I was tempted to start this review with some long, thoughtful wind-up about how every generation gets the Godzilla movie it deserves. But why bother tip-toeing around what needs to be said and said clearly right off the bat — Godzilla: King of the Monsters is not a good movie. In fact, it’s a pretty terrible one. Don’t shoot the messenger, Kaiju fans.
As the title promises, this sequel to 2014’s aggressively mediocre reboot is more than just a one-lizard show. It’s a globe-demolishing battle royale, pitting Godzilla against an oversized menagerie of monsters familiar to anyone who grew up watching deliciously cheesy Toho smackdowns on rainy Saturday afternoons – namely, Rodan, King Ghidorah, and Mothra (although that last one turns out to be more friend than foe). But you get the idea, this is one of those the-gang’s-all-here, bigger-is-better all-star jamborees that is, in fact, bigger but not better. The human characters (and I’m using the word “characters” loosely) are flavorless afterthoughts, spouting unintentionally laughable dialogue designed to do nothing more than move the risible plot from point A to point B.
Among the B-movie’s B-plus cast are some good actors doing work they’ll probably regret one day if they don’t already. Vera Farmiga and Kyle Chandler star as married scientists who’ve split up since the cataclysmic climax of the original. Farmiga’s Dr. Emma Russell is hell-bent on awakening the world’s stable of hibernating underground monsters to help mankind evolve and stop it from killing itself. Basically, her M.O. is that old Vietnam War chestnut: we have to destroy this village in order to save it, but couched in a lot of eco-hogwash because, you see, we humans are the real monsters. Chandler’s Mark thinks this is a bad idea (right on, Coach Taylor!). Caught in the middle is their teenage daughter Madison (Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown) who just wants everyone to get along.
Meanwhile, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, Thomas Middleditch, Ziyi Zhang, and Bradley Whitford, all stand around offering various shades of slack-jawed green-screen awe, parceling out scraps of half-baked exposition that screenwriters Zach Shields and director Michael Dougherty should be a bit ashamed of. The usually-welcome Charles Dance also pops up as a villain because any movie this big and phoned-in requires one.
Reviewing the 2014 franchise launcher, I wrote that Godzilla felt like two movies Scotch-taped together. One with the cast of Hollywood actors trying to keep a straight face and the other with mammoth CG beasts knocking the snot out of one another. The same is true here – only more so. No one comes to a Godzilla movie for deeply shaded character development (fair enough), we come for the monster mayhem. And this time around, the skyscraper-sized titans are solid enough. Dougherty, whose last two turns behind the camera were for the low-budget horror flicks Krampus and Trick r’ Treat, seems out of his depth. The monsters are too darkly shot and edited too frenetically as if he’s trying to hide something. Plus, it takes too long to get to them. It’s the cinematic equivalent of getting stuffed on bread. We’re never given the opportunity to truly soak up the grandeur of Godzilla and company.
King Ghidorah, a.k.a. Monster Zero, a winged, fire-breathing dragon-type creature with three hydra heads, is Godzilla’s chief nemesis – the Lex Luthor to his Superman. We’re told over and over again that he’s an “alpha”, as if Monster Island had some sort of high school social-clique pecking order. When you do get a moment or two to really feast your eyes on him (her?), he/she’s impressively destructive and majestic. But without any coherent context, he/she’s also just an expensive action figure tearing cities and landmarks to ribbons of rubble, including Boston’s Fenway Park (the failure to even attempt a “Green Monster” joke feels like a softball whiffed upon).
Before anyone reading this starts complaining that I just don’t get what movies like Godzilla: King of the Monsters are all about, that I’m the sort of killjoy who should just relax, let me say that it would be a lot easier to take it less seriously if the people who made the movie cared enough to take it more seriously. C-