If there was an overriding complaint with Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla reboot, it was a surprising lack of screen time for its titular mutant lizard — the director’s admirable attempt at restraint instead resulting in a Godzilla film that barely featured any, well, Godzilla. Krampus director Michael Dougherty’s sequel, Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, feels like a direct address to that issue, introducing more of Toho’s classic creatures — from Mothra and Rodan, to three-headed dragon King Ghidorah — for the big guy to brawl. But while it isn’t lacking for behemothic beasts, the latest entry in the MonsterVerse suffers in nearly every other conceivable way.
While the film promises plenty more monsters, it’s clogged up with a bafflingly large cast of humans. Doctors Mark and Emma Russell (Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga) are the creators of the Orca, a MacGuffin able to signal the ancient monster ‘Titans’, and are tied to nebulous monster organisation Monarch — the MonsterVerse equivalent of S.H.I.E.L.D. — whose interest in the tech sparks a fresh outburst of creature activity. Enter a swathe of Monarch associates: Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins returning from the previous film to establish connective tissue; Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch to fumble awkwardly; Bradley Whitford to dispense zany quips; Zhang Ziyi to stereotypically intone about ancient myths; Aisha Hinds to dispense orders to O’Shea Jackson Jr and Anthony Ramos’ soldiers. Also along for the ride is Millie Bobby Brown as the Russells’ long-suffering daughter Madison, while Charles Dance pops up sporadically as an eco-terrorist-cum-monster-DNA-trafficker. You won’t know why most of them are there, or care a jot what happens to any of them.
An overload of repetitive, joyless destruction that mistakes volume and demolition for actual excitement.
That’s because the staggeringly poor script merely has everyone standing around and explaining the plot and their personal motivations to one another in dialogue so clichéd that it goes far beyond winking B-movie pastiche. When characters aren’t spouting dramatically inert Monarch-centric exposition that only exists to establish Wikipedia-dump franchise lore, they’re somehow mysteriously guessing Godzilla’s own intentions. And yet what little character traits are established are inconsistent and routinely ignored — grieving father Mark is set up as monster-phobic one minute, but has everyone chase after Godzilla the next. There’s no human spark to any of them, nobody to truly root for.
All of which would be more forgivable if the monster mash-ups satisfied — but they too disappoint. For the most part the action sequences are lost in shaky cameras and jittery editing, with the first key set-piece taking place in a storm that renders everything genuinely incoherent. When the final smackdown between Godzilla and Ghidorah comes, the result is an overload of repetitive, joyless destruction that mistakes volume and demolition for actual excitement. The scale of the monster fights is so unengagingly huge that an attempt at a human-level story amid the carnage in the final reel feels almost laughably inconsequential — it’s a gulf that the film cannot reconcile. Despite fleeting moments of beauty, King Of The Monsters largely fails to conjure any sense of awe about its creatures, with the sole exception of the ethereal Mothra.
What you’re left with is a catastrophically dumb, thunderously boring blockbuster as numbing and unsatisfying as the worst Transformers movies — even one hilariously nutty sub-aquatic development can’t liven things up. Despite the occasional fan-pleasing plot nod to the original 1954 Godzilla, King Of The Monsters has a glib attitude to nuclear weapons that feels particularly galling considering the creature’s infamous H-bomb subtext, with a seemingly nihilistic outlook that revels in the razing of civilisation and casts the one person concerned about global warming as a crazed radical scientist. King Of The Monsters should be monster fun — instead, it’s a bit of a monstrosity.