If you’ve seen one Godzilla movie, you’ve kind of seen them all. Godzilla goes boom, boom, boom; some other behemoths maybe get in the mix; a few key humans run around trying to not get smooshed and somehow save the world.
It’s formulaic, but depending on the filmmaker, there’s some fun to be had with the big bad lizard.
Take Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla reboot. While the film isn’t anything extraordinary, the director brings enough flair and care that those of us still sour on the character following Roland Emmerich’s 1998 disaster can’t help but enjoy it. Unfortunately, Godzilla: King of the Monsters isn’t much of a follow-up.
Expanding Legendary Pictures’ greater MonsterVerse, KOTM reveals more of the clandestine operations carried out by monster org Monarch. Turns out Godzilla and the MUTOs from the first film aren’t the only kaiju on Earth. There are at least 17 of these things—Titans, as they’re called here—lying dormant across the planet.
Monarch scientist Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) believes she’s developed a device to communicate with the Titans. But after she and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) are kidnapped by ecoterrorist Colonel Alan Jonah (Charles Dance), her technology is used for more nefarious purposes. Now it’s up to ex-husband, ex-Monarch Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) to save the day.
As plot devices go, the ecoterrorism spin isn’t a bad route. The original Godzilla served as metaphor for nuclear destruction, so it makes sense for filmmakers to tap into fears of the contemporary zeitgeist. Yet the execution feels so by-the-numbers that our human moments become just a whole mess of filler between Titan clashes. Combine that with the capricious, often nonsensical actions taken by various characters, and KOTM’s non-kaiju scenes become more absurd than the beasts pummeling each other.
Granted, if you’re buying tickets to a Godzilla flick, chances are you’re not looking for much in the way of depth. The problem is that the fights aren’t good enough to cover for the other half of the picture and they ultimately drag as much as the boring world-building.
I’m all for an integrated creature-feature universe, but KOTM is a great example of less being more. Between Mothra’s metamorphosis, Rodan’s awakening, Ghidorah’s unfreezing, King Kong allusions, ancient mythology, our idiot human melodrama, and Godzilla backstory, the studio packed this thing to the gills. It would have been hard for a few showdowns to make it something noteworthy.
King of the Monsters is more meh than outright bad. It’s mindless while trying hard to be smart, but Godzilla is cool and big-ass monsters do in fact battle each other. Those are really the only promises Legendary’s marketing ever made.
That said, there’s enough wasted opportunity here to make you wonder if a truly great Godzilla movie might be possible. The bones are there. As the MonsterVerse grows, we’ll see if Godzilla can meet his potential.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Director: Michael Dougherty
Starring: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown
Theater: Area theaters, now showing