Five years ago, Godzilla (2014) was resurrected in a new take that polarized critics and audiences but managed to breathe new life into a property that was largely dormant ever since the final Toho studios instalment in 2004. Universal Studios followed this up with Kong: Skull Island (2017), an attempt at expanding what has now been dubbed the “Monsterverse” through introducing King Kong into the same fictional world. The newest entry is a stand-alone sequel to Godzilla (2014) that might please those wanting pure action but lacks in other areas.
Government Organisation MONARCH has been monitoring several other “Titans” for years after Godzilla’s re-awakening 5 years ago. Dr Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) has created a device that can calm them but, along with her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), she is captured by eco-terrorists and forced to awaken a Titan called King Gidorah. Emma’s estranged husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) is brought in to try and rescue them, but soon realises that Emma has extreme plans regarding the creatures. Eventually, King Gidorah and two other Titans named Rodan and Mothra are released (along with several other Titans across the globe) and Godzilla comes back in order to take down King Gidorah to reclaim his place as king of the monsters.
Previous Godzilla director Gareth Edwards opted not to return, so he has been replaced by Michael Dougherty. Dougherty has had extensive credits in both screenwriting and directing and has taken on both duties here. However, whilst he does put some effort into the direction, him and the other three credited writers have created a script that is totally lifeless. Most of the problems can be seen in the particularly awful first act, that rushes through exposition and setup, not giving you much to care about and feeling very mechanical.
The biggest problem is with the characters. They are chesspieces, being moved around to further the story rather than to be worth caring about. There is a personal conflict within the Russell family that seems like it will be important but is overall underdeveloped. As a result, the actors do not have much to work with, with only Thomas Middleditch and Bradley Whitford as two assistants getting some funny lines. The one who has the most characterisation is Emma, but that characterisation is beholden to whatever the story needs her to do at any given moment, with Farmiga not managing to make this character understandable or sympathetic.
Chandler and Brown have slightly better material but everyone else is a machine for exposition, with so many scenes being dedicated to people standing around explaining stuff to each other. Godzilla fans might not care about this, but the most consistent complaint with prior Monsterverse entries was that the humans were boring, so to see this series make this mistake for the third time is frustrating. The casting of recognisable actors to bring life to the material only makes it more obvious how underwritten it is.
As for how Godzilla himself is used, it’s on par with the previous film. Godzilla is once again only in the film sparingly until the 3rd act and whilst there are no cut-aways from the fights, it feels the need to overcomplicate by side-lining him for a long narrative detour. He and the other monsters are just narrative tools, much like the humans. This is strikingly obvious as, in Godzilla (2014), Gareth Edwards gave his creatures a large amount of characterisation, whereas here every monster just feels generic.
Despite all the negative issues, the second and third acts are enjoyable on an action level. Dougherty’s direction is admittedly busy and overblown, but the scale and imagery is so big and overpowering that it is hard not to be entertained. Some of the characterisation is better and there is even one sequence backed by the classic theme that fans will love. My body started to go with it and I even started to enjoy it enough to where I was somewhat positive walking out of the cinema. But there’s a hollowness to the entire picture that is hard to get around. The best way to describe it is to say that it feels like watching a magic show where you know all the techniques that the magician is using.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a sign that cracks are beginning to show in this film series. It might be an entertaining spectacle, but the inert and hollow script keeps it from being truly fulfilling. Despite this, I can see people enjoying this movie and I hope that future entries improve, because I’m not fully off this monster train yet, but I am losing interest.