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Legendary’s MonsterVerse is something of a miracle in the realm of modern franchises. America had its shot at adapting Toho’s Godzilla in 1998 only to find almost universal hatred from the fanbase, poor critical reception, and a weaker box office than expected. Toho themselves even voiced their displeasure with the final product.

The notion of a mega budget, interconnected “shared universe” franchise starring Godzilla and pals was nothing more than a flight of fanboy fancy. But in 2014 Warner Bros. and Legendary took the first rumbling step into the playing field with 2014’s Godzilla.

Since that film’s positive critical reception and strong box office numbers, Godzilla found himself back in the pop cultural zeitgeist for life-long fans as well as newcomers to enjoy.

The MonsterVerse is four films deep at the moment, with a newly announced Apple TV+ show in the pipeline. In a blockbuster landscape dominated by capes and spandex, the success of the MonsterVerse is something to be celebrated by genre fans as the grand alternative superhero fare.

But how do these films stack up in a four-way royal rumble?

Read on for Bloody Disgusting’s MonsterVerse ranking!

4. Godzilla (2014)

The trailers for this movie were perfect. They painted the picture of an epic, dread filled, and horrific disaster film that brought Godzilla all the way back to his 1954 roots as a force of pure destructive karma for man’s sins of releasing nuclear power upon the world.

For some fans, the final result didn’t quite capture what the trailers had promised. Helmed by Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), Godzilla makes some baffling decisions within its runtime that keep it from ranking higher in our MonsterVerse ranking.

The technical aspects of the film are top tier. Edwards has a keen eye for scope and scale. He made the creative decision to keep the camera as grounded as possible, never showing the monsters and destruction from an angle a camera or human couldn’t conceivably be seeing. This results in truly wondrous and stunning moments of visual grandeur. Every single time Godzilla or his enemies, the MUTOs, are on screen they never feel anything less than intimidating and powerful. At its best, Godzilla genuinely achieves Jurassic Park levels of spectacle splendor.

The problem is Edwards simply got a little too precious with his creative vision.

The slow burn Edwards was winding up worked for the first act of the film. He successfully established a dramatic, tense, and foreboding tone rooted in palpable human emotion carried by Bryan Cranston’s character Joe Brody. Edwards then makes the head scratching decision to kill off Joe during the first major action scene – utterly cutting the film off at the knees. The film never fully recovers from this. All of the engagement the first 30 minutes established so well is quickly and unceremoniously blown out like birthday candles.

We’re left with Joe’s son, Ford (Aaron Taylor Johnson) to carry the narrative. Johnson is a gifted actor, but Ford is such a blank slate compared to his father the audience simply can’t get invested in his plight. He moves from scenario to scenario with the world’s thickest plot armor, witnessing these events without much to do until the finale. The driving force behind his journey is to get back to his wife (Elizabeth Olson) and son (Carson Bolde) but the film never does the legwork to get you invested. Compared to Cranston’s powerful and raw performance, everybody else in the cast is muted and subdued.

The only human anchor worth a damn after Joe Brody’s demise is Ken Watanabe as Dr. Serizawa, but the film underutilizes him as well. Aside from the flaccid human element, the biggest issue with Godzilla is that it simply pulls its punches for far, far too long.

I get what Edwards was doing with his decision to withhold the full-blown monster mashing for the finale. I enjoy a good slow burn. The problem is that the execution goes from anticipatory to frustrating the more the film continues to holds back. Edwards wants you biting your nails and leaning off the edge of your seat waiting for the fireworks to explode – but this isn’t Jaws. This isn’t even Gojira. There is no mystery here once the MUTOs emerge, and the narrative isn’t structured in a way that lends itself to the Jaws-esque suspense Edwards wanted to achieve.

So by the third time the film cuts away from action about to happen, it veers off the road from toying with expectations to actively feeling like it has contempt for the audience.

I know it sounds like I hate this film. I truly don’t. I enjoy much of what it has to offer and find more to appreciate with each re-watch. The shortcomings are just too frustratingly insurmountable for me to give it a full endorsement.

Godzilla is impeccably shot, features top notch effects, and the action we do get is fantastic. Too bad the creative decisions made within the film proper work against it too often. With a few tweaks, this could be one of the top Godzilla films in the entire franchise. Sadly, it misses the boat.

3. Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Godzilla laid a lot of expositional groundwork for the second installment of the MonsterVerse. We got Monarch – a secret government organization tasked with finding, studying, and if need be eliminating this universe’s version of Kaiju – the Titans.

In Godzilla we learn Monarch was responsible for the creation of Godzilla. In Kong: Skull Island we go back in time to the end of the Vietnam War with an early Monarch operation meant to map and study a newly charted island rumored to host all manner of unidentified creatures – Skull Island!

Like Godzilla before it, Skull Island stacked itself with a named cast featuring but not limited to: Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, and John C. Reilly. The script already has a leg up over the previous film in that many of the characters are likeable enough to carry the film between all of the monster goodness.

It’s a fairly large ensemble, and not a single one of the cast are playing much more than tropes, but the performances make up for the lack of nuance with Reilly in particular shouldering the brunt of the films pathos and humor. At times the film can feel overcrowded with characters, but the performances are all up to par, keeping interest flowing even when monsters aren’t on screen.

And what of the monsters, you say? Well, Kong: Skull Island is just about leaking all manner of nightmarish beasties, which are rendered with the quality Godzilla established. Kong here is just as impressive as Godzilla was a few years previously. Audiences are so inundated with CGI in modern films it’s easy to take it for granted, even when it’s great work. Kong in Skull Island is a magnificent creation, brought to life by motion capture with Toby Kebbell pulling double duty as Kong and the character of Chapman.

Skull Island had a few tricks to pull off that are easy to take for granted. It not only had to continue audience interest in the MonsterVerse, but it also had to find a new identity within the King Kong oeuvre to make it stand out from what came before.

Kong is very much America’s resident monster like Godzilla is to Japan. We’ve been seeing big screen exploits of the lovesick ape since 1933 – most of which simply repaint the template of the 1933 classic. Skull Island plays its cards just right. Kong is far more massive then we’ve ever seen him before in an American production (Of course I didn’t forgot Toho’s King Kong vs. Godzilla!) and he walks upright like the 1976 version of the character.

The island itself is inhabited by other monsters that harken back to past creatures of the franchise but have an identity of their own. The biggest inclusion being Kong’s only enemy on the island – the Skull Crawlers. These bastards are unsettling two legged crosses between a serpent and a lizard and they make for a worthy foe for ol’ Kong.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts imbues Skull Island with hyper stylized color and energy. The film is awash in deep oranges, reds, greens, and yellows. Vogt-Roberts took inspiration for the film’s visual presentation from just about everything he loves – films, video games, and even anime – and it shows. Skull Island is kinetic and varied in its creative action set pieces. Visually it’s more like a comic book than a vast majority of actual comic book films.

Another refreshing element of the film is downplaying the “lovesick for human ladies” character trait for Kong. The big lug still connects with a woman in the story (Brie Larson’s Mason) but it’s not a love story so much as it is Kong making human connection and realizing not all of the intruders in his home mean him harm.

The Vietnam angle is the biggest asset the film has from a storytelling perspective. The characters here aren’t trying to make a film or to take Kong off the island to make a quick buck. It’s a scientific expedition led by the military – soldiers fresh off the frontlines of Vietnam, and some of them aren’t ready to give up the fight.

There is some amount of thematic depth to cut into here with the film’s themes of how war and conflict perpetuate more war and conflict, churning soldiers into nothing but meat for the war machine. Samuel L. Jackson’s character Packard doesn’t like what he and his men went through in Vietnam. He can’t let the conflict go and he sees taking out Kong as his way of redeeming what he feels was taken away from him during the war.

Packard and Kong are a fun juxtaposition of two old warriors fighting a battle they feel alone in. It’s a fun rivalry to watch unfold.

Kong: Skull Island is a very good time. It’s a far more adventurous, colorful, and outlandish film than its predecessor while still retaining relevant themes that extend what Godzilla laid out.

2. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

Monsterverse ranking king of the monsters

If Godzilla was a thematic and stylistic update of 1954’s Gojira, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a celebration of every era of Godzilla rolled into one exquisitely entertaining and visually lavish modern interpretation.

While KOTM was a critical and box office disappointment, it stuck the landing where it truly counted. The fans loved it. They loved it because they could tell it was made with love. Citing inspiration from everything from the works of Ray Harryhausen to the Universal Monsters, co-writer and director Michael Dougherty was given a hefty budget to bring classic Toho monsters King Ghidorah, Rodan, and Mothra to life with modern technology – something fans never dreamed of seeing come to fruition.

Like Kong: Skull Island, King of the Monsters is a visual pleasure to behold. You can take any given frame from this film and use it as a black metal album cover. Some of the imagery Dougherty employs is outright baroque in its detail and composition.

Say what you will about the story or characters, but as the age old saying goes, film is a visual medium and KOTM is pure eye candy that sells the scale of these monsters from a more primal and mythical lens than the grounded awe of Godzilla.

KOTM is the first full step the MonsterVerse takes into truly capturing the essence of Toho’s films. The story of the Titans is greatly expanded upon and their godly history with planet Earth is finally expanded upon.

Godzilla himself comes into his own. Throughout his history the character has been depicted in various different ways – from a totally malevolent force of death and destruction, to an outright superhero and everything in between.

KOTM contextualizes the icon as a creature willing to do what it takes to protect his home. He’s not out to destroy humanity, but he’s not necessarily our buddy either. If he thinks we’re stepping out of line, he’ll knock us off our pedestal real quick.

The Titans are given the most personality here out of the three films in the MonsterVerse up to this point. We understand through the effects and motion capture work alone what these creatures are thinking and how their motivations work.

Godzilla is a lone sentry, just doing what he needs to do to ensure his continued survival and dominance. Through his encounters with the human characters you can see he is a thinking, feeling animal who can suss out friend from foe. Rodan is an opportunist who will fall in line with whoever claims the throne. Mothra is the benevolent presence who will give her lifeforce over willingly to protect Earth. And Ghidorah is evil incarnate – a three-headed leviathan not of this Earth who wants to do nothing but destroy and rule.

The human element is functional, but not perfunctory. It gets the job done of keeping the pace moving from one set piece to the next. It’s certainly a step up from what Godzilla did with its characters. What makes it work is the relationship between the humans and monsters, which is more pronounced than can be seen in many older kaiju films. In many kaiju films the human story and monster action can feel too separate – only connected by the plot and destruction. KOTM gives the people and the kaiju equal stake in the story, giving the spectacle more immediacy and dramatic stakes.

1. Godzilla vs Kong (2021)

Monsterverse ranking kong

A rematch over 60 years in the making, Godzilla vs. Kong had a lot riding on it before it finally dropped in the first quarter of 2021. King of the Monsters may have won over fans, but it failed to devastate the box office. Many worried GvK would fizzle out the same way, ending the MonsterVerse with a whimper instead of a roar.

Despite this apprehension GvK was one of the early theatrical releases since the COVID-19 pandemic began that had a helping hand in revitalizing the box office and making over $400 million worldwide. The film also received better than anticipated reviews, sitting at a comfortable 75% on Rotten Tomatoes.

But we aren’t here for critical accolades. We’re here for a good time, and Godzilla vs Kong is the most raucous and outlandish entry in the MonsterVerse by far – a veritable maelstrom of influences and homage that all melds together to create a truly breakneck and visually stunning blockbuster behemoth.

I didn’t think any future entry in this franchise could top KOTM but somehow director Adam Wingard managed to do it. King of the Monsters may be the most “pure” modern day Godzilla film, but GvK is the most adventurous, recontextualizing the fanciful and outlandish tone of the Showa era films through the filter of Western filmmaking trends. Like Dougherty before him, Wingard pulls inspiration for his monster brawl from all kinds of arenas from pro wrestling to American action cinema.

As awe-inspiring and atmospheric as the visuals are in KOTM, Wingard’s follow-up is cleaner and more varied in how the Kaiju battles are portrayed. Gone are the night battles taking place in the rain, snow, or hellish clouds of an erupting volcano. We are now treated to golden hour battles at sea and neon drenched title matches that would be right at home in the Blade Runner world.

Each new installment in the franchise has leaned more and more into the outlandish elements, and we’re in pure sci-fi/fantasy land with this one. The grounded approach that kicked the franchise off in 2014 is all but gone here. The plot of GvK, such as it is, would not be the least bit out of place in a 1960s Godzilla film. Replace the modern special effects with men in suits and miniatures, and Godzilla vs Kong could act as a lost sequel to the original film.

The go-for-broke, everything and the kitchen sink attitude of GvK makes it a refreshing watch in today’s modern blockbuster climate. The film is not concerned with grounding itself in realism or lamp-shading the inherent goofiness with ironic humor. It’s just concerned with giving the audience exactly what it came for.

The pesky human element that seems to plague the Kaiju genre flounders with Godzilla’s side of the story being less engaging than Kong’s side. The villains are the most rote and generic of the franchise to date and exist merely as plot devices to set up the third act rumble. Despite these issues, Godzilla vs Kong is so well paced, so handsomely produced, and so confidently entertaining that it’s difficult to get bent out of shape by the narrative shortcomings.

Godzilla vs Kong is the kind of larger-than-life, no-fat genre blockbuster seldom seen these days. If the MonsterVerse were to have ended here, it would have been on a high note.

What do you think of our MonsterVerse ranking? Sound off below!

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