King of the Monsters, Spawner of Sequels
What a waste. So much destruction, and I’m not even talking about the rampaging behemoths causing utter devastation around the world. I’m just referring to the filmmakers behind Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a numbly catastrophic action fantasy that does little to advance or enhance Japan’s favorite lizard.
GODZILLA KING OF MONSTERS ★ (1/5 stars)
Directed by: Michael Dougherty
Written by: Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Ken Watanabe, and Godzilla
Running time: 132 min
This maelstrom of digitally conjured battle royales is the sequel to 2014’s Godzilla, but also the third in a monsterverse film franchise that includes 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, as well as the set-up for 2020’s Godzilla vs. Kong. It’s also the 35th Godzilla movie since 1954. So it’s not really a movie, anyway, just another bone-rattling, head-aching entry in an ongoing series that’s had diminishing returns for two generations.
Godzilla used to be fun. Even when he made his debut in the haunting, eponymous, black-and-white original, the film was rife with monster-mash thrills as the world’s first and best kaiju made Tokyo his stomping ground. Godzilla was charming, too. Even when low budgets and rubber-suit special effects made him look ridiculous, the prehistoric predator still had enough plucky personality to endear himself to audiences around the world.
Now, of course, modern movies need even more portentous, higher-stakes conflicts. So why not pit Godzilla against as many as 17 of his brethren? All of these, by the way, are part of what’s been labeled an “ancient and forgotten superspecies,” so-called Titans that have been buried or frozen in far-flung places like Antarctica, Rio, China, Germany, and Mexico. Why so scattered? Because international four-quadrant moviegoers demand it.
There’s a plot, but it requires believing that a super-secret, heavily armed, crypto-zoological agency called Monarch can have more than 60 outposts throughout the globe, each one bigger and more cavernous than the next. Plus, the organization has its own stealth bomber and nuclear submarine, which is admittedly pretty rad. For some reason this military-industrial-complex wet dream, financed solely by the U.S.A., is constantly on the verge of losing its funding, even though Monarch is surveilling more than a dozen dormant gargantuan creatures that could rip apart the surface of the planet.
One of Monarch’s scientists, played by a constantly distressed Vera Farmiga, seems to think Take Your Daughter To Work Day is a permanent thing, so Millie Bobby Brown is there, too, which seems super-safe and also very good parenting. Apparently they have some sort of suitcase theremin which emits high frequency pulses that sooth the savage beasts. This is handy when a enormous pupa-stage moth (aka Mothra) spits sticky-silk cocoon webbing at you.
Because Godzilla can’t be the villain, ever, there’s a human villain played by Charles Dance. He’s a former British Army colonel who’s gone rogue and become an eco-terrorist, which makes total sense. He kind-of kidnaps Farmiga and Brown, although Farmiga then announces that she’s down to clown with the eco-terrorist because climate change. Huh? You see, by releasing the Titans and having them commit human genocide on a mass scale, they will achieve balance with nature. It’s the Thanos Snap, but with more property damage.
Except they won’t achieve balance, because Monster Zero (aka King Ghidorah, and not a calorie-free version of Monster Energy Drink) is actually an ancient alien who don’t give a fuck about nature. So all the Titans will do Ghidorah’s bidding and destroy the earth, unless Godzilla can stop him.
Kyle Chandler is in this hot mess, playing Millie Bobby Brown’s dad and Vera Farmiga’s husband. They lost their son in the previous film, so…character arc? Not sure, but he’s pretty forgettable anyway. Bradley Whitford staggers around as the wise-cracking smartass. Sally Hawkins was in the last one, so she’s here, too, although after Shape of Water she’s probably desperate to get out of her Godzilla contract. Ken Watanabe shows up to give the film’s some Nipponophilic street cred, and Zhang Ziyi is here for the Chinese market.
Godzilla lives, then he dies, except he’s just aqua-hibernating to soak up some undersea radiation. So Monarch sets off an atomic bomb to resuscitate him, which then allows him to release thermonuclear blasts like bad farts. Dude clearly cannot be conquered. Which also makes fight scenes hella boring.
Did I mention Rodan? He’s here, too, although he doesn’t have much to do. Other bizarre kaiju show up, especially at the end. I don’t know their names, so I made up my own. Woolly Mammoth Gorilla. Goateed arachnid. Mr. Elbows. They huddle around Godzilla and literally bow down to him. Because he’s their king? Sure.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters hardly burnishes the Godzilla brand, but neither does it do any damage. At this point, the radioactive champ has reigned supreme in pop-culture memory for half a century. He’s beyond regal. And his half-life is far from over.