Godzilla: King of the Monsters

 Cast: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang, Charles Dance

Director: Michael Dougherty

 131 mins

Godzilla: King of the Monsters should carry advice on squinting techniques, as you will have to prepare yourself for an entire film built on the concept that, when giant monsters battle each other, they actually create tropical storms, gusting rain, and a baffling amount of cloud cover. However, bad weather is the least of the problems that beset this inept sequel, the latest in Warner Bros.’ tiresomely expanding growing ‘MonsterVerse’. Picking up five years after Gareth Edwards’ superior 2014 feature Godzilla, this new outing attempts to imagine a post-monster (or, in Godzilla-parlance, post-Titan) world. San Francisco is a memorial, the planet is dotted with secretive outposts run by ‘crypto-zoological agency’ Monarch, and the U.S. government is hellbent on enacting a plan to kill the remaining monsters. None of this is especially involving, so Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) who, along with her teenage daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and estranged husband Mark (Kyle Chandler), have been shoe-horned into this nonsense in an effort to make audiences care about the tragedy that broke up the family. Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (a returning Ken Watanabe) still loves the big monster who seems perhaps he reckons, actually love human beings. Dr. Russell has invented ORCA, a machine meant to speak to various Titans by mashing up their bio-acoustics like the world’s strangest mixtape. This puts her in the crosshairs of rogue eco-terrorist Jonah Alan (Charles Dance), who wants to use her contraption to achieve something which is vague, to say the least.

Like so many things that unfold in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, it really doesn’t matter. After Emma and Madison are kidnapped by Jonah, there’s a nonsensical character who sets about using the ORCA to waken up the rest of the planet’s Titans, many of whom have been contained in Monarch’s various outposts. Drawn from the Thanos school of philosophy, said character believes that letting loose the Titans will bring balance to an ailing world. In Dr. Serizawa’s parlance, it’s time to “let them fight” and see what develops. So the scrap begins. As the film’s many monsters batter lumps out of one another, the human contingent natter on about how to stop this terrible turn of events. In addition to returning actors in minor roles such as Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn, there’s supporting talent including Ziyi Zhang, Thomas Middleditch, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Anthony Ramos, and Bradley Whitford. They’re largely introduced during one appallingly exposition-packed meeting that happens well into the film’s first act, setting the stage for audiences to wonder just who else might emerge at any given time. As for the Titans themselves, we’ve got Mothra, a stunning giant moth with an allegiance to Godzilla; the three-headed dragon-like King Ghidorah; and the winged Rodan. There’s also an impressive selection of lesser behemoths, but most of them appear during panicked news bulletins that appear to be filmed with Vaseline on the camera lenses. 

The Titan face-offs are reasonable punch-ups, despite the idiotic decision to set so many of the film’s best battles in a monsoon. Occasionally bogged down by the camera peering though portholes and helicopter windows, Dougherty and his team do at least wisely zoom out for a series of wide shots that remind both the audience and the human characters just how massive these monsters are, and how terrifying it can be when they fight. As the Titans continue to rise, Mark and his band of Monarch pals, including at least one with a secret twin, (a footnote revealed for no discernible reason) manage to be everywhere they need to be at any given moment, thanks to a massive super-speed jet that seems directly inspired by a similar vehicle in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Godzilla: King of the Monsters rips off so many similar films so brace yourself for a dramatic sequence that pulls so liberally from Armageddon that we can only assume Michael Bay is currently nattering to his lawyer— and the result is a sloppy, stitched-together offering with no sense of self. At least Godzilla seems to remember who he is — as he inevitably prepares for 2020’s Godzilla vs. Kong — and when the biggest monster of them all appears, he slips right back into his role as Earth’s most unlikely defender. Godzilla’s interest in saving humanity never made much sense and when he lights up his nuclear-powered tail and lets loose his interminable scream, for just a moment, things at last liven up.