PG-13 | 2h 11min | Action, Adventure, Fantasy | 31 May 2019 (USA)
Back in 2014, director Gareth Edwards kick-started a new monster-movie franchise with the film “Godzilla.” Well, sort of. For those not keeping a tally, the 2014 film was actually a reboot of an even more mind-drubbingly awful flick: 1998’s “Godzilla.”
Looking to up the ante and go big or go home, the director of “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” makes the film a direct sequel to the 2014 “Godzilla,” as well as to “Kong: Skull Island,” 2017’s reboot of the Vietnam-era setting of the equally popular big-screen monster known as King Kong.
All of these films are tied together by a shadowy organization called Monarch, which just so happens to specialize in giant-monster research.
The problem is that the Hollywood showcasing of fractured families has seemingly been kicked into overdrive of late, and this film is no different. While there are appearances made by some of the cast and characters from the 2014 film—including monster-researching specialists Ken Watanabe (“The Last Samurai”) and Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water”)—the main focus of this latest film is on a family in crisis.
Meet the Family
The family in question is composed of doctors Mark and Emma Russell (Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga) and their introverted daughter Madison (played by “Stranger Things” star Millie Bobby Brown). The trouble began when Madison’s older brother died five years earlier, while Godzilla was duking it out with some MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms), in the 2014 film.
The boy’s death acted as a catalyst for deeper conflicts between the parents. Mark believes that all of the giant monsters must be exterminated for humanity’s survival, while Emma thinks that they can be communicated with through a special sonar device that emulates whale songs. While the estranged couple bickers, they use Madison as a human weapon against one another.
Meanwhile, Monarch has discovered that the giant monsters they’ve been studying are part of an archaic cavalcade of, well, giant monsters that predate dinosaurs. These big baddies support a Hollow Earther’s dream come true, as it’s explained by the researchers that these massive creatures can travel from one side of the Earth to the other by navigating a sprawling, inter-Earth tunnel system.
What’s interesting about “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is how the Earth’s various factions perceive the monsters. For instance, while the governments of the world collectively believe that the creatures should be tracked down to their underground lairs and blown up, Monarch views them not as “monsters” but as mighty Titans that once ruled Earth and were duly worshiped by prehistoric civilizations.
There’s another faction consisting of a gaggle of crazed eco-terrorists. Headed up by British ex-Special Forces veteran Colonel Jonah Alan (Charles Dance of “Game of Thrones” fame), this motley crew of unhinged maniacs always seems to be one step ahead of Monarch.
These eco-terrorists see Godzilla and his ilk as a sort of remedy to what they call the “human virus.” Through some rather preachy, quasi-scientific gobbledygook, audiences are treated to heavy-handed lectures about how bad humans are and why we must be exterminated in order to save the planet from destruction.
Monarch believes Alan to be a war profiteer who sells monster DNA to the highest bidder. However, it is later revealed that the eco-cult’s leader is actually a hardcore ideologue who thinks that the creatures must be awoken as quickly as possible in order to the terrorists’ objective: global genocide.
Early on in the film, Emma resonates with Alan’s nihilistic musings and is onboard with waking the slumbering monsters. In their twisted views, humanity deserves to be punished for its various “transgressions” against the Earth.
Alan plans to kidnap Emma and use her newly invented device, which acts as a dog whistle so powerful that it can awaken the biggest and most dreadful of all of the monsters: a three-headed, lightning-spewing dragon called King Ghidorah.
The main bulk of the film focuses on the rush to awaken the ultimate threat, and the counterforce—comprising Mark Russell and an army of Monarch scientists and soldiers—to stop that from happening.
Interspersed between gratuitous heapings of wooden exposition are the giant-monsters’ battles, which overall are quite impressive. Some serious monster carnage goes down once the cantankerous beasts get all stompy-stompy over major metropolitan areas, which act as mere set pieces for orange-fireball-infused mayhem and destruction.
Former low-budget horror-filmmaker Michael Dougherty (“Superman Returns,” “Krampus”) has transitioned into the big leagues with quite a bang, and these scenes are absolutely stunning under his direction. We witness gigantic winged monsters emerging from volcanoes alight with lava, lightning bursts from dragons that level entire cities, and a monster bug-bird overcoming an F-15 jet and snapping its nose clean off. This is the stuff of the wildest fantasies of an overactive mind of a prepubescent. And that’s the way a giant-monster movie should be.
It’s just unfortunate that “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is slathered with so many preachy, anti-human, and anti-family messages. Because somewhere underneath it all is a good monster flick.
‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’
Director: Michael Dougherty
Starring: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Charles Dance
Running Time: 2 hours, 12 minutes
Release Date: May 31
Rated: 3 stars out of 5