One of the chief complaints regarding the 2014 Gareth Evans-directed Godzilla reboot was the lack of screen time for the titular monster. The character for which the film was named famously only appeared on screen for about 8 minutes and some fans felt they got the short end of the stick when they plopped in their theater seats expecting all-out-monster mayhem. In the timeless tradition of cinematic call and response, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, as directed by Michael Dougherty of Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus fame, takes that complaint baton and sprints blindly the other direction, delivering a movie that is packed to the gills with fussy monsters and cityscape destruction porn but remains an exhausting and brain-numbing eyesore nonetheless.
Written by Dougherty and Zach Shields, both of whom are teed up as screenwriters for 2020’s Adam Wingard-directed sequel Godzilla vs. Kong, opt for the path of least resistance, taking the Godzilla character in a decidedly un-cerebral direction, trimming any semblance of suspense or intelligence while glibly paying half-assed lip-service to underlying commentary on global climate change. In its promising beginning segment, Godzilla: King of the Monsters begins in 2014 where the Russell family experiences the carnage of Evans’ titans firsthand, losing their son in the destruction of San Francisco and forever altering the course of their lives.
Five years later, Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) is a bio-sound engineer working for Monarch, the shadowy global-threat organization introduced in the mid-credits sequence from Kong: Skull Island, (an infinitely more fun block-busting diversion) and her and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) employ an experimental bio-acoustic device code-name Echo to communicate with Earth’s original Gods, including a hatchling Mothra. Yada, yada, yada, in storm ecoterrorists to take control of the Echo, convinced that unleashing the kaijus of the world will restore natural order and so begins a mindless cacophony of slamming digital monsters together with stubborn, silly, and annoying human characters prattle on in the background that’ll continue for the next 120 minutes.
Which, for what it’s worth, is a premise I’m not against in principle. The problem lies in the fact that Godzilla: King of the Monsters fail to motivate any feeling behind the carnage, fails to give us anything resembling human characters worth caring for or investing in, and generally bumbles from one plot beat to another without any care for logic or even a shred of intelligence.
This on top of the fact that the digital team at times really screws the proverbial pooch in the visual effects department. The CGI is inconsistent at best, and downright awful at times (with so much monster mayhem, it simply seems like the budget ran out to get everything up to par), though it does remain consistent in regard to its lacking a higher sense of wonder. Few were the moments were I gawked, jaw-hanging, enrapt at the screen; entirely absent was a set-piece that even got close to capturing the awesome majesty of Gareth Evan’s H.A.L.O. jump sequence. The CG-heavy spectacle lacks the operatic set pieces and fixed scale of its predecessor. When everything feels giant, nothing does.
Dougherty’s film is all giant, all the time. His camera pulled back in such a way that minimizes the scale. In a movie whose key ingredient is spectacle, the spectacle better slap. Here, it just lacks punch, a bland monster mash dance off that just didn’t quite get me going. Godzilla decidedly lacks imagination from a visual set-piece standpoint, despite benefitting from a vivid color palette that gives the spectacle some much-needed candy-colored pop.
The assembled cast is a rogue’s gallery of “that guy/gal” talent with little interesting in the way of script or dialogue to offer. Kyle Chandler shuffles along as the film’s stony and uninteresting leading man; Vera Farmiga proffers a performance between hammy and lifeless, phoning it in as a scientist revolutionary whose character arc is dumber than most; Ken Watanbe offers his signature staccato Japanese-speak and little more; Bradley Whitford sneaks some snide comments in with some expository heavy-lifting; Millie Bobby Brown runs from here to there and then here and then there. And they’re not even the half of it.
Thomas Middleditch shows up, Charles Dance gets a thankless bit part, and two-time Oscar-nominee Sally Hawkins has a tiny role for reasons I cannot explain. It’s O’Shea Jackson who walks away in the best position, getting the few laughs from a film that’s both trying too hard and not trying nearly hard enough.
And that really is the problem isn’t it? Godzilla: King of the Monsters wants to have its cake and stomp on it too. It’s a movie that wants you to point and laugh at how silly it all is but also one that casts Captain Serious Kyle Chandler in the leading role. It’s a movie internally at odds; a three-headed King Ghidorah fighting amongst itself. And if that’s going to be the case, you have to at the very least make that fight look cool as hell.
CONCLUSION: ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters‘ honors its eponymous character and little else in an unintelligible blockbuster that fails to capture the wonder, horror, and bewitching curiosity of an Earth populated by towering titans, often complete with head-scratchingly bad special effects. Even with a promising assemblage of B-list actors, the human component of this monster mash fails to sell much in the way of humanity.
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