Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Godzilla has always been a tale of unintended consequences. The original monster was a parable about the dangers of atomic warfare created in the country where the bomb was dropped. After more than three dozen movies involving the big guy, we’re left with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a follow-up to Gareth Edward’s 2014 blockbuster that helped rejuvenate the character for American audiences.
Edward’s film was visually sumptuous, evoking scale to make the kaiju battles feel positively epic. He also brought a terrific cast to make the story as much about human paranoia as it was about the monsters. This frustrated a vocal few who just wanted carnage, but effectively put the human characters and their response to the destruction at the forefront, wrapped in a visual style that was evocative and engaging.
Seeds of the previous film still bloom in King of the Monsters. Cast members Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe both continue to be cautious about overreaction to the titan’s emergence. The visual palette remains dark and Godzilla maintains his girth. This time, we focus on the story of a family that suffered loss during the destruction of San Francisco. Emma (Vera Farmiga) lives with her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) at an experimental station, looking for ways to communicate with the creatures that have emerged in the wake Godzilla’s first appearance. Emma’s ex-husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) became estranged after the loss of their son. While he’s headed off to hang out with wolves, she’s busy on a plan of a very different sort.
Eventually, the film devolves into a plot involving eco-terrorism, the reveal of grand kaiju such as Mothra and Rodan, and the new megamonster Ghidorah. The cast includes Charles Dance as a militarized baddie, Bradley Whitford as a half-drunk doctor, Thomas Middleditch as an ineffective spokesperson, and David Strathairn as an even less effective admiral. O’Shea Jackson, Jr., deserving of superstardom any day now, is relegated to a minor part as one of the soldiers who runs around doing stuff.
Many scenes simply don’t work, but one that’s eating at me is a minor moment indicative of the general egregiousness. The film uses hoary exposition throughout, yet constantly undercuts it with witticisms. (“Yeah, I know that already!” a character will declare, even if the audience does not.) In one appalling example, the new antagonist presents a diabolical plan. While spouting out dialogue that even a Bond villain would think was over the top, stock video clips play in the background. One has to wonder, did they spend time in an editing suite working on the presentation ahead of time? I picture the character searching stock archives for that perfect shot of mayhem and destruction to make the point hit home, thinking the whole time, “Nailed it!”
The rest of the film isn’t much better. It feels like watching the same kind of stock drivel with a bunch of dialogue on top to distract us. The general privilege of the central characters, who are only concerned about their own worries rather than the thousands dying during their narcissistic maneuverings, is mindboggling. This is a film that wants to take itself seriously, and then seriously messes up any sense of propriety. We’re meant to cry along with these creatures, but instead can feel nothing but scorn.
The kaiju, as opposed the humans, come across significantly better. The battles, slews of pixels attacking other pixels, have moments that rise to the levels expected from a summer blockbuster. A few scenes interspersed between the melodrama give the title character his due, even if the added baggage of Atlantian lost civilizations and other mumbo jumbo get in the way of some of the fun.
The film hammers home that it’s leading to a Kong vs. Godzilla faceoff by mentioning Skull Island over and over (and over), which makes the whole movie feel like little more than a world-building exercise. That may be the new normal in a cinematic landscape dominated by the MCU, but this is a prime example of a film so worried about what it needs to set up that it forgets about the caliber of the one right in front of us.
Vera Farmiga is usually a terrific performer, but she’s appalling here. She gets overwhelmed by the shifts of allegiance her character is required to make and presents them without any believability whatsoever. In fact, the members of her family, whom we’re supposed to care about, are the worst elements of the whole endeavor. The movie would be better off if they were excised entirely and we saw more of some banter between scientists and soldiers.
King of the Monsters lays a Godzilla-sized turd. It’s a stinking, festering lump of a film that breaks just about every good thing the last one managed to do.