Despite a colossal budget and a hefty 130-minute running time, it still feels like Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King Of The Monsters is stretched a little thin. We’re not just talking about the plot here, which sends the Titan-hunting Monarch team and always-at-11 angry dad Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) racing around the globe to get his kidnapped family back and, arguably more importantly, stop Charles Dance’s villain from unleashing a legion of slumbering monsters.
No, one of the biggest issues is that it seems to be serving too many masters, racing to satisfy too many needs. On a superficial level, this seems to be a direct response to the “not enough monsters” criticism of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (a film this reviewer loved). Much like Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island, KOTM delivers massive action sequences, kaiju battles and endless glorying in the sheer gigantic majesty of these creatures. With Dougherty’s love of all things with sharp teeth firmly established in Trick R Treat and Krampus it’s not surprising that the film soars when the beasts are unleashed. Each glorious silhouette, each thundering arrival out of the storm, each seat-rattling roar…if you’re a monster movie fan these moments should put a grin on your face.
However, while the filmmakers don’t completely abandon Edwards’ shoot-from-the-street visual style and there is a real effort made to include the core environmental message of the Toho originals, the human element is muddled by another over-packed cast which doesn’t have Skull Island’s ‘Nam movie aesthetic to disappear into and a script that seems to, if not resent its human characters, then at least behave like their neglectful babysitter.
You could pick pretty much any actor out of the ensemble and correctly describe them as under-utilised: O’Shea Jackson Jr, Zhang Ziyi, Dance, Thomas Middleditch, and especially Sally Hawkins, who has more screen-time this time around but is somehow harder done by. Bradley Whitford is too much of a pro to allow all his crackpot scientist’s comedy moments to miss the mark and Ken Watanabe’s tireless work lending gravitas is essential, but the splintered Russell family is supposed to be the film’s anchor.
Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown are capable of working with limited materials but they are actively undermined by woeful dialogue and dull characterisation. When Brown gets a chance to shine in the final act you can’t help but wonder what the point of Chandler’s character was in the first place.
With the human element so lacking, many viewers may find the actively daft plot something of an uphill struggle. It’s all too spoilery to go into too much detail here but it’s worth noting that many of the more ludicrous ideas come directly from previous Toho movies and some are so fantastically left-field that they’re just as likely to prompt a delighted giggle as they are an exhausted eye-roll.
And when it comes down to it, the script is a delivery system for the set-pieces which, as previously mentioned, are mostly pretty great. As much as Dougherty enjoys showing off the size of these creatures, he can also make them scary up close. Rodan’s big attack is genuinely intense, Ghidorah is both nightmarish and the subject of a Three Stooges reference, Mothra is beautiful and deadly, and although Gojira himself is kept on the bench for surprisingly long stretches of the film, there’s nothing quite like the way he makes an entrance.
This isn’t the sequel we were hoping for but King Of The Monsters delivers where it absolutely needs to. It certainly is stupid and yes, the characters are far less interesting than the monsters, but it’s also giant escapist fun and a gleeful showcase for some wonderful monsters. It’s hard to judge the film too harshly when the kaiju gave us so much joy.