Godzilla: King of the Monsters ★★½

“You’re a monster”

Illegal U.S. military operations, character deaths purely for shock value, and token Asian representation. Meet the components that are somehow essential to the story of giant lizards, dragons, dinosaurs, and butterflies destroying famous landmarks and fighting each other. All these pieces are strung together as if it has something important to say, but don’t even expect the giant aerial battle over a flooded Washington, D.C. to lead anywhere. Like logic in this movie, it is left behind.

Reflecting on the commercial and moderate critical success of the first film in this rebooted Godzilla franchise, the filmmakers for the sequel Godzilla: King of the Monsters had an easy formula to copy--have giant monster fights while the humans below deal with family drama. Unlike the first film, however, these two stories don’t take place side by side but rather are intertwined and imply that these catastrophic, world-ending monsters wreak havoc for billions all because of some marital spat. It’s a loss of perspective of scale, one that lessens the impact of every city destroyed and every look of horror from the characters. And much like the first film, the ending disappoints compared to what the beginning promises.

The opening takes place right at the ending battle of the first film but, in feeling, directly mimics its beginning: a tragic loss, and a family torn apart. Cue the ensemble of characters, old and new alike, promising invigorated action and tremendous upheavals for these dedicated and inspiring individuals. One scene still remains captivating--the first reveal of Godzilla. In an underwater research base, the military is poised ready for defense, but as the scientists urge for caution, they all become silent, on edge and trying to hear even the faintest cries of this kaiju. Then, a faint pulsing light, and the grand reveal; the faces of the actors are enough to see the simultaneous fear and awe upon seeing this deific giant. Director Michael Dougherty has the camera slowly pan from one face to the next as these characters understand each other, and as they look out to see, their reflection stands next to Godzilla as he stares into their souls. A faint blue light hues the facility and sea identically, a contrast to a stark yellow light that will emerge in the monster fights to come. One idea becomes certain, and that is the nearly futile standing of man within the grandeur and power of the natural world at large.

So why speak up and bring your family drama in the middle of a military preparation session? And why bring up random snippets of your dark past other than for awkwardly inserted exposition? Frustrating is the perfect word, as false promises reveal themselves to be hollow. These cool forward-looking set pieces just turn into propaganda for the U.S. military, and the large ensemble of characters begins to dwindle as actors who no longer wish to be there just beg to be killed off. Add in pompously meaningless shots like of a monster towering above a cross for some reason, and together, maybe we can get to the realization that humans were the real monsters all along. Not to be too caustic towards this film in particular, but when it never misses an opportunity to name drop Skull Island or Kong, it’s hard to take Godzilla: King of the Monsters as anything more than the failed cash cow this attempted to be. Honestly, this film doesn’t even take itself seriously when it abruptly transitions from a sad, generic score to the credits music of a discount metal song about Godzilla himself.

Charles Dance deserves better.

Joe liked this review