“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” Movie Review


     One of the most difficult tasks in cinema is to mold a story that is centered around a voiceless creature and create meaningful character arcs for the human characters who will be featured in nearly every scene.  An obvious example of success within this realm is Ridley Scott’s “Alien” (1979) and James Cameron’s “Aliens” (1986), both of which succeeded in introducing us to human characters who were every bit as memorable as the xenomorph itself.  And that is essentially where “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” falters, as writer/director Michael Dougherty brings together a collection of mostly character actors, many of which you will recognize but may not remember where, who add up to nothing more than fodder for the main attraction.

     “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is part of the ongoing monster universe that Warner Bros. hopes will flourish into a successful franchise along the lines of what Marvel has done by creating a series of films that feature these various titans as they make their way to eventual showdowns.  What the humans in these films do seems to be inconsequential.  That much was obvious in the initial entry to the series, 2014’s “Godzilla”, as well as the follow up, 2017’s “Kong: Skull Island”, though that film benefitted greatly from Samuel L. Jackson riffing on his “Snakes on a Plane” persona, making the experience actually fun.  In “King of the Monsters”, we’re left with Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga trying to make sense of a “Twister” like backstory in which both of their characters study creatures like Godzilla, but their relationship has gone off the rails, leaving them separated with a child caught in the middle.  It’s all really a bore.  After all, you didn’t see any of this in the trailer did you?

     If there’s one reason Godzilla has been featured for decades in numerous films made around the globe, it’s because the big screen is the preferred medium for the depiction of giant monsters battling it out amongst the skyscrapers as millions of helpless people run for their lives.  And there is plenty of that to be seen in this entry, as fan favorites Mothra and Rodan are featured along with the three headed dragon, King Ghidorah, in an all out war centered around a theory they were put here to rid the world of the human population who to date has not been treating Mother Earth to kindly.  Environmentalists may be pleased, but much of this is thinly plotted and utilized only to create scenarios for the monsters to tear apart another city.  When a character dies, it doesn’t really register at all.

     Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) and his estranged wife, Emma (Vera Farmiga), are scientists who were pulled into the study of these mythical creatures by Monarch, the private agency tasked with learning about them.  As with all of these storylines, the government has stepped in and seeks to control the direction of these studies, while the scientists object.  Mark has removed himself completely, but Emma remains and solicits the services of a known terrorist, Jonah (Charles Dance), to ensure her agenda continues, though her own reasoning should certainly be questioned.  The Russell’s have a daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), who figures into all of this, but you could remove her character all together and still have the same film.  There’s nothing impactful any of the human characters accomplish which at any point changes the course of the story,  leaving actors like Sally Hawkins, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ken Watanabe, and Ziyi Zhang with nothing much to do but enjoy their paychecks.

     The army of CGI artists at Dougherty’s disposal deliver several impressive action sequences which serve as the foundation of the film.  Godzilla himself seems like old news when introductory sequences for King Ghidorah, Rodan, and Mothra are full of color and awe inspiring imagery, leaving the film’s namesake as appearing drab and boring.  And even though we’ve seen plenty of big city destructive monster mayhem in both the “Transformers” series and the recent pair of “Pacific Rim” films, not to mention the events in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”,  Dougherty still manages a number of impressive wide shots that give the audience a harrowing look at the size of these monsters just as they charge each other and all hell inevitably breaks loose.

     The question the decision makers will ultimately need to ask themselves is does “King of the Monsters” create enough excitement to justify having a post credits scene teasing more to come?  For his part, Dougherty is again providing the screenplay to the upcoming “Godzilla vs. Kong” (March, 2020), giving way to horror film director Adam Wingard who takes over helming duties.  Somehow, the foundation of this universe has to be supported by human characters who have real stakes in the plot, rather than spending the majority of time running for their lives as buildings fall around them.  “King of the Monsters” establishes a true threat in these massive titans located all around the world, but what’s missing is a clear defining role as to the part  humans play in all of this?  Will there ever be a Ripley among the group? The longevity of the series likely depends on it.  GRADE: C-