3 out of 5 stars.
Exposition is an important aspect of any movie, but there can also be too much of it. “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”—the sequel to 2014’s “Godzilla”—somehow gives us both too much and too little story, choosing to spend more time with its human characters rather than its monsters, but also failing to flesh out those humans enough to allow the viewer to become more emotionally invested in their story.
But if you’ve come here primarily for kaiju fights—and who doesn’t watch a Godzilla movie with that first and foremost in your mind—then you’ve come to the right place. This film, which is directed by franchise newcomer Michael Dougherty, immediately improves on its predecessor’s severe lack of monsters by not only giving us more Godzilla, but also more creatures in general—17 overall, to be exact. Longtime Godzilla fans will recognize classic favorites like Mothra and Rodan, and we even get just a hint of Kong (you may recall that 2017’s “Kong: Skull Island” is set in the same universe, and this movie sets up their next conflict, “Godzilla vs. Kong”). But the big bad here is none other than Ghidorah, a three-headed alien who challenges Godzilla for the title of King of the Monsters by influencing the other titans to destroy Earth, as opposed to bringing balance.
The conflict between Godzilla and Ghidorah brings about some neat fight scenes throughout the movie. The creatures are brought to life using cutting edge computer animation, but Dougherty shoots the film in a way that gives the scenes more of a campy feel not unlike the original Godzilla movies. There are a lot of quick zooms right into the face of the monsters (one of them later in the film is quite frankly hysterical). In fact, Dougherty tends to move the camera around a lot, quickly zooming in and then back out again, but this is usually to divert the focus from the monster fight to another subject—and that subject is more than likely the human characters. This movie is never fully able to indulge in the camp, however, because the rest of it is played so straight.
A few familiar faces are back from the previous movie, namely Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins, who is completely wasted in these movies). But by and large the film follows a new set of characters, the Russell family. Torn apart by tragedy when Godzilla struck San Francisco in 2014, Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) works for the cryptozoologiocal organization Monarch and lives with her teenage daughter Madison (Mille Bobby Brown), while her ex-husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) left Monarch after developing a hatred for the titans. The conflict is set off when Emma and Madison are kidnapped by Colonel Alan Jonah (Charles Dance), who believes that mankind has damaged the Earth and that waking up all the titans hiding across the planet could set things right. This theme of healing the planet could have been pushed a bit further and given the story more meaning, but it just gets muddled in the conflict of interest between Emma, Mark, Jonah, and Serizawa.
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” does have some big callbacks to the original 1954 “Godzilla,” and it is fun to see how those elements are incorporated into this new story. The pounding music score fits the film well, and the special effects are good—even beautiful, at times. But we spend too much time with shallow human characters for the story to have much impact. This film, and even the ending of the previous film, have done a decent job of establishing Godzilla as a heroic figure, and through his character design and animation have made him a sympathetic character. It’s just too bad the rest of the characters don’t have as much appeal.
Runtime: 131 minutes. Rated PG-13.