Review by C.J. Bunce
When you have made as many movies as have been in the Godzilla franchise (31, more than James Bond movies), you run the risk of making a sequel or reboot that ends up like Independence Day: Resurgence, or Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, or Man of Steel, or Alien: Covenant. For some moviegoers, a quick fix with lots of CGI in one of their favorite universes is good enough. Godzilla: King of the Monsters has many things in common with these movies, without quite being as good as any of them, or Godzillas of the past. Inasmuch as moviegoers will see the great effort taken to be faithful to its predecessors, by bringing more than just Godzilla to the picture, by bringing in a significant number of character actors that will be familiar to audiences, and by trying to create more spectacular visuals than came before, the latest Godzilla movie, opening today, doesn’t match either the monster mayhem or the humor of its 20th century predecessors.
Stuffed with every over-used creature and action trope, some used repeatedly, Godzilla: King of the Monsters suffers from taking itself too seriously. Its single attempt at levity is Get Out’s Bradley Whitford as a wise-cracking scientist who seems to be channeling Brent Spiner in the Independence Day movies. But beyond that, this is a family drama, more talk and human family in-fighting than Godzilla screen-time, between Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown as Madison and her separated parents played by Kyle Chandler (Super 8) and Vera Farmiga (The Commuter) (in that way it suffers the flaws of the 2014 Godzilla). For some credibility we get Oscar-nominated actor Ken Watanabe (Isle of Dogs, The Last Samurai, Batman Begins) to remind us of the creature’s 65 years as a Japanese kaijū icon. Other than that, the production skipped Japanese actors for this installment. The best character and performance comes from Charles Dance (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Bleak House, Gosford Park), who plays a terrorist. His character is the lone voice who speaks sense in a film that only makes sense if you also believe ocean drillers are the best choice to pilot a space shuttle to save the world from an oncoming asteroid. Armageddon, War of the Worlds, Cloverfield, The Day After Tomorrow, Pacific Rim and every other disaster movie is rolled up into a single package here. Direction and decisions are all over the place. Even in a crazy, kooky, over-the-top monster movie, audiences deserve a plot with a foundation with a smidge of reality, especially if the talking heads scenes get equal time with the clashing creatures. So if you decide to see Godzilla: King of the Monsters in the theater, you’ll need to throw all logic and reason aside and try to enjoy the ride.
Although this wasn’t clear in the trailers, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is more than another franchise installment, it’s a direct sequel to Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla movie. Five years later the world is learning how to live as 17 titans (monsters like Godzilla) surface across the globe. Watanabe joins other returning cast members, including Oscar-nominated actress Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water, Blue Jasmine, Layer Cake), Oscar-nominated actor David Strathairn (Sneakers, The Firm, Eight Men Out, Memphis Belle), as they attempt to cause the titans to join forces in support of Godzilla instead of his three-headed dragon competition Ghidorah. The best of the encounters finds the flying Rodan taking on a convoy of jet fighters, in a sweeping, well-choreographed scene that you’d expect from a Godzilla movie, although this scene and the rest of the monster scenes are mostly fuzzy and don’t make the most of high-definition camera capabilities or CGI.
Brown gets her first taste of a big-budget film franchise role, and fans of Chandler and Farmiga will find their characters similar to characters they have played before (heroic father and off-kilter mother), but with weaker dialogue. Other (under-utilized) actors in Godzilla: King of the Monsters include Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang (The Cloverfield Paradox, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Aisha Hinds (Star Trek Into Darkness, Dollhouse, Assault on Precinct 13), CCH Pounder (Warehouse 13, The Shield, Hill Street Blues), and Joe Morton (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Paycheck, Justice League) as members of the coalition trying to save the world. The film is written and directed by X-Men: Apocalypse screenplay writer Michael Dougherty, probably the worst of the X-Men movies.
Despite seemingly high stakes–the end of mankind–there never are consequences for choices or actions by the humans. No morality, loss of life via collateral damage is an afterthought as in Man of Steel. Every time a character or creature is in jeopardy, the film opts for a bigger fish to swoop in to save the day. The human toll and environmental damage (lots of nukes and other risky experimental tools of destruction) are ignored, when the express point of the humans’ actions is to save humanity and the planet.
Much of the special effects include tech gadgets and futuristic military sets, but Godzilla shows no improvement from past costumed versions. As mentioned above, Rodan looks great in flight, and a nicely designed and brightly lit Mothra is an improvement of past designs. The only rub there is upon first seeing a mile-high flying bug would every character’s first instinct be to describe its beauty, instead of running screaming from the room?
The audience for this film is not kids–the intense destruction and violence will scare most little ones–so older fans of prior Godzilla films (or just fans of loud explosions and mass destruction) are probably the intended target. For them re-watching an old dubbed Godzilla kaiju classic is probably time better spent. But if you like this movie, then you’ll love that the finale is a set-up for a sequel, Godzilla vs. Kong, already in post-production, with Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler returning.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is in wide release in theaters beginning today.