Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures have won movie marketing this year. Their two May releases, Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, had far and away the best trailers of any summer 2019 films. Each new marketing reveal for these two very different adaptations of iconic Japanese monsters only increased the hype. The trailers convinced fans their favorites were being done justice while also piquing the curiosity of the unconverted.
It was almost inevitable that neither film could live up to such great campaigns. Detective Pikachu is an entertaining enough piece of disposable fluff. It did have same the surface pleasures promised in the trailers (Adorable realistic Pokémon! Ryan Reynolds wisecracks!); the only disappointment is that there wasn't anything more to it.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters, on the other hand, is a much more dramatic letdown. The film is not entirely without the stuff that was enjoyable in the trailer; all those beautiful shots of the monsters are in the final cut. It's not even like 2014's Godzilla, where the trailers spoiled almost all of the action; there's a lot more where that came from. Yet somehow what seemed potentially transcendent in trailer form ends up being incredibly disappointing in movie form. Why is that?
Part of the reason King of the Monsters makes for both such great trailers and such a mediocre movie is that it's edited like a trailer, which is supposed to highlight the most eye-catching scenes, and cut through a lot at a rapid pace. Make an entire movie in the style of a trailer, and it becomes exhausting and bad for storytelling.
Michael Dougherty directs King of the Monsters in Michael Bay mode, trying to frame everything in the same extreme style. It's not just the monster battles that try to throw in every dramatic aesthetic choice at once: heavy shadows, bold bursts of glowing light, swirling cameras, chaotic editing, wind and snow and particle effects everywhere. Even the scenes in which the human characters only talk tend to have the same rhythms in cinematography.
That sort of "everything up to 11" approach makes for amazing trailers, but it doesn't really work over the course of an entire film. It's the reason Roger Ebert's one-star review of Armageddon opens by saying, "Here it is at last, the first 150-minute trailer." When everything is the in the same heightened mode without any sort of contrast; the stuff that theoretically should be the coolest action ever doesn't have the impact it should.
In this regard, the trailers for King of the Monsters actually had greater dramatic contrast than the movie does, and it's because of their music. It was inspired to use "Claire de Lune" in the first trailer and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in the final one, promising a film with greater sensitivity and poetry than the end product offers. Contrasting peaceful and romantic music with scenes of chaos and destruction created a sense of an emotional range, a feeling like King of the Monsters would be capable of hitting multiple notes instead of the same one, over and over.
The movie's actual musical score by composer Bear McCreary is good for what it is, but the way it's used in the film lacks any grace. Mixed with the actors yelling and explosions going off, the movie sounds just as cacophonous and monotonous as the way it's presented visually.
We weren't expecting King of the Monsters to be all classical music and showtunes, but a musical accompaniment that could actually capture a sense of genuine wonder would have made a huge difference in making the film nearly as enjoyable as its trailers.
Directed by Michael Dougherty, Godzilla: King of the Monsters stars Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Thomas Middleditch, Charles Dance, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Aisha Hinds and Zhang Ziyi.