Reviews

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS is a Listless, Dimwitted Monster Mash

Ryan reviews the newest installment in the Godzilla franchise.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is what you get when the internet wins.

After the release of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla in 2014, online fervor over the titular monster’s limited screen time grew like weeds. The film’s praise as a subversive, complicated take on the kaiju mythos was gradually drowned out by jeers of disappointment from those who wished it was more akin to bashing action figures together. Lucky for them and no one else, the big, brainless Godzilla they fervently clamored for has arrived.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) – source: Warner Bros. Pictures

There’s nothing inherently wrong with dumb monster movies. Many of them, the countless Toho-produced Godzilla sequels included, are perfectly fun pieces of popcorn movie bliss. Godzilla: King of the Monsters represents a very specific, oh so Hollywood kind of dumb; the sort of studio-mandated, lifeless drivel that gave the industry sequel machine its bad name. From the flat-as-a-board human characters to the near incomprehensible monster brawls that give the film its purpose, this is a torturous exercise in blockbuster filmmaking that’s more laughable than thrilling.

The titular monsters — called Titans here — are indeed the impressive technical creations the internet begged for. Godzilla’s new play pals Ghidorah, Rodan, and Mothra are striking in design, bursting with color and even semblances of personality. Part of the brilliance comes from their contrasts; Mothra’s blue luminescence is jaw-dropping when placed next to Rodan’s fiery orange hues. It’s a pity most of their beautiful moments were betrayed by the film’s marketing, and what’s left over isn’t worthy of their staggering presence.

The marquee battles that audiences came for are near impossible to see. Garish CGI weather effects and choppy editing render nearly every action sequence inert, making you likely to spend more times squinting your eyes than getting blown away. Not that there’s much to see anyway; the fights themselves are boring and repetitive, lacking the thrill power needed to justify the existence of a film like this. If writer-director Michael Dougherty was so insistent on making this a silly mashup of monster showdowns, what drove him to make them so listless and incomprehensible?

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Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) – source: Warner Bros. Pictures

Not helping matters is the borderline nonsense of a plot, which reads like a script fished out of the desk of a coke-addled 90s executive. The film largely follows the Russells, a grieving family of scientists who get caught up in Titan drama when an under-written ecoterrorist (a wasted Charles Dance) kidnaps mother Emma (Vera Farmiga) and daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) in order to force Emma to wake up the creatures with a bioacoustic device she created to control them. It’s all in the name of some Thanos-style balancing the scales of nature, with the hope being that the aftermath of the Titans’ rampages gives birth to a healthier planet.

It’s up to Godzilla to settle the score, and he’s aided by a cast of buffoons and a script filled with enough quips to send an SNL writer’s room into a coma. None of the stacked cast is given anything interesting to do outside of corny jokes and exposition dumps, with Farmiga given most of the heavy lifting through scenes where she has to monologue over video chat, armed only with some rather convenient montages to help her out.

Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, and David Strathrain, the only holdouts from the previous film, are treated with immense disrespect here. Hawkins and Strathrain are essentially sidelined while Watanabe, one of the only Asian actors in the film, is forced to deliver jokes about fortune cookies. Much of the film’s failed attempts at humor are left to Thomas Middleditch and Bradley Whitford, with Middleditch stuck in a role that’s clearly out of his element while Whitford is forced into doing his worst Rick and Morty impression.

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Millie Bobby Brown and Vera Farmiga in Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) – source: Warner Bros. Pictures

The drama is supposed to come from the tortured family dynamic of Chandler, Farmiga, and Brown, but their mutual mourning forms a trope-ridden subplot that brings nothing new to the table. Chandler is essentially playing the square-jawed, macho hero he poked fun at in Peter Jackson’s King Kong, while Farmiga is reduced to acting out a less than inspired mother-driven-by-grief-because-what-else role that utilizes none of her talents. The only actor who feels capable is Brown, who is largely recapturing her Stranger Things energy here, but all she’s really given to do is point out how terrible her parents are and scream at things.

Dougherty and Warner Bros. seem less interested in the film itself and more in setting up the so-called MonsterVerse, the MCU-style franchise they’ve now envisioned for Godzilla and company. Everything here feels like a deliberate Avengers ripoff, the most egregious detail being the film turning the shadowy organization that researches the Titans, Monarch, into a militaristic S.H.I.E.L.D. copycat. Similar to Marvel’s decade-long system of set-up/payoff, the film gets off on hinting at other Titans to be revealed later. The preoccupation with world-building leaves the current monsters in the dust, with only the promise of the underwhelming fights left to save them.

King of the Monsters seems essentially designed to spit in the face of Edwards’ original vision, casting aside his work for a piece of 90s-inspired ensemble schlock that doesn’t even live up to the hype of that era’s gonzo energy. It’s a prime example of letting fanboy culture win, sacrificing smart storytelling for the more obvious, marketable choice. This could have been a film that took the eerie tone of its predecessor and ramped it up to a larger scale. Instead, we’re left with a dimwitted sequel that quiets Godzilla’s roar into a whimper.

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