There’s a general acceptance amongst critics and audiences alike, that blockbusters can be as big and dumb as they like, as long as they remain entertaining. Well Godzilla: King of the Monsters may just prove to be the biggest and dumbest of them all. The coronated monarch of large scaled stupidity if you will. And as for the entertainment value? Well that’s 100% dependent on your tolerance levels and your ability to endure 131 minutes of complete and utter mindlessness.
Look, if you’re genuinely aroused by the prospect of witnessing kaiju mortal kombat, then this film has you more than covered. Several of Toho’s finest have been reimagined with a $200 million budget and despite the film’s best efforts to hide their battles behind obscuring/almost blinding rain, snow, water, smoke and other environmental debri, you will see these titans clash. And clash. And clash some more until your eyes start to ooze green monster blood.
For anyone else who would dare ask for such minor things like plot and character development, forget about it.
The film opens similarly to 2016’s Batman vs. Superman, with audiences re-experiencing the devastation in San Francisco from a slightly different perspective. It’s here during the climactic final stages of Godzilla’s fight with MUTO, that we meet the Russell family (Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown) and learn how and why they are so broken and estranged five years later.
For reasons that make no sense either inside or outside the film, some bad guys led by a clearly unenthused Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) have decided it’s a good idea to wake up dormant titans from their slumber. But why? Well, humans pollute. We suck. So let’s allow monsters to kill us and restore balance to our world. It’s a moronic rehashing of the same tired complaints against humanity that Thanos, Agent Smith and several thousand other characters have had against us for the longest time.
All of this cheap, insincere environmental activism is just a ham-fisted excuse to see the monster mash. And that’s actually fine, just embrace it and don’t pad out your film with boring fodder.
If you appreciated 2014’s artful (yet still problematic) reimaging of the monster/disaster movie into an anti-blockbuster, I’m sad to report that those thematics and sensibilities have been viciously mutilated out of this sequel. Godzilla: King of the Monsters has nothing meaningful or impressive to say, no larger metaphor or allegory to explore. Its eco-terrorist subplot, which is intended to propel the characters and narrative forward is laughably inept. The Frankensteinian script lazily copies and pastes some of cinema’s most trite storytelling cliches, dialogue and character traits and believes the human drama will hold your attention long enough before the next clash of titans. It’s all empty spectacle, until it’s really not. It’s much much worse.
The vast majority of the non-monster screen-time is filled with a host of talented and highly respected actors (Ken Watanabe, Bradley Whitford and Sally Hawkins joining Chandler, Farmiga, Bobby Brown, and Dance) standing around in a circle, forcing out dull, tedious exposition about the environment, balance, family turmoil etc.
“I know this is a really hard time for you. But things are going to get better.”
“That’s when I turned to drinking.”
“We have destroyed the earth. They will restore it.”
“We can co-exist with these titans and create a better world together.”
“You’re a monster, mother!”
All the human melodrama is laboriously painful to sit through. The rest of the film might actually be fun if it wasn’t playing everything so damn seriously. It’s not so bad it’s actually kind of good. It’s just bad. Really bad. Michael Bay Transformers bad.
But none of my criticism matters, if all you really want to see is Mothra stab Rodan, or Godzilla bite the head off Ghidorah. If you want Monsters WWE, you will be a happy camper and I wish you all the best.
Cynicism aside, it’s hard not to notice and even admire writer/director Michael Dougherty’s neon-glowing adoration for these god-like creatures. He and his visual effects team do strike moments that perfectly capture their true apocalyptic beauty. Ghidorah’s three dragon heads spurting yellow lightning into the heavens with wings sprawled across the screen is momentarily impressive. It’s during these fleeting seconds, in amongst the clouds, chaos and carnage, where you can appreciate and get behind what’s on offer.
And if nothing else, hearing Ken Watanabe fully commit every time he had to say “gojira” certainly made me smile like a simple idiot.