It’s nice to occasionally shut off your brain and just enjoy a pure popcorn flick. A few plot holes and inconsistencies here and there are excusable, as long as the film plays by its own rules and doesn’t insult the intelligence of its audience. The John Wick and Mission Impossible franchises are great examples of this. With a title like “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” you’d think it would satisfy the brainless-popcorn-genre, but sadly completely misses the mark. With a $200million budget, a great cast, and a legacy that stretches back 65 years, it shouldn’t be that hard to craft a fun, memorable, monster-mashup movie.
2017’s “Kong: Skull Island,” second in the series, but first chronologically, showed how it could be done. Even though Kong’s appearance on screen was limited, there was no shortage of creative creatures, unique kills, and interesting (if unlikely) characters. Even the cheesy humor worked, as it all existed within the world. When John C. Reily would make a humorous statement, it made sense in context to who is character was and what the group was experiencing. Instead of following the example provided by “Skull Island,” the screenplay for “King of the Monsters,” penned by Zach Shields and Director Michael Dougherty instead tries to reinvent the wheel. The script takes itself far too seriously and then struggles with shoehorning in melodramatic motivations for the various pro/antagonists. It also tries very hard to retcon the Russel family into the 2014 “Godzilla” film. So many references are made to their involvement in that story, that even I started to believe that they were actually in the previous movie. (They’re not.)
Five years ago, Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) and his wife Emma (Vera Farmiga) were both employees of MONARCH, the secret Government Organization tasked with studying MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms). Even though they were apparently high up in the organization, and should have known Godzilla was on his way to San Fransisco, they didn’t leave the city or take refuge in any of MONARCH’s bunkers. When they lost their son in the attack, they blamed the big lizard entirely. Mark quickly indulged in alcoholism and ran off to Colorado to study wolves, happily wallowing in blame. Emma was left to raise their surviving daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), who has trouble reconciling which of her dumb parents she cares for more.
Emma has remained at MONARCH over the past 5 years, working on a visually impressive, yet incredibly impractical BioAccoustic device, that should be able to control the MUTOs. As the movie progresses, we quickly realize that her super-cool machine dubbed the ORCA, which Mark insists “shouldn’t exist” does little more than playback sounds. Sometimes it has speakers of its own, sometimes it uses a jack to plug into larger speakers, but in reality, it could have easily been replaced with a laptop or iPod. Once you realize the MacGuffin that BioTerroist Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) is after could have been replaced with an MP3 file, it really takes the urgency out of everything.
That’s all padding for what the movie is really supposed to be about: Giant Monsters we’ve loved since the ’50s and ’60s duking it out, larger and louder than we’ve ever witnessed before. Marketing has made sure we know our favorites such as Mothra, Rodan, and Godira are appearing! At times, the movie almost delivers. The sound design is excellent, especially in notable in IMAX Theaters. Even the creature design is the right mix of modernized nostalgia. With a runtime of over 2 hours, there should be plenty of Kaiju Combat, but time and again, their battles are abbreviated in lieu of extended sequences of the Russell’s airing their dirty laundry to literally everyone. There are a few highly enjoyable moments and shots during the battles, particularly ones that Rodan is a part of, but too often the action is too dark, too shaky, or too murky to make out what’s going on. (A popular trick for hiding poor CGI) Even the best moments are marred by grossly inaccurate misrepresentations of physics and radiation. It’s not that a monster movie needs to be accurate, but hearing an emphatic speech about how “Radiation causes new life and vegetation to flourish!” sounds a bit too much like a Chernobyl press release. Again, it’s OK for a movie to be silly, or self-referential, but you can’t have a former Game of Thrones king deliver lines like “Long live the king!” without even so much as a wink.
When a movie sticks in your mind for days afterward, it’s usually a sign that it was a good film. But in the case of “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” every day it unravels a bit more. The behavior of certain characters, and the knowledge of others, completely falls apart in retrospect. There are indications that it was butchered during the editing process, but judging from what remains in the movie, what was left on the editing room floor is far more terrifying than any monster.
Fun Fact: I didn’t realize until two days after the screening that Ziyi Zhang plays two different characters! (Apparently sisters, but with different last names, and no sign of a husband?)
Godzilla: King of the Monsters