“Big monsters smash!” Whenever “our” favourite nuclear-infused lizard lumbers across the screen, with his high pitch screech, the primordial forces of our brains arise. Cities must be demolished, while fearful citizens pause to look up at the sky in terror. However, 2014’s previous installment of Godzilla lore didn’t resemble the classic format. Instead, the film was a psychological drama focusing on a family unit with few appearances from the main attraction. Director Michael Dougherty returns with the sequel: Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which unbearably retains the family unit, in a disappointingly dull monster flick.
The film opens in 2014 in San Francisco, Godzilla’s previous attack. Mark (Kyle Chandler) and Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga, who especially delivers a disappointing performance) seek shelter with their son and their daughter: Madison and Andrew while destruction around them ensues. However, during Godzilla’s decimation of the city, a travesty befalls the family.
The film later jumps to the present day: The parents are estranged, Mark photographs packs of wolves in the wild while Emma and Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) work at Monarch (a super secretive scientific and militaristic organization).
Monarch’s leaders: Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), Dr. Ling (Ziyi Zhang), and Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins), tirelessly work to protect the mythological beasts at various bases around the world. For the most part, these near-prehistoric creatures (17 of them) remain in hibernation. However, Monarch soon comes under attack by the ecoterrorist Jonah Allan (Charles Dance) and his hoard of mercenaries, kidnapping Emma and Madison and their recently developed invention the Orca.
Running for 135 minutes, the film oscillates between Mark’s rescue attempts to save his wife and daughter with the help of Monarch personnel like Dr. Stanton (Bradley Whitford), Colonel Foster (Aisha Hinds), Barnes (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), and Sam Coleman (Thomas Middleditch), while various monster fights rage in the background.
The film spans several continents as Mothra, Gidorah, Rodan, and a slew of other beasts wake from their slumber. The film sells itself as the biggest royal rumble of 17 monsters in franchise history, but in actuality, it’s just the aforementioned four and Godzilla.
Another flaw comes in the form of the humans. No, no one goes to a Godzilla film for the humans. And if the humans were some stand-ins for a grander metaphor then fine, like the larger mirroring of humanity with nuclear proliferation in the 1954 Godzilla, but they aren’t. Instead, Dougherty and Zach Shields wants the audience to care about the central family conflict. Over half the film plays to this narrative, sinking a hair-brain commentary on the environment wrapped in a Thanos 2.0 plan. In fact, viewers spend so much time with the humans, and their narratives are so painstakingly bad, that it’s nearly impossible to ignore such idiotic trappings.
Nevertheless, audiences are coming to Godzilla: King of the Monsters for Godzilla and the monsters. But Dougherty and co. even bungle this simple charge. There are 4 massive fights throughout the film, spanning several continents. Two of them, especially the first, are poorly shot. The first occurs in the tundras of Antarctica, in heavy snow and murky darkness. The camera wildly pans and cuts to indistinguishably images. The battle might be amazing, if audiences could see anything. I screened the film in IMAX and fought to keep pace, as Doughtery and co. spend too much time cutting back to the humans struggling on the ground while not maintaining the action led by their monsters.
The only unimpeachable portion of the monster flick comes with the sound and scale. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is meant to be seen on the biggest screen possible with the best sound, even if the CGI leans too heavily on the aforementioned murky cinematography to create some its iconic fights.
But mostly, once again, at 135 minutes Godzilla: King of the Monsters is dull. By mid-film, no one cares about this family and it becomes infuriating whenever we’re thrown back into their orbit by the screenplay. An amazing cast, which also includes a severely under-utilized David Strathairn, are left with nothing to do and terrible dialogue, even for a Godzilla film.
The final battle around Fenway Park, where viewers see the largest destruction possible nearly saves the film. But the same feats could have been accomplished with less stupid humans, more big dumb monsters, and in far less time. And while no franchise gets away with a lower bar, with a tradition of campy action, than Godzilla: Godzilla: King of the Monsters doesn’t even leap over those minimal expectations. Instead, the movie commits the biggest sin of any Godzilla film: It’s boring.