Saturday, June 29, 2019

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) Review

To sequel or not to sequel?  That is the question.  Sequels have increased in frequency in the last 30 years.  Every weekend, sequels to popular franchises are released, and people flock in droves to see them.  Yet, not every movie deserves a sequel.  When the story is wrapped up with no loose ends, why bother continuing the narrative, unless the writer or director can bring something new to the table.  To me, a sequel can only happen via the following rules:

1. Does the movie end in such a way that it would be possible to do a sequel somewhere down the line?

2. Does the world leave room for expansion?  Could you keep the concept, but expand on and delve into the lore of said universe?

3. Do the characters from the original have a reason to come back, even if his or her story was finished in the previous picture?

Unfortunately, many sequels break these criteria, and with many franchises, the longer it goes with no purpose, the more irrelevant it becomes.  Highlander ended with Connor MacLeod defeating the Kurgan and winning the prize, which made him mortal but granted him with unlimited knowledge and superior intellect.  Then comes Highlander II, a film which not only retcons and undoes everything established in the original, but also invents new rules and backstory which only serve to confuse and anger fans of the 1986 cult favorite.

2024.  Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) is old and frail.  In 1999, him and a team of researchers built a shield to surround Earth after the ozone layer was depleted in 1994, killing millions, including his love Brenda.  Seeing he is in a weak state, General Katana (Michael Ironside), orders a pair of assassins to travel to the present and kill him.  Connor runs into Louise (Virginia Madsen), an environmentalist who's gathered evidence proving the ozone layer has healed up, meaning the shield no longer needs to be active, but he dismisses her claims.  He's then attacked by the assassins, and when he decapitates one, the Quickening occurs, and he is young once again.  Fully rejuvenated, he teams up with Louise and resurrects his old friend Ramirez (Sean Connery) to disable the shield and stop General Katana, who has arrived on Earth to put an end to Connor.

Did you love Highlander and its interesting premise, memorable characters, and amazing soundtrack?  Well, here's Highlander II to ruin it all for you!  There are many words to describe this disaster, such as bad, incomprehensible, baffling, and inane, but unnecessary is the best way to describe this train-wreck.  At the end of the original, Connor defeated the Kurgan, won the prize, and became mortal.  Rather than focus on a new generation of Immortals or delve into more of Connor's history as an Immortal, the movie opts to undo everything Connor had fought for and been rewarded with.  Worse, Highlander II attempts to explain where the Immortals came from, and it's as bad as one would expect.

According to this movie, Connor and Ramirez are from a civilization in the distant past.  They were the leaders of a resistance group trying to overthrow General Katana's dictatorship, but they failed.  As punishment, the two were teleported into the future and onto different points of the planet, and to win the prize means either to return to the past or stay in the present.  Somehow, those in the past are capable of monitoring what's going on in our times, hence why Katana knows of Connor's whereabouts.  If this explanation has you going, "Wait, what?"  Congrats, because the attempt to expand upon the origins of the Immortals is a confusing mess of an explanation.

Keep in mind, the information described above refers to the director's cut; originally, the Immortals were aliens from the planet Zeist exiled to Earth.  All references to Zeist were removed when the director's cut came out, and though the film is more coherent because of this change, it still doesn't account for a number of the other issues still present.  If Connor and Ramirez knew each other, how come they didn't recognize one another when the latter showed up at Connor's doorstep in Highlander?  And if General Katana knew Connor was alive, why didn't he try to seize the opportunity and kill Connor after he won the prize, instead of waiting for him to reach seniority to do so?

Secondly, why give the winner the option to return to the past since what we're shown of this civilization isn't exactly a tourist attraction.  Highlander II also adds new powers for Connor to use, like being able to resurrect Immortals by calling their name, which he does to bring back Ramirez.  If he has this power when he's immortal, why didn't Connor just immediately resurrect his mentor after the Kurgan decapitated him in the first film?  There are enough holes in this story to call it Swiss cheese!

You're not you when you're old.  Experience the Quickening,
you'll feel a lot better.
Characters, both new and returning, are disappointing.  After Connor regains his immortality, he isn't too perturbed by the fact he's regained this ability, even though in Highlander, he wanted to become mortal and live a normal life after 500 years of being unable to age and die.  Ramirez is now a fish-out-of-water who spends most of the runtime looking for Connor and trying to make sense of the world he's been brought back into.  Instead of being the wise but sarcastic mentor that he was beforehand, he's a comedic buffoon.  Worse, after the two reunite, Ramirez is promptly killed off.

Then, there's General Katana, Connor's long-time rival that isn't the Kurgan.  Michael Ironside is a great actor, but all he does is laugh maniacally and spout cliche dialogue about how he'll put an end to MacLeod.  He's nowhere near as intimidating or menacing as Clancy Brown's character and the attempts to make him a threat fall flat.  After he arrives on Earth, Katana takes control of a subway and increases its velocity to the point it derails and crashes, which comes off as a poor man's take on the Kurgan's hit and run rampage in Highlander.

His villainous scheme and other decisions make him seem incompetent too.  If General Katana knows Connor is old and on the verge of death, why not just let him die instead of sending his mooks to kill him, especially since he knows anyone who comes from the ancient world and into the present will only restart the Quickening.  Even his two lackeys point this out right before he sends them off.  Louise, Connor's new love interest, is forgettable, though her first encounter with the born-again MacLeod leads into an unintentionally hilarious moment where the two of them immediately shag in an alleyway.  Guess the Quickening is a stimulator in more ways than one.

Highlander II: The Quickening is a both a bad movie and one with an inconsistent direction.  Is it a sword-fighting fantasy adventure or a poor-man's Blade Runner?  Much of the action takes place in futuristic Los Angeles, which looks like Gotham City for some strange reason.  Everyone drives 1940's/1950's-era cars and flies in planes with propellor engines, yet hoverboards exist as well.  The unusual production design is punctuated by fake ads and news-breaks clearly ripped off from, I mean, inspired by the ones seen in RoboCop.  Although a colossal mess, at least the production value is good, and Russell Mulcahy is back in the director's chair, lending his slick cinematography to the movie.

There's plenty of action in this sequel, though much of it is unspectacular.  The bigger budget does allow for more scenes where Connor, Ramirez, or General Katana get their bodies mutilated, only for them to regenerate via immortality.  In one scene, Connor's body contorts itself back into place after he's caught in an elevator crash.  The best moment is when Connor and Ramirez infiltrate a prison by barging through, getting shot up by the guards, and then taken to the morgue, from which they then wake up and resume business.

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Michael Kamen didn't return to do the music and in his place is Stewart Copeland.  Yet, none of Copeland's compositions hold a candle to Kamen's work, and the only times it does stand out is when it uses music cues from the original, such as a brief orchestral reprisal of "Who Wants to Live Forever?" during a scene with Connor and Louise, but all it does is remind the viewer they could be watching Highlander instead of this garbage.  There's no Queen either, aside from "It's a Kind of Magic," and the licensed songs present have got nothing on Queen's tunes from the first.

Highlander's trademark phrase is "There Can Only Be One," and there should have only been one movie since Highlander II: The Quickening is appalling.  It's a textbook example of when not to do a sequel.  It lacks coherence, contradicts much of the lore established in the previous adventure, and is an overall mess.  The budget is bigger yes, allowing for more lavish sets, but more money doesn't equal a better movie.  It's never a good sign when the origin story is drastically altered by way of a re-release after the initial backstory creates all sorts of problems.

Due to the film's notorious reputation, future installments retconned this flick out of existence, and while some will argue the likes of Highlander 3 and the TV series are a step above this turkey, all they ended up doing was dragging the name of a beloved movie further and further into the ground.  Highlander is like a majestic ship, and Highlander II: The Quickening is the iceberg which slowly sank the movie to the bottom of the ocean.


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Escape from New York (1981) Review

New York City, a.k.a. the City that Never Sleeps, the Big Apple, Gotham City, the list goes on.  It's the cultural capital of America, home to an array of famous landmarks, diverse districts, and strangers dressed up as superheroes trying to get uncomfortably close to kids in Time Square.  With a population of 8.6 million people, the city has been subject to all sorts of disasters in films.  Whether it be giant gorillas, giant iguanas supposedly called Godzilla, or Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers, the city is a popular choice for science fiction and horror filmmakers.  Then comes Escape from New York, which asks the question: what if crime got so out of control in America, the government decided to turn the bustling metropolis into a walled-off prison?

In the distant future of 1988 (!), the national crime rate has risen by 400 percent, to combat this problem, New York City is converted into a giant prison where any and all criminals get sent to for permanent stay, and should they try to escape, death is swift.  In 1997, Air Force One is highjacked by terrorists, who crash the plane into the city, but the President (Donald Pleasance) survives via an escape pod.  One of the gangs living in the city kidnaps and holds him for ransom, so the heads of the prison island have no other choice but to send in Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), a war hero turned criminal who's just been arrested for attempting to rob the Federal Reserve.  Snake is given an ultimatum: if he goes in and brings the President out, he'll be pardoned of his crimes.  To ensure he gets the job done, microscopic capsules are lodged into his neck, and if doesn't rescue the President within 24 hours, the capsules will dissolve and slowly kill him.

Escape from New York has a basic set-up, the President has been captured by a bunch of goons, is Snake a bad enough dude to rescue him?  New York City being turned into an isolated, urban jungle sounds preposterous, and it is, but never does the film step into self-parody.  What could have been a schlocky, over-the-top B-movie is instead a taut action-thriller minimum on the former, but heavy on the latter.  There are action sequences peppered throughout, but they're subdued encounters that usually end with Snake running away from whatever is hunting him down.  What it lacks in thrills it more than makes up for with its eerie atmosphere and offbeat characters.

I wonder where the tail on the cobra tattoo ends...
An antihero is someone who doesn't stick to the rules, but will get the job done and help others, should the situation call for it.  Snake Plissken fits this mold to a tee.  Having previously starred in John Carpenter's Elvis as the titular singer, Kurt Russell solidifies himself as an action hero in this role, not to mention becoming a regular of John Carpenter's in the process.  Plissken is a man of few words.  He hates authority figures, doesn't listen to rules, and isn't really contempt with helping people, unless it's relevant to his objective.  Case in point, while searching a theater for the President, he happens upon a group of goons assaulting a barely-unconscious woman, but instead of shooting them and saving her, he just moves on.

In various interviews, writer/director John Carpenter notes that Plissken is essentially a facade of himself, and one can see many similarities between the two.  Snake Plissken doesn't entirely do things solo, as he finds himself receiving help from a few individuals later in the picture.  One of these people is a cab driver (Ernest Borgnine), who knows his way around the streets and about the different gangs who hold control of the city.  Like real-life cab drivers, he's always there to help the characters get out of a cinch, whether it's when Snake's evading crazed sewer dwellers or helping him get the President to safety.

As he makes his way through the streets of New York, Snake learns the President is being held hostage by the Duke (Isaac Hayes).  The Duke is the leader of the largest gang in the city, and he believes holding the President for ransom might be an easy way of getting every crook locked up on this island pardoned, as crazy as that sounds.  Accompanying the Duke is Romero (Frank Doubleday), who looks like a coked-up Steve Buscemi auditioning to be a member of the Joker's gang.  Then, there's Brain (Harry Dean Stanton), who is the Duke's informant and the one supplying them with gas and oil, while also coming up with a plan to safely cross the bridge without getting blown up by the mines.

Ernest Borgnine gets held up by a crazed fan.
Brain also has a history with Snake, and he's initially hesitant to help the man out, given their history.  He eventually comes to his senses and ends up tagging along for the rest of the journey.  It's towards the end that the film humanizes Snake Plissken by showing he does have some concern for those accompanying him.  Although he manages to get the President to safety in the nick of time, none of the others survive the trek across the bridge.  When Snake asks the President if the sacrifices of Brain and company meant anything to him, he shrugs it off.  Indeed, the President is portrayed as being cowardly.  He never stands up for himself when the Duke is torturing him and is more concerned with achieving peace with China and Russia than anything else.

As a whole, the cast is excellent, bolstered by stellar performances from the actors mentioned above, as well as the likes of Tom Atkins and Lee Van Cleef, who play the chief security heads in charge of monitoring the island.  It's worth mentioning that this is a beautifully shot movie.  Cinematographer Dean Cundey does a great job at showing off how vast and empty New York City is.  There are many long shots where Snake is walking or running through the ruined streets, all the while stragglers quietly pass by him, and it's quite eerie.  The matte paintings and miniature work further enhance the scope of the city, beyond what the low budget is capable of showing off.  Fun fact: most of the matte paintings were done by a then-unknown James Cameron, simpler times, indeed.

Some might be turned off by the movie's glacial pace.  This is understandable, as the film meanders a bit during the first act as Snake looks high and low for the President, but in its defense, one could argue it's intended to show how aimless Snake is when he first arrives in New York, and only when he meets the cab driver followed by Brain does he get an idea of where to go next.  The movie picks up considerably during the final act, where he's captured, forced into gladiatorial combat, and escapes with the President and others in tow in a desperate race against time.  Never does the film become an all-out slugfest like the poster suggests, but there are ways Carpenter manages to keep the viewer on their toes, such as when Snake evades crazed, cannibalistic humans who rise from the sewers in search of food.

As required by law, all John Carpenter movies must be scored by the man himself, and like all of his other work, the music is ambient, but it fits the setting and enhances the feeling of isolation Snake experiences while exploring the city.  Even the theme starts off slow, but gradually builds to a synth, heroic-sounding crescendo.  My personal favorite tune, though, has to be the Duke's theme, which is a rhythmic cowbell and occasional drumbeat that makes for a catchy tune and also lets you know the Duke has rolled into town.

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Escape from New York is classic John Carpenter, though and through.  It took a former Disney star and turned him into a rogue, one who screws the rules and higher-ups in an effort to accomplish the mission.  Snake Plissken represents the inner rebel in all of us, and it's not surprising Hideo Kojima was greatly influenced by the character when creating Solid Snake from the Metal Gear series.  The premise is absurd, but it always takes itself seriously, and for the better, something that can't be said for its sequel, Escape from L.A.  Regardless, this is a well-done picture rooted in B-movies, but with an A-plus quality to it.


Sunday, June 9, 2019

They Live (1988) Review

The 1980's is considered one of the greatest decades in history, and why not?  It was a decade which doubled as a huge cultural shift in America.  It's the era which gave us the NES, new wave, heavy metal, and great films such as Back to the Future and Indiana Jones.  The 1980's also pushed the idea of big spending, thanks in part to the economic plans of then-President Ronald Reagan.  Yet, the push for capitalism and consumerism only seemed to create a false sense of conformity, so as to deflect people from the troubling woes of layoffs and debt which were the repercussions of Reaganomics.  As a response to the rise of consumerism, John Carpenter satirized the concept with his film They Live.

John Nada (Roddy Piper) is a drifter who's just arrived in Los Angeles looking for work and a decent pay.  He gets a job at a construction site and joins a refugee camp run by a local church.  Things are going good for Nada, but he starts to notice a lot of strange things going on, especially at the church.  His suspicions increase further when the camp is destroyed by the police.  In the aftermath of the riots, he stumbles across a cardboard box filled with sunglasses.  He tries on a pair, only to discover the horrible truth: the world is being run by aliens posing as the wealthy and the elite.  Armed with a shotgun and a healthy supply of one-liners, Nada and his friend Frank (Keith David) set out to stop the invasion happening underneath our noses.

They Live is an ode to science-fiction movies of the 1950's, especially Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Similar to that movie, the aliens are disguised as humans, but whereas everyone regardless of class could be an alien in disguise, director John Carpenter has his extraterrestrial visitors pose as the rich and the Republicans, who manipulate lower echelons of society via subliminal messaging.  They Live is based on a short story called "8 O'clock in the Morning," and Carpenter, frustrated with the direction America was going under the Reagan administration, adapted it into a movie.
Here's your nightmare fuel for tonight!!
At the time, then-Presidnet Ronald Reagan had led America into a period of prosperity via his economic plan dubbed "Reaganomics," which reduced government spending and put a stronger emphasis on free markets.  Reaganomics emphasized big spending, which wasn't a problem for the wealthy, but became an issue for the middle class and poor, which resulted in an increase in debt and poverty.

John Carpenter wasn't the only filmmaker to mock capitalism and Reagan during the 80's.  The likes of Alex Cox and Paul Verhoeven took their own pot shots via films like Repo Man and RoboCop, yet such satire was merely subtext, whereas Carpenter goes straight for the jugular.  Ironically, much of what is explored in this movie remains relevant to this day.  The proliferation of technology and the rise of social media has made it easier for companies to not only sell products, but to manipulate the masses.  Major news stations are now tailored to specific audiences and promote bias and an agenda rather than give actual news.  It's chilling to think that a movie like They Live could be just as important now as it was back then.

At the center of the chaos and confusion is John Nada, played by Roddy Piper.  Being a fan of wrestling, John Carpenter thought Roddy Piper would be a good choice for the role, and he is.  Piper brings his onstage charisma and charm into the character, and the dialogue plays to his strengths.  He starts off as an everyman, but once he puts on the glasses and sees what's really going on, it's time for him to chew bubblegum and kick ass, but he's all out of bubblegum.  No wonder Duke Nukem took a lot of inspiration from Nada's no-nonsense attitude.

Besides Nada, there's Frank.  When we're introduced to this character, he's just looking for pay to support his family back in Detroit, and after Nada gains notoriety for his shooting rampages, he's quite hesitant to believe Nada's ramblings about aliens posing as cops and businessmen.  How does Nada convince Frank?  By beating the holy hell out of him.  In one of the film's greatest moments, Nada and Frank have a five-minute long brawl in an alley, just so Nada can get him to try on the glasses.  As brutal and epic as this fight is, there's an amusing irony to the whole ordeal since it all revolves around a pair of sunglasses.

Weirdly, said sunglasses are a character in of themselves.  With the shades, people can see the world for what it really is, a monochrome reality where signs, billboards, and currencies are just subliminal messages with commands such as "Obey," "Conform," and "Marry and Reproduce."  The build-up to the reveal is great.  Up until Nada puts on the glasses, the movie plays out like a blue-collar drama instead of a science-fiction film.  Hints are dropped throughout the first act that something is amiss, but when the glasses come on, the movie kicks into gear.  Adding to the lifeless nature of the real world is the aliens, who look like humans, but with exposed flesh, muscle, and no eyelids.

You thought I was joking about the PKE meter, did you?
Though they hail from an unknown galaxy and use the PKE meter from Ghostbusters as communicators (no, seriously, it's the same prop), the aliens are nothing more than intergalactic real estate moguls.  They travel from planet to planet, altering its environmental conditions so that the place is suitable for their kind.  Nearly everyone is oblivious to what's going on, but those who do know have chosen to sell out in exchange for wealth and other material goods.  One of these individuals is a homeless man (George "Buck" Flower), who disappears after the police raid on the camp, but is later revealed to be alive and well, not to mention rich.  When Nada asks why people are selling out to the aliens, he explains:

"What's wrong with having it good for a change?  Now, they're gonna let us have it good if we just help 'em.  They're gonna leave us alone, let us make some money.  You can have a little taste of the good life too.  Now, I know you want it.  Hell, everybody does.  What's the threat?  We all sell out every day, might as well be on the winning team."

They Live is topical but fun, and the lulls in between the shoot-outs and fisticuffs are devoted to exploring the backgrounds of the major players as well as to speculate on the true intent of the aliens.  The character are great, with the exception of Holly (Meg Foster).  Holly works with the TV station broadcasting the signal that keeps the aliens in disguise and prevents people from seeing the truth, but it's obvious from the moment she's introduced that Holly is a double-crosser.  Unfortunately, Nada is oblivious to the obvious up until the very end when he's cornered between her and a police helicopter just as he's about the destroy the antenna.

They Live might have been produced on a small budget, but what it lacks in money it more than makes up for with its imaginative visuals.  There's an eerie beauty to the black-and-white cinematography done to show the bleak soullessness of the world.  One shot that stands out is when Nada is walking around, taking everything in, and he looks off into the distance to see the city skyline dominated by all manner of subliminal messaging.  The make-up of the aliens is great, and in a nice nod to Night of the Living Dead, the aliens are referred to as ghouls in the end credits.  This can be seen as both an homage and a reference to how these beings are like dead-eyed versions of us.

Those familiar with John Carpenter's filmography know that his films always have a score done by the man himself, sometimes in collaboration with Alan Howarth.  While the soundtrack consists of ambient beats, it's still very good.  My personal favorite is the opening tune, which has a laid-back, Old West vibe to it, and fits perfectly with the shots of Nada as he strolls through Los Angeles searching for a job.

They Live is a biting satire on the dangers of unrestrained capitalism and consumerism, wrapped around a pulpy science-fiction thriller.  Time marches on, but the themes of They Live still resonate in today's world.  Though it's packed with quotable lines and one of the greatest fights in the history of mankind, it's also a warning about how companies, politicians, etc. are more than capable of manipulating society with ideas of conformity and wealth via advertising, products, and spiteful rhetoric against those who dare to question authority.  After all, we sell out every day, so why not be on the winning side?


Sunday, June 2, 2019

Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain Review Is Up!

Special news bulletin from GamerGuy's Reviews HQ.  On April 11, 2019, Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain, a new spin-off in the EDF series, released on the PlayStation 4.  I was lucky enough to get review code courtesy of Cubed3, and after some waiting, my review is now up to read on their website.

Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is one of two titles in the campy series to not be developed by Sandlot.  Iron Rain was developed by Yuke's, a studio better known for their WWE games.  Fans were initially skeptical when this title was announced, but rest assured this is classic Earth Defense Force through and through, with some updated takes on some of the franchise's core concepts.  In other words, it's what Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon should have been.


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) Review

"With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound, he pulls the spitting high-tension wires down," for music and movie fans alike, they will recognize that as the opening lyrics to Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla," a song about the fearsome creature.  Since his creation in 1954, Godzilla has time and time again attacked Japan, and occasionally defended it from another monster.  With over 30-plus movies, Godzilla is a certifiable pop-culture icon.  In 2014, director Gareth Edwards released Godzilla, and though the movie had its flaws, it was certainly more faithful to the franchise than the 1998 movie which starred Ferris Bueller and a lot of fish.

Cinematic universes have been on the rise thanks in part to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so it only made sense to apply this formula to Godzilla as well.  Although only consisting of three films so far, with a fourth coming next year, the Monsterverse definitely has quality over quantity in its favor.  On May 31, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the highly anticipated follow-up to the 2014 movie, released.  Directed by Michael Dougherty, this big-budget, monster-filled sequel brings in more of Godzilla's recognizable friends and foes, including Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghdorah, and sets the stage for a world where giant monsters are an everyday occurrence.

During the events of Godzilla, a family suffered the loss of a son during Godzilla's fight with the MUTOs in San Francisco.  Unable to move on from the incident, the parents, Mark and Emma Russell (Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga respectively) break up, with Emma taking custody of their daughter (Millie Bobby Brown) and continuing her work with the research organization Monarch.  While on the job at one of the group's sites, the place is attacked by a group of terrorists, led by Alan Jonah (Charles Dance).  Jonah kidnaps Emma and her daughter since she created a device called the Orca, which emits frequencies only monsters understand.  Jonah wants her to use this device to awaken an ancient creature nicknamed "Monster Zero," who is kept on ice at a Monarch facility in Antarctica.
Godzilla shot his breath so high up that he accidentally
destroyed the Hubble satellite.
When Monarch gets word of what's going on, the organization tracks down Mark and persuades him to join them in their efforts to find Emma and stop whatever the terrorists have planned.  They make it to Antarctica but are too late to stop Jonah and Emma from releasing the imprisoned beast, which is King Ghidorah.  After Ghidorah escapes, Monarch realizes the only thing capable of stopping him is Godzilla, of which the two share a long history with.  Monarch needs to act quick as the actions of the terrorists leads to even more monsters being awakened across the globe, including a prehistoric monster called Rodan.

In many ways, King of the Monsters is an improvement over its predecessor.  Instead of a slow-but-steady build-up to the penultimate clash with Godzilla and the other monsters, the film wastes no time getting to the giant monster action.  Fans of the series will greatly appreciate the treatment the likes of Ghidorah, Mothra, and Rodan have received.  Their designs have been updated, but their abilities remain the same, albeit with a few modifications.  For example, the three Ghidorah heads each have their own personalities, instead of being a single-minded animal, and wherever the three-headed dragon goes, it generates all manner of severe weather in its path.

These four kaiju aren't the only ones to join in on the destruction, as there are brief appearances by other monsters that serve as hints of what's to come, should this line of films continue on.  It's clear Michael Dougherty is a fan of Godzilla, and there's plenty of references to series lore, both obvious and subtle.  Keen-eyed viewers will notice nods to the fairy twins from Mothra, and even a reference to Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, but the less said about this moment, the better.  No Godzilla movie is complete without human drama to balance out the destruction, but when the movie takes its time to develop the story and characters, cracks begin to show.

Godzilla (2014) was heavily criticized for its lackluster protagonists, save for Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe.  Godzilla: King of the Monsters boasts a large cast of characters, most of them forgettable, despite the list of capable actors and actresses on hand playing them.  The focal point of the movie is the Russell family and their struggles to re-unite, in spite of all they have been through.  For some reason, every American Godzilla movie needs to have a troubled family storyline; the 2014 flick had a similar sub-plot, but instead of a father and son, it's a father, mother, and a daughter.  It's a bit tiring to see this trope again, since we know what the outcome will be.

I always knew King Ghidorah was Catholic!
More characters mean some individuals are more fleshed out than others, but not by much.  One of the most prominent examples is Alan Jonah.  Although he's the bad guy, Jonah sort of disappears later in the picture, even though one would expect him to stay prevalent up until the end.  Monarch, the organization dedicated to researching giant monsters, is filled with largely anonymous individuals.  For example, there's a squadron of soldiers who act as special security, but they aren't given much to do, aside from fight off monsters.

Additionally, there's a scientist whose sole purpose is to provide exposition and act as bad comic relief.  The sole highlight in all of this is Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe).  He's given a lot more to do here than in the previous film.  He's a man fascinated by the existence of the kaiju, particularly Godzilla, but at the same time, he realizes the threat they pose to mankind.  Much like Serizawa from the 1954 original, this version of the character ends up making a sacrifice for the greater good of humanity.

One positive to the story is that it does a good job at world-building.  This is a world trying to come to grips with the fact that monsters exist and at any point, could show up and destroy a city, which leads to conflicts over what should be done with them.  However, the presence of the kaiju also leads to an unnecessary environmental message in which giant monsters are apparently the solution to saving the environment.  See, I always knew Godzilla was an environmentalist!  There's also an unexpected McGuffin halfway through the picture which only acts as a means to disable a particular kaiju until he's resuscitated for the big showdown.  Though this device is intended to be an homage to the original Godzilla, it's also random and comes out of nowhere.

For all of its faults with storytelling and crafting compelling characters, King of the Monsters certainly doesn't slack off showing epic, city-destroying spectacle at the hands of Godzilla, King Ghidorah, etc.  It's impressive to watch, and there's plenty of jaw-dropping moments peppered throughout, such as when Rodan uses the supersonic winds from his wings to annihilate a small city while flying over it.  Some of the fights are shot a bit too close for comfort, which was probably done to show off the ferocity of the creatures.  Also, because of King Ghidorah's new ability to generate thunderstorms, much of the kaiju combat is shrouded in rain and darkness, which gives me Vietnam flashbacks to Godzilla (1998).

As for the soundtrack, it's simply and purely amazing.  Bear McCreary did a phenomenal job with the music.  Hearing the iconic Godzilla theme on the big screen will get your heart pumping, I can tell you that much, and there's even an impressive rendition of the Mothra song.  It's a bombastic score which fits with the colossal monsters and their cataclysmic destruction.  Special shout-out goes to the cover of Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla" that plays during the end credits.

Is Godzilla: King of the Monsters better than Godzilla (2014)?  Yes and no.  If you were disappointed by the lack of Godzilla and the constant tease and build-up Gareth Edwards went with, then you'll be pleased by the increased screen-time for all of the monsters.  If the 2014 movie attempted to be like the original Godzilla, then this sequel is more in line with the outlandish installments that followed in its wake.  Unfortunately, the story is a bit all over the place, as are the characters.  It comes close to surpassing its predecessor, but it doesn't quite hit the mark.  Still, this is an entertaining flick, and Godzilla fans should be more than satisfied with this sequel.  Now, how much longer till they bring Jet Jaguar into the series?