Studio: Legendary Entertainment
Director: Michael Dougherty
Writer: Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields, Max Borenstein
Producer: Mary Parent, Alex Garcia, Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Brian Rogers
Stars: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang
Five years after Godzilla’s San Francisco rampage, Monarch and the military clash with eco-terrorists when new titans threaten to destroy the planet.
Bellyaching began with Gareth Edwards’ “Godzilla” in 2014 (review here). Too much talking. Not enough action. Too much human melodrama. Not enough of the main attraction. Poor plotting slows the pace to a crawl. Poor CGI makes scenes difficult to see.
When complaints continued five years later with Michael Dougherty’s “King of the Monsters,” skeptics suggested squeaky wheels just didn’t understand these films. Later Toho entries added cartoony offspring, fairies, and other extraterrestrial oddities. But seriousness was a staple since Godzilla’s early going. The formula had always been a first act of people problems preceding midsection fluff before a big finale between competing behemoths.
“King of the Monsters” only followed familiar footsteps while significantly amping up energy as requested. Yet renewed criticisms made it seem like viewers were impossible to please no matter what. This had combative counterpoints asking, “do disappointed audiences even know what they want from Godzilla?”
That’s not an unfair question. In this day and age where toxic fandom crosses arms at every detail in a new “Star Wars” film or starts pointless petitions over a TV series finale, it certainly appears as though there will always be irritated barkers damning every creative decision in entertainment, even if their outrage has irrational origins.
Here however, I’d redirect that question toward the producers for the American arm of Godzilla’s uncertain empire. Do they actually appreciate Godzilla or only the idea of him as an internationally marketable property? I can’t imagine they are ever challenged to validate their attachment to the character in the same way his fans are. And when they ask themselves what components should compose an engaging Godzilla film, do they answer with a heavy focus on family dynamics, smoke-shrouded battles further blurred by a hyperactive camera, and extended sequences of scientists and military men plotting around computer screens?
Director Mike Dougherty deserves more praise for his movie’s positives than perhaps blame for its negatives. This follow-up to “Godzilla” went into development with another director and a different writer before being turned over to new hands. Acutely aware of Godzilla’s complex cinematic legacy as well as the unflattering chatter about the 2014 film, Dougherty only commits the crime of trying to please too many masters.
Dougherty clearly wanted to include subplots with emotional stakes, side characters punched up with personality, plenty of summer blockbuster bombast, and a thick-thumbed pinch of Saturday matinee silliness. But he builds all of this on a foundation he didn’t form, in a sandbox being borrowed, and then finished by three different editors. Dougherty probably does as good of a job as any hired gun could have under studio-mandated circumstances, but consequently comes up with a muddled movie for his well-intentioned troubles.
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” boasts plentiful star power headlined by Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Bradley Whitford, Ken Watanabe, Millie Bobby Brown, and more. That’s a lot of award-caliber talent hired to mostly mug facial expressions at green screens, graphics on monitors, tennis balls attached to poles, and occasionally each other.
From the look of things, practicality got in the way of initial ambition. Unnecessary characters regularly pop up like “Caddyshack” gophers only to have their purpose for inclusion whacked away by the desire to pare down the runtime to something desirable for maximum multiplex scheduling.
Oscar-nominee Sally Hawkins quizzically appears in a fifth-billed role so slim, you’ll immediately think, “oh yeah, I forgot she was in this” should you ever see the film a second time. Ancillary actors including O’Shea Jackson Jr. play soldiers ranging from First Lieutenant to Staff Sergeant to Chief Warrant Officer, but their scant screen time means you won’t remember their names much less be able to distinguish their ranks.
Light comic relief duties that easily could have been confined to Whitford are split with Thomas Middleditch, another man from Monarch the movie barely has room for. The highlight of his supposed hilarity is mishearing “Ghidorah” as “Gonorrhea.”
Whatever machetes were taken to screenplay drafts and final footage make mincemeat out of characters with absent introductions and relationships with no resonance. Charles Dance plays the heavy, but becomes secondary in villainy to Farmiga, who misguidedly moves the master plan causing more monsters to surface across the planet. Dance’s character also has a son, although you’d only know that by noticing end credits assign them the same surname. You definitely can’t tell by Dance’s nonexistent reaction to the man’s death.
At some point, a thematic parallel probably existed where Dance and Farmiga were meant to be similarly motivated by dead sons. As with Watanabe mourning the death of a colleague I don’t remember him sharing one word with, nothing emotionally substantial comes to fruition however.
It’s curious that “King of the Monsters” corrects the yawn-inducing yakkity yak of “Godzilla” 2014 by delivering on the promise of having Godzilla, Ghidorah, Mothra, and Rodan duke it out in various matchups before the film can ever enter too long of a lull. Yet this sequel strangely repeats the mistake of annoyingly obscuring combat with as many digital artifacts as a rendering computer can handle. There isn’t a single faceoff whose foreground isn’t flushed with a rainstorm, snowstorm, dust storm, nightfall, clouds, ash, waves, dark water, or sparks from volcanic fire. Why does every fight have to be filtered through a cataract simulator? I wouldn’t be shocked in the slightest if animators revealed they worked from a checklist to keep track of obfuscation types they hadn’t used yet.
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” wins three out of five stars for being more explosive than its dull predecessor. At least the film features more action, even if jets firing missiles seemingly contribute as much content as creatures do. Still, it’s not a great sign that between these two movies featuring colossal beasts and crumbling buildings, I’d rather watch the surprisingly fun “Rampage” (review here) again over taking another tour of duty with KOTM.
I can’t help but continue feeling like these two Godzilla films are foreplay for something bigger, better, and more satisfying as a story and as a spectacle. Maybe “Godzilla vs. Kong” will finally give killer kaiju fans the proper monster melee they really want. Although the FX team undoubtedly prefers otherwise, let’s hope Big G and company arrive at Skull Island in the sun, and not during monsoon season.
NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 60