If Gareth Edwards’ 2014 rendition of Godzilla seemed like a tease, director Michael Dougherty’s whack at the classic giant monster goes back to basics. All the familiar and cheesy kaiju elements have returned, spruced up with a blockbuster budget. Scientists bicker over how to handle the giant monster epidemic. Many monsters run amok across the globe. An environmental aspect provides melodrama and human villains. And there’s plenty of giant monster action of notable creatures in the Godzilla lore to satisfy the seasoned fans. It’s just unfortunate that this satisfaction of the fans merely delivers a standard disaster epic, cliche lines and all.
Five years after the events of the previous American Godzilla movie, the Monarch organization has had some time to iron out a defense against Godzilla and other giant monsters lying dormant. Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) has developed a new auditory bait of sorts to control the monsters of the planet. While Monarch continues to convince the government that humans and giant monsters can co-exist, a band of environmental terrorists believe that the monsters deserve to have the planet back. Their motives are fairly standard of the villains that want to smash the reset button on humanity to wipe away the filth of mankind to bring nature back. Charles Dance plays the evil villain of the group and Kyle Chandler is the ex-Monarch scientist who takes to stopping these guys when his family is on the line.
While King of the Monsters does have less confounding characters this time around, they’re really only more interesting in that there’s so much going on we don’t have time to embrace much of the melodrama. There’s once more a family dynamic of loss and betrayal that is mostly relegated longing shots and brief bouts of feuds about how to proceed. Millie Bobby Brown is the emotional kid caught up in all this that does a decent job fulfilling the flee and scream quota of the chaos surrounding him. Other actors are cast for standard and small roles; Bradley Whitford provides minor comic relief and Sally Hawkins fulfills the role of a sensitive paleozoologist that appears as though she can sense the heartbeat of creatures with a mere wave of her hands. David Strathairn does more military talk and Ken Watanabe is back once again as the sympathetic voice of reason in trying to understand Godzilla.
The human story has enough going on to keep the plot going but sadly falls back into the tired croutons of the kaiju salad. Don’t worry; there’s more action present than in the previous film, featuring plenty of big matches showcasing Godzilla versus King Ghidorah and Mothra versus Rodan. Just don’t expect too much more past an explosive climax. That teasing element still lingers considering Watanabe at one point mentions there are seventeen giant monsters and counting bringing havoc across the globe. If you’re hoping to see all of them and that they’ll all be familiar monsters, you may be out of luck.
It’s unfortunate to find that King of the Monsters presents itself as more of an acceptable entry in the Godzilla franchise than a more unique one. While there’s more going on, the film often gets so lost in its tossing around of monsters, humans, and tactics that there’s a sloppy sensations when strategies come out of left field and characters put in the bare minimum of what’s required of them in the film, some left lingering for future films. It’s easy to sense there’s a building here of a franchise for the long haul, but the only knowing sensation the film presents for the future is that the roster will expand. Compare this to the like of Toho’s more engaging and invigorating Shin Godzilla and the American version is starting to look a little more watered down than the superior Japanese product. But, hey, Toho never did a film where Godzilla seemed to eat a kaiju nearly whole and then burp some electricity. Not a shining example of a superior Godzilla, but it’s a glimmer of originality.