6 / 10
Kyle Chandler … Mark Russell
Directed by Michael Dougherty
Godzilla: King of the Monsters review:
1. There must be something new brought to the mythos of Godzilla, be it a small addition or a complete revision of the entire concept.
2. It must have a unique quality to its kaiju inflicted destruction or combat.
3. The “Human plot” must be intrinsically tied into the “Godzilla plot.”
Some Godzilla movies have two of the three, some have all three with only minor success in each, but all of the truly great Godzilla movies undeniably stick the landing in each of these categories. This brings us to Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the latest film starring the 65-year-old cinematic icon, and a movie that manages to hit all three of the markers… with one Titan sized caveat for that third point.
In the sequel, set five years after the 2014 film, the crypto-zoological organization Monarch is still out there, though fighting to maintain their independence and ability to study these monsters. In the shadows though, a group of eco-terrorists have hatched a plan to unleash the Titans on Earth to restore balance to the world.
Immediately the film’s human plot is handcuffed to the Godzilla plot, a key pillar as pointed out earlier, but the problem is that the human side does not do enough to justify the sheer amount of time dedicated to explaining its inane blockbuster babble. There are diamonds in the rough, however, especially Kyle Chandler, whose performance is enough to ground this movie in a real world than any city-wide destruction can. Chandler treats the material with the reverence needed, and it makes him the shining star of the movie’s human side. Bradley Whitford and Thomas Middleditch stand alongside him as highlights, albeit on the other side of the coin, delivering mostly one-liners and jokes (though Chandler has his fair share) to point out how ridiculous some of the “science speak” of the movie sounds. Millie Bobby Brown (in her first big screen role) does a good job as well, acting as the thread between the fractures of the human plot and maintaining a presence on screen alongside the likes of Vera Farmiga and Charles Dance (who does little beyond scowl).
“I don’t care about the humans though, I only care about the monsters,” you might be saying, which is fair, and you won’t be disappointed by that side of the story. Director Michael Dougherty clearly has a love and reverence for these characters, delivering on the things he knows we all love about them too (with some Mothra-sized Easter eggs throughout). The creature design for the movie really is a thing of beauty, delivering updated versions of the icons we know and even bringing in some new monsters to the fold. All of the kaiju combat delivers the earthquake-inducing punches one expects and even flips the script in surprising ways more than once. The energy was palpable in that 2014 movie when Godzilla finally lit up his fins and breathed his atomic breath into the world, and King of the Monsters has multiple moments that feel like that. Dougherty builds on our anticipation for specific moments and delivers. They’re honestly breathtaking at times, at least when the entire screen is not being obfuscated by lightning, flashing lights, fire, or an otherwise screen-sharing distraction, a facet of the film that grows more annoying the more it occurs.
So they let them fight, and it’s the kind of wanton destruction and battling that we all thought we were seeing when we watch Invasion of the Astro-Monster as children. But there’s a hollowness to the movie that it is only able to overcome because of the third act, and it’s all because of the people. Though one may think going in that they do not care about the humans, the truly great Godzilla movies make you care about them. They are essential to every great Godzilla story because Godzilla’s successes and failures mirror the human side of the narrative. King of the Monsters does its best to make the human scenes necessary, and some certainly are, but they almost always feel like filler rather than a fundamental bridge. The human side of the story has always been the beating heart of the Godzilla movies and Godzilla himself is the blood in the veins. The heart exists to pump the blood, and the blood exists to flow through the heart, each giving the other purpose because of its presence. You need both things to work, and unfortunately it doesn’t always in this film.
As a franchise Godzilla began by examining the atrocities of human-created horror through the lens of science fiction, and King of the Monsters carries that torch to an admirable degree. It delivers on the spectacle that you want, which is its primary saving grace, and even has a handful of characters that keep the world alive. But some total misfires in the narrative execution of the movie, and some distracting visuals, keep it from being the one true king. On the whole, Godzilla: King of the Monsters works as summer-time popcorn-munching fun, but will have you heading back to the snack bar when the Titans aren’t on screen.