Godzilla: King of the Monsters, 2019.
Directed by Michael Dougherty.
Starring Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ken Watanabe and Zhang Ziyi.
The Monarch organisation finds itself hopelessly outgunned when gargantuan kaiju turn the Earth into a battleground as they fight for supremacy.
Sometimes, cinema is about high art. Sometimes, it’s about intellectual appreciation of intricate storytelling. Sometimes, it’s about the emotional highs and lows of a character’s journey. Sometimes, though, it’s just about a big lizard roasting a three-headed dragon with its atomic breath. Godzilla: King of the Monsters certainly never hid its radioactive light under a bushel. We all know what we’re getting. And that makes it even more disappointing to report that this one is a toothless trudge of a movie.
The shadowy organisation Monarch is still carrying out experiments on kaiju, having isolated more than a dozen of them all over the world – including a certain angry ape on a skeleton-themed land mass. Scientist Dr Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) has created a device that allows her to mimic the speech patterns of some of these creatures, exercising some form of control. Her obsession with beasties has driven away her husband Mark (Kyle Chandler), but he finds himself back in her life when eco-terrorist Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) kidnaps Emma and daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown). Jonah wants the device in order to awaken a new alpha to challenge Godzilla’s dominance.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the narrative thrust of King of the Monsters because the script, from director Michael Dougherty and his co-writer Zach Shields, zigzags wildly all over the map and in between tones and ideologies. Characters change their stances on a whim and with scant regard for logical follow-through, with one Farmiga monologue laughable in its nonsensical simplicity. Meanwhile, an overwrought descent into evil from one character prompts Godzilla sympathiser Dr Serizawa – a returning Ken Watanabe – to tell them, quite simply, that “this is a dangerous path”. It’s an understatement akin to saying that walking with bare feet across a bouncy castle covered in broken glass is slightly cavalier.
The script here is an Achilles heel the size of whatever Godzilla leaves in the toilet bowl after kaiju curry night. Characters communicate solely in overwrought, grandiose proclamations that would never cross the mouth of a human being, while the plot is driven almost entirely by beeping warning signals interrupting conversations. As a result, these characters crumble at the slightest examination, with Charles Dance yelling his way to a pay cheque while Sally Hawkins is treated so poorly by the story that only a third Paddington movie will be able to console her. I certainly need it.
Meanwhile, the central family trio of Farmiga, Brown and Chandler never get to spend more than a couple of seconds on screen together and, as such, are almost impossible to believe as a unit. A subplot about their specific connection to the events of the first film is under-served and ultimately weightless, with Brown – the most bankable star name on the cast list – given more of a focus in the trailers than she is in the finished product.
Much like the divisive 2014 take on Godzilla from Gareth Edwards, King of the Monsters suffers greatly from its bizarre devotion to cutting away from exciting monster scuffles to focus on what is presumably intended to be genuine human stakes. In practice, though, it’s just a selection of characters with names you can’t remember running around in circles while the camera shakes like it’s in the hands of a nervous alcoholic. In stark contrast to the elegantly constructed kaiju battles of both Pacific Rim movies, there’s no following the action here, which largely unfolds in sludgy, generic CGI landscapes and never seems to pack the hardcore punch that fans of these films will expect.
Dougherty is able to conjure individual images that stick in the mind – Mothra spreading her luminescent wings for the first time; King Ghidorah standing triumphant atop a volcano – but these are merely frames within a collage of computer-generated naffness that’s often like a painter working only with one square of the Dulux colour chart. The monster battles – absolutely the major selling point here – are entirely lacking in palpable jeopardy. It’s like a WrestleMania match in which everyone is Hulk Hogan – so invincible that even defeat is merely temporary.
From the moment this film was announced, it seemed likely to occupy an odd spot in the landscape of this burgeoning franchise, with Adam Wingard’s upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong the true main event. Dougherty’s movie, though, has a hearty spin of the kaiju roulette wheel and spits out some of the most iconic monsters in this decades-old cinematic universe. The problem is that all of the handsome pixels in the world aren’t enough to prevent this particular adventure from emerging as an outright monstrosity.
To paraphrase the tagline for Alien vs. Predator, whoever wins, we’ll probably just go and see Avengers: Endgame again instead.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.