The biggest problem with Gareth Edwards’ 2014 flick “Godzilla” was a distinct lack of the title character. We saw entirely too little of the big green fellow we paid money to witness destroy stuff.
Infuriatingly, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” over-corrects, almost cynically so, from the earlier film, stuffing this fairly idiotic, intermittently entertaining popcorn flick with every kaiju in the bank, some of which get mere seconds of screen time in this winner-take-all match for the fate of the planet. Apparently, a well-balanced movie about giant monsters is an impossible task. (Yes, I know how that sounds. Do not @ me.)
Directed by Michael Dougherty (“Krampus”), “King of the Monsters” continues the Warner Bros. attempt to make a monster-verse franchise out of all these giant lizards/moths/rodans/etc. You might recall from “Godzilla” that, back in 2014, San Francisco was pretty well clobbered by a fight between the big man and a few other monsters.
We learn that Mark and Emma Russell, both doctors who worked for the monster-focused agency Monarch, suffered a devastating loss in that conflagration.
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Five years later, Mark (Kyle Chandler) has quit Monarch and retreated, with hate in his heart for all kaiju, into studying small, less-fire-breathy animals. Emma (Vera Farmiga) has doubled down on monster studies, living with their daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown of “Stranger Things” fame) at a Monarch base in rural China, observing the birth of yet another giant creature.
You see, Emma has developed this machine called an Orca that communicates and sort of controls the monsters ... look, it doesn’t matter that much. She has this McGuffin, and an environmental terrorist played by Charles Dance wants it, so he grabs it, her and Madison. The goal: restore balance to the planet by *checks notes* waking up every kaiju, starting with the three-headed Monster Zero, in order to destroy most of the humans in the world.
There are some OK ideas in here. Dougherty goes all-in on the notion of the kaiju as pagan icons, living gods to which primitive man couldn’t help but submit. Then he ends up destroying the one set piece that made that idea sing. Why bother building the myth in the first place?
The monster battles are satisfyingly fiery and destructive, especially the under-cards between the B-listers. (Your favorite city on Earth? Probably at least singed, if not utterly annihilated.) But there is a gang's-all-here approach that feels binge-watchy. You wanted more monsters? Fine, here you go.
Forget about characterization. Everyone has their one note and plays it at top volume, usually explaining a plot point or saying something utterly ridiculous, like “How many nukes do you have?” or "We opened Pandora's box ... and there's no closing it now.” (Remember kids, when someone says “I couldn’t be more sane,” they probably aren’t.)
Chandler does his best, but Coach Taylor wasn’t built for cheese. Dance is expertly hammy, but older British actors can do that sort of thing in their sleep. Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins and Thomas Middleditch (officially leaning into playing incredibly annoying people) all put in time as various scientists. Ken Watanabe returns as Ishirō “Let Them Fight” Serizawa, the only guy who seems to have his head screwed on tight.
When Godzilla arrived on the big screen in 1954, he was a pretty direct stand-in for the horrors of the atomic age. In 2019, natural disasters brought on by environmental abuse seem the clearest allegory for what is going on in “King of the Monsters.” Heck, maybe it was appropriate to show us so many monsters, what with the next hurricane, flood and tornado right around the corner, ready to remind us we are all at nature’s mercy. But that doesn't make it good storytelling.