Dir: Michael Dougherty
Having only seen the very first of the Japanese Godzilla series, I can’t claim to know a lot about kaiju films, but I know a terrible blockbuster when I see one. Whether it desecrates its sources or does full justice to them, on its own merits Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a giant-sized, nuclear fire breathing catastrophe.
The 2014 reboot of Godzilla was an attempt to reclaim the English language interpretation of the monster franchise from the godawful silliness of Roland Emmerich’s 1998 take. In its favour, it had a decent cast and an admirable attempt to treat the idea seriously. On the other hand, it was only barely a Godzilla film, focusing most of its attention on underdeveloped human characters and consistently cutting away from the monster fights (which were generally viewed from a distance and through a hazy picture). These issues were all raised and it looked from the trailers as though King of the Monsters was going to see the filmmakers throwing up their hands, copping to their mistakes and performing a course correction. Never believe trailers.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is essentially a doubling down on every single thing about the 2014 film. Exceptional cast: Check. We’ve got Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Bradley Whitford and a ridiculous cast list besides. Now, can we find them a script even stupider, with characters even less worth caring about than last time? You bet we can. Intelligence may not always be the first thing one looks for in a blockbuster screenplay, but King of the Monsters writing is thunderingly stupid from concept on down. For all the exposition, the plot couldn't matter less (which Is why I've not offered the usual summary). The character motivations seldom make sense, the science, even within the world of the film, seems bafflingly nonsensical and the dialogue is abysmal be it raw exposition or ‘character’ based. Still, who cares about the humans? We’re here for the monsters. If only the film were too. Not only is the vast bulk of the 131 minute running time given over to the by turns tedious and cloying human stories, when the film does deliver on the promise of its monsters it is, once again, pitifully underwhelming.
There is a certain charm to the shonky practical effects of the Japanese Kaiju films, they may not be convincing, but they are physically real and thus they have presence that CGI never quite manages, but that’s far from the biggest issue at play here. I can’t speak to whether the designs of the various monsters stick close to their original looks, but they are largely fairly grey and dull. Godzilla himself is the biggest problem in this respect; until he lights up with his blue fire, he’s a greyish brown pile of pixels that lumbers across the screen. If anything he looks worse on the few occasions the film cuts in close to him, with facial design that makes it appear as though he’s always squinting, which isn’t the most intimidating look for a monster.
As well as them often looking bad, the film uses the monsters poorly. Director Michael Dougherty continues the tactic of Gareth Edwards’ 2014 film in that he frequently cuts away from the monster battles just as they threaten to be fun, returning us to ground level and the dullard humans we’re supposedly invested in. The few extended battles that are allowed to play out are often tough to see, with darkness, wind, rain, debris and dust amounting to a haze of digital noise that we have to peer through to figure out what we’re watching. Add this to the lack of any presence - in terms of character or physicality - behind the monsters and what these sections of the film amount to is watching someone play an advanced videogame in a thunderstorm.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a criminally wasteful film, handed a hugely talented cast and an estimated $200 million budget only to do nothing with it other than loudly announce its own colossally pointless existence.