“Godzilla: King of Monsters” is also king of boring action
Making a movie is hard work. Making a monster movie is even harder. Making a good monster movie may be one of the hardest things to pull off in Hollywood.
Godzilla returns to theaters this weekend in “Godzilla: King of Monsters,” a follow up to its 2014 predecessor and the connector to next year’s already filmed “Godzilla vs Kong,” effectively making a “MonsterVerse.”
Following the events of “Godzilla” (2014), the sequel shifts focus to the Russell family, who lost a son due to the attacks that occurred in the last film. Emma (Vera Farmiga) coped with the loss by investing herself in her work at Monarch—for all intents and purposes, it’s the monster corporation led by Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe). She’s still with her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), but her now ex-husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) lives on his own and has not been in contact with them for over three years. Following the awakening of another monster, Emma and her family find themselves square in the middle of a massive monster fight that could determine the fate of humankind.
Five years ago, the reboot was helmed by Gareth Edwards, who used one simple technique to make the film’s titular beast effective: restraint. Everytime the audience got a glimpse of the kaiju, it was for fleeting seconds and always from a human perspective to best display the pure terror civilians feel and transport audience members as if they were in the battle scene. This technique was used over and over, to instill fear and to remind us of the sheer size and weight of the onscreen wrecking balls, embodying our—quite literally—biggest fears of disaster. Some enjoyed Edwards’s stylistic decisions, others saw the moves as dull and hamstrung the film’s ability to showcase its monster.
Suffice to say from the new film’s marketing strategy, there is no restraint here. Only loud, bombastic CGI dragons, lizards and pterodactyls bashing into one another. Not to say the previous installment was an intelligent masterpiece with a lot to say, but it did utilize its framework of a monster movie well, making Godzilla interesting for a short two hours. “King of Monsters” is chock-full of CGI creations, nearly all from existing ‘Zilla lore, and the film does an honest job of paying homage to original works, utilizing key plot points well as careful references to Ishirō Honda’s “Gojira” (1954).
However, the film is hampered by a concussive plot that bounces characters from continent to continent, wrapping character intentions into a messy knot that never quite makes sense, no matter how hard you try to unravel it. That said, the battles are clear as day to see and happen often, yet none are memorable. There isn’t much of an attempt at unique set-piece construction, such as the HALO drop sequence; instead, we are left with the rudimentary action of a late period “Jurassic Park” film and the poor plotting of a typical Hollywood action flick.
Brown does shine in her scenes however, showcasing her great range, and, while it’s not totally her fault, Farmiga’s character comes off feeling very 2-D and almost cartoonish at times. There is a level of self-awareness that waxes and wanes from character to character, at times the film can feel on the verge of campy but it can lose all levity and go to a level of laughable seriousness at the drop of a hat.
The writer/director Michael Dougherty’s attempt at integrating some thematic material into the context of monsters biting at each other’s throats is shown through Chandler, who does his best, but it falls flat on its face as its rushed pacing and globetrotting doesn’t give characters much chance to think or talk about anything unrelated to describing what the monsters are up to.
It’s hard to craft a well-written story based around monsters—that has been proven long ago— but what 2014’s crack at the Japanese monster did well was present him as a force, not necessarily a character. Dougherty’s vision sees him fully as a character, and one whose intentions are narrated at every turn by someone behind a computer.
All of the flaws in “Godzilla: King of Monsters” are too revealing and feel self-inflicted, causing a movie that had potential to be an entertaining entry to the monster film genre to topple over itself.
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