In 2014, Godzilla returned to the big screen in a fairly successful, well-reviewed revival directed by Gareth Edwards. However, two complaints dominated the conversation about Godzilla – the human characters were completely uninteresting and there just wasn’t enough monster-on-monster fighting. The validity of those complaints are still the subject of debate, after all nobody enters a Godzilla movie with expectations of nuanced human character and the choice to obscure the big beast for most of the movie was a deliberate choice in the vein of, say, Jaws. Five years later and Godzilla returns to the big screen in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and it would seem the makers of this gigantic sequel heeded every complaint levied at the 2014 film. The result is a sequel that’s overpacked and underwhelming, featuring plenty of monster-on-monster action but often in conditions that make it nearly impossible to follow the action which is the key selling point of this sequel. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is simply a monstrous disappointment.
The sequel opens in San Francisco amidst the rubble of the first film’s climactic fight as Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) and Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), both scientists who work for the secret government agency Monarch, look for their missing son. In the big battle between Godzilla and the MUTOs, their young son was killed in the mayhem. Five years later, the wounds of the past have still left scars on the Russell family. Mark is estranged from his wife and has left Monarch to study wolves in the wild. Emma, on the other hand, continues to work with Monarch in studying the gigantic monsters known as Titans often with her teenage daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) by her side. Emma has developed a device called Orca which communicates with the gigantic beasts using some kind of sonic frequency that can make them docile. It’s very obviously the MacGuffin for the film. The first time we see the Orca in use is to awaken Mothra.
But if everything worked out perfectly there wouldn’t be much of a movie. After Mothra is awakened, an ecoterrorist group led by Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) captures both Emma and Madison as well as the Orca with the plan to unleash all of the world’s hidden monsters to bring about a new kind of balance to the world, basically wiping out a sizable portion of the population and allowing nature to reclaim the Earth. Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), each returning from the first film, track down Mark in order to utilize his expertise in tracking down the Orca as well as his ex-wife and daughter. Monarch assembles a team of scientists and soldiers for a globetrotting adventure to prevent the latest batch of monsters from being unleashed, but when the three-headed monster King Gidorah is set loose humanity’s only hope comes in the form of Godzilla, whom the title reminds us is king of the monsters.
The first big monster fight in Godzilla: King of the Monsters takes place at a Monarch base in Antarctica amidst a blizzard. The sequence is absolutely chaotic in its construction and the elements chose for this fight ensure that most of what unfolds is absolutely unintelligible. I suspect that director Michael Dougherty realized just how incomprehensible everything was in this battle as he made sure to use the next scene to show a picture of significant character with “DECEASED” written beneath their picture. The subsequent fights also suffer from the same chaotic construction amplified by inclement weather conditions that it’s nigh impossible to follow the monsters attacking each other and the expansive roster of human characters.
The entire roster of human characters, although incredibly well-cast, are just uninteresting and completely lacking in any depth. As the film gets to its monsters fighting, Dougherty often pulls back on the action to follow the humans scrambling through the chaos but there’s never any reason to care about any of these characters. They’re paper cutouts of characters mostly lacking in personality. The presence of Thomas Middleditch as a Monarch scientist, O’Shea Jackson Jr. as a solider, and Ziyi Zhang as another scientist are completely wasted. The only supporting character that seems to understand just what kind of schlock he’s in is Bradley Whitford who is a rather spirited cynic trapped in an absurd monster movie. Combined with the underwhelming main characters, there is a complete void of humanity at the heart of the Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which wouldn’t be a problem if we weren’t forced to spend so much time with these nothing characters.
I’d be willing to give Godzilla: King of the Monsters a pass on its horrendous human characters if it delivered on its promise of crazed kaiju action, but the action is so incomprehensible and underwhelming that it fails on its most basic level. There are nods to the expansive lore of Godzilla and his titanic compatriots, but they’re minor moments of fan service for the most dedicated fans or little teases for next year’s impending Godzilla vs. Kong. The destruction of King of the Monsters levels metropolitan cities in a matter of moments but it left me more bored than anything. All the advanced computer effects in the world can’t make this sequel any more thrilling than a man in a rubber suit laying waste to cardboard cities. In trying to please those who didn’t care much for the first film, the brains behind Godzilla: King of the Monsters threw so much at the screen they overwhelm you with inanity to the point of numbness. Sometimes a lot less is a whole lot more.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Simultaneously overstuffed and underwhelming, Godzilla: King of the Monsters features plenty of kaiju fights but no reason to care what happens to anyone or anything in this monstrously disappointing sequel.