Ask and you shall receive. In my 2014 review of Godzilla, I bemoaned the lack of monster scenes. The titular creature and the gigantic foes he fought played second fiddle to the human characters for much of the film. This wouldn’t have been a problem, except the human characters were incredibly dull. They were poorly characterised and poorly acted. To make matters worse, the narrative was uninteresting.
Clearly, Warner Bros. Pictures was listening. Well, sort of.
Five years later, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is here with a new director (Michael Dougherty) and a new attitude. Responding to the complaints, the film is full of monster battles.
The action is mostly entertaining. While none of the fights hit the intensity of the final battle in Godzilla, they are all engaging. This is thanks to the excellent CGI, and sometimes beautiful cinematography, by Lawrence Sher. I particularly liked how Godzilla: King of the Monsters takes the anti-Michael Bay approach to giant creature films by giving us a real close look at the action. The creatures look so detailed, they almost feel real.
While this remake has more monster battles and better visuals than its predecessor from five years ago, King of the Monsters is still narratively awful
If I have one complaint about the visuals, it’s that the creatures move too swiftly. There was something animalistic about them in Godzilla that’s missing here.
As a Godzilla nerd, I really liked the many little nods to other films in the franchise. The bits of homage add to the charm of the visuals. Many of the classic foes of Godzilla are on display here, with updated looks. This includes the giant moth-like Mothra, the fiery dragon-like Rodan and three-headed dragon King Ghidorah. But Godzilla’s most iconic foe is hinted at in the final act, setting up a WWE-like sequel.
As I said, the action is good. But it’s clear that Warner Bros. Pictures wasn’t listening to the criticism clearly, because the narrative is awful. The bad storytelling in Godzilla almost feels Shakespearean by comparison to Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
It’s hard to believe that they came up with this silliness in five years. The characterisation is one-dimensional, stupid, and frankly, nonsensical. To make matters worse, the dialog is terrible.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters has plenty of boring exposition. Characters stare at the screen and emotionlessly deliver rants. Some are laughably bad. It’s also obvious that the writers didn’t care. There are many instances where characters will randomly say something goofy and out of place, as if the writers had a bet that they could get anything past the studio.
This is a pity because there are is some real talent in the film. Unfortunately, skilled actors such as Kyle Chandler (Dr. Mark Russell), Vera Farmiga (Dr. Emma Russell) and Millie Bobby Brown (Madison Russell) have little to work with. Meanwhile, Asian talent such as Ken Watanabe (Dr. Ishirō Serizawa) and Zhang Ziyi (Dr. Chen) are little more than salad dressing.
The best Godzilla films have had some social commentary. For instance, the old Japanese films were a cautionary tale about the nuclear age. Here, there is a message about climate change, but it’s a bit too subtle considering the film’s target audience. Ultimately, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is just content to be a big dumb monster film.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of monster action violence and destruction, and some language
Published in Dawn, ICON, June 9th, 2019