ground the action—in more ways than one. Reduced to its core components, the plot is essentially a divorce drama, revolving around a young girl (Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown) caught between her well-meaning father (Kyle Chandler, playing a recovering alcoholic that just wants to reunite his splintered family) and her emotionally-manipulative mother (Vera Farmiga as… an eco-terrorist that hopes to restore the “natural order” by awakening long-dormant beasts of myth and legend) following the tragic death of her brother. It sounds like a ridiculous premise on paper, but by some miracle, it makes perfect sense onscreen; I was genuinely invested in the protagonists’ struggle to survive the computer-generated mayhem. Additionally, the various soldiers and scientists provide a worm’s-eye view of the giant monster battles that really sells the terrifyingly massive scale of the destruction; in one especially memorable set piece, a brawl between Ghidorah and The Big G sends a cargo plane skidding across a field of ice like a hockey puck, its trapped occupants as insignificant to the combatants as ants are to an elephant.
Although the inherent magic of miniature models and men in rubber costumes is sorely missed, the the CGI spectacle remains undeniably impressive. I sincerely believe that Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya would be pleased with how far their iconic creations have come.