Godzilla: King of the Monsters is directed by Michael Dougherty and stars Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Vera Farmiga, Zhang Ziyi, Sally Hawkins, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Thomas Middleditch, Charles Dance, Ken Watanabe, and Bradley Whitford.
Set five years after the events of 2014’s Godzilla, the story follows the ongoing affairs of Monarch, an international crypto-zoological organization responsible for the capture and detainment of Titans, the massive and ancient creatures of mythology, such as Godzilla. After a series of international incidents release three of the most deadly Titans on Earth, Godzilla must rise again to face off against Mothra, Rodan, and his three-headed nemesis King Ghidorah. With humanity on the verge of extinction, the ultimate clash ensues to determine the one true King of the Monsters.
After a long and rather shaky history on the big screen, it’s no secret that after all these years, many audiences desperately want a solid Godzilla flick they can enjoy. However, the inherent problem with this idea lies within the fact that the parameters of a “good” Godzilla movie (or monster movie in general, for that matter) are different things for different people.
Oftentimes, people buy a ticket to a Godzilla movie to see exactly that: Godzilla. Plot and characters are virtually ignored in servitude to big, loud, destructive action setpieces that thrill moviegoers and fill people with adrenaline. Those seeking more intricate and well-built stories and characters are more often than not disappointed, but do occasionally find bits and pieces to love. In an attempt to accomplish the seemingly impossible, King of the Monsters tries to be both of these things, only succeeds at being one, and is, therefore, a complete disaster.
Even with 300-foot monsters laying waste to cities in monumental clashes, the most overtly destructive element that King of the Monsters wields is a laughably ridiculous sense of narrative ambition, shooting for beyond the stars and missing wildly every single time. At no point during this film’s 132-minute runtime does it offer anything remotely compelling or interesting in terms of its narrative, and is never once aware of how pretentiously ridiculous its script and characters are. Co-writers Dougherty and Zach Shields attempt to imbue the film’s most bizarrely-written moments with “serious” doses of modern themes and conflicts, such as overpopulation, human nature, evolution, and climate change, making for one of the most unfocused and pretentious stories I’ve seen in quite a while. And while I understand that not everyone is going to see a Godzilla movie for the story, characters, or performances, the attempts that this film makes to be more profound than it’s capable of being are too ridiculously inflated to ignore.
This film also drags on for what feels like forever. Nothing resembling a constant sense of pacing can be found anywhere within the film’s three acts, which are overstuffed with too many unnecessary B-plots and undeserved character moments to count. Conversely, this film also feels far too short for any of said B-plots to find any kind of resolution or finality, which is profoundly frustrating to witness again and again as the film’s two hours unfold. This film is paced and balanced like a big, paradoxical mess that has no real sense of urgency or course of direction.
The cast is anywhere from serviceable to outright terrible, with the only real standouts to me being Brown, Watanabe, and Jackson Jr. (who, for the record, drops the most fantastic PG-13 F-Bomb I’ve ever seen right around the middle of the film). Other characters in the flick suffer under the abhorrently terrible writing, and therefore have character arcs with no real sense of direction or payoff by the finale, particularly in the case of Vera Farmiga’s character.
A common critique of monster/disaster films, such as the Godzilla franchise or 2017’s Kong: Skull Island (which yes, takes place in this film’s universe), is that too much narrative emphasis is given to the human characters within the film’s world, and not the titular monsters that many audiences pay to see. And while normally I’d like to argue for equal screen time between both, I can’t say that’s really the case this time around. Quite frankly, the only place where King of the Monsters ever succeeds (and succeeds quite fantastically) is within its mammoth combatants.
With such a gargantuan matchup in the making, it’s no surprise that the action in this film is phenomenal. The monstrous action is much more present in this film than in its 2014 predecessor, and the payoff of such a change radiates profusely throughout the entire flick. Some remarkably creative monster design and well-done visual effects help bring these ancient titans to life and deliver Earth-shattering and breathtaking action that is guaranteed to energize moviegoers everywhere.
During these action sequences, King of the Monsters fully embraces its wild and destructive nature, committing to being a mindlessly fun action romp and achieving its potential in the best way, even if only for a majority of the third act. Despite the laundry list of problems this movie carries with it tonally and narratively, I’d absolutely argue that this film is worth the price of a one-time watch in 3D or IMAX, if you can. The action is truly the star of the show and is far and beyond one of the only things this movie has going for it.
This film, to its credit, also has some breathtaking cinematography, especially in terms of the way the various monsters are framed and filmed. Cinematographer Lawrence Sher deserves the highest marks for the many jaw-dropping moments he manages to create, full of vibrant color and insanely gorgeous imagery. Long, drawn-out wide takes for the sake of illustrating the towering size and scale of the film’s monsters serve as some of the most frighteningly astonishing I’ve seen in a monster film, and make me intoxicatingly excited for Sher’s future work in Joker come October.
When all is said and done, Godzilla: King of the Monsters will ultimately serve as a cinematic litmus test to determine whether or not these types of films are for you. Audiences seeking a compelling story and dynamic characters will ultimately find nothing so much as resembling that, while die-hard Godzilla fans and moviegoers looking for thrills will have a blast with all the gleefully rambunctious action this film has to offer (which, truthfully, is the only reason I’m not giving this movie an F). I’m gonna give Godzilla: King of the Monsters a D+.
This review and its content were edited by Kayla Randolph, Chief Editor at Reel Thoughts.