While Gareth Edwards' Godzilla from 2014 remains divisive to this day, it's easy to at least admire some of the grand ambitions of the revival of the long-dormant monster. The movie, while flawed in respect to the smaller stories portrayed on screen, did manage to offer an exciting portrayal of Gojira himself, as well as establish a deep, expansive universe, that held the promise of additional stories. We were willing to forgive the narrative shortcomings because of the harrowing imagery, the excellent choreography and pacing and the dramatic tension Edwards was able to establish.
Now, five years have passed, and King Kong himself has been added to this so-called 'Monster Verse'. It's time for the inevitable sequel, one that is a dramatic splash compared to 2014's dipping of the toes. Godzilla: King of the Monsters once again welcomes Godzilla to our world, but gives the beast a wide array of antagonists to play with, all hailing from Japanese culture, such as Rhodan and Mothra. Hell, even Ghidorah is the primary "villain" here.
So - the long and short of it then. Is it any good? In a word: No. It's not good at all. But we'll get to that.
Five years have passed in this monster movie universe, and Godzilla has been dormant since his fight with the MUTO's in the last film. The secretive organisation, Monarch, has located numerous monster sites, which they refer to as 'Titans', and have established that they are the original "gods" of the Earth. However, they all show signs of activity; they are all waking up. And that's due in no small part to the actions of our ensemble cast, consisting of scientist Dr. Emma Russell played by Vera Farmiga, her ex-husband Dr. Mark Russell played by Kyle Chandler, and their daughter Madison, played by Millie Bobby Brown of Stranger Things fame. A shadowy group of eco-terrorists, lead by Charles Dance, threaten to further speed up the process through a biosignature broadcasting system. The world is the battleground in which these formidable beings must decide on the fate of the planet and the human race.
And so our two narratives are established. In the grand scheme of things, the monsters are awakening, and so we must, as Ken Watanabe said in the original Godzilla, "let them fight", and this is indeed once again the case here. The smaller, more intimate and personal narrative meant to anchor and ground the magnificence and scale of these battles is between these three torn-apart family members.
Sadly none of it works. None of it. But let's back up a bit. Edwards is no longer directing and has been replaced by Trick R' Treat and Krampus director Michael Dougherty, and it's immediately apparent that Edwards' flair for the dramatic, or at least drama that's actually somewhat relatable and paced, is gone. How we got to this point is hard to comprehend at first. After all, while Godzilla's human story was moved off to the side, it was also kept intentionally simple to keep the audience's focus on the spectacle. Sure, the 2014 film spends a lot of time not showing Gojira himself, but it's all in service of making his actual appearances as satisfying as possible. The dialogue and the interactions between the characters are purposefully brisk and light, that's why it works.
And as previously stated, Godzilla: King of the Monsters doesn't work. First off, while it does invoke a more B-movie vibe, which its creators think it desperately needs for some reason, it never quite lands. Characters sound off with illogical decisions, weirdly placed monologues are crammed in with little reason, there are a lot off-putting motivations and even more poorly implemented comedic lines and puns. While the movie does at least try to sell you on the outrageous central premise, it never quite fully commits to either a campy B-movie identity, or a serious destructive action opus, and that uncomfortable middle ground is... well, uncomfortable to watch most of the time.
The actual monsters themselves are not as satisfying this time around either. While there's some memorable imagery present, nothing ever comes close to the Halo jump or the MUTO attacks on the train in the first film. In fact, even though each monster is colour-coordinated to provide visual variety, it all kind of blends together into a big grey mass. While we're sure the level of detail on the skin and the eyes is on par with what modern audiences expect of top-of-the-line CG, the action is simply poorly choreographed to the point where your eyes fail to register, understand or appreciate the visual spectacle on screen. That's the trouble with the scale; while initially impressive it's important to create carefully positioned combat sequences between these larger-than-life creatures, otherwise, it becomes irrelevant - and quickly irrelevant it does become. A sequence or two can be exhilarating to watch, but most of the time, you struggle to properly identify who's where and how.
The main cast does what it can with the material provided, and while Farmiga and Chandler are both seasoned actors that fully embrace the emotional backgrounds of their respective characters, it's simply never relatable and/or believable - nor is Millie Bobby Brown off to a great start in her career outside of Stranger Things. It seems she's more focused on proving something rather than truly believing in her own character, but that might be the film's narrative set-up in general rather than on her specifically. There is once again a supporting cast here, but none of these characters ever quite get the material necessary to make them memorable.
The narrative grounding is absent in every conceivable way, and neither is there enough carefully paced, instructed and choreographed action to remove the focus from the lacklustre dialogue, the outrageous motivational inconsistencies, and the overarching boredom of it all.
It's not easy to make a Godzilla film. The premise is hardly believable, and the King of Monsters story was always going to be a hard sell. Sadly, not committing to a particular moviemaking style or dramatical vocabulary, it quickly becomes apparent after the credits roll that this movie indeed has little to say for itself, and what it does have to say makes the audience laugh. Which it did. Many times. And not in a good way (however, you shouldn't make the mistake of thinking the movie is laughably bad because it's not, the few chuckles along the way was more a direct result of the movie's lack of a transparent identity). Let's put it this way: Guardians of the Galaxy is funny, but when it's serious, it doesn't feel unearned or foreign, because switching gears fits the overall language of the film. It's clear that Dougherty tries to infuse King of Monsters with the same two-faced narrative composition that in particular made Trick R' Treat enjoyable, where he infuses traditional horror movie tropes with a hint of comedic delivery. This same tactic does not work in his favor here.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is not outright terrible, and surely someone with tempered expectations might find some redeeming features in the overall spectacle here, but if you know that Godzilla movies can do more, which the 2014 version did, this will do little more than disappoint.
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