As we plunge deep into summer blockbuster season, deciding whether or not to shell out for another huge screen spectacle can be a challenge. In the case of “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” perhaps a questionnaire can help. Do you mostly enjoy Godzilla movies for the human drama that happens around the feet of the giant monster fights? Do you agree with the worldview of Thanos from “Avengers: Infinity War”? Would you like to see Gojira crunch Fenway Park into smithereens? Would you say your reaction to Bradley Whitford shouting “Serizawa got that lizard JUICED up!” is positive, negative or neutral? If you answered “yes” or “positive” to most of these questions, the monster mash splash “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” could be the blockbuster for you.
“King of the Monsters” might not be for you if kaiju battles are the main appeal of Godzilla movies. The last 30 minutes of this two-hour, 12-minute film has plenty of giant lizards noisily throwing themselves through skyscrapers (shrieking all the way). But the film prioritizes the human-scale stuff as a war of the wills breaks out in the wake of the 2014 attacks (and film).
Directed by Michael Dougherty, written by Dougherty, Zach Shields and Max Borenstein, the film introduces us to a family who lost a son in the events and has since splintered along ideological lines. Mark (Kyle Chandler) has a “nuke ’em all” approach, while his estranged wife Emma (Vera Farmiga) wants to use an audio wave device called Orca to control the Titans (as they are called). Their daughter, Maddie (Millie Bobby Brown), is caught in the middle. Emma might preach coexistence and compassion, but no one realizes how extreme her beliefs have become until she teams up with an eco-terrorist (Charles Dance) to restore “natural balance” to the Earth via monster rampage.
Speaking of Charles Dance, “King of the Monsters” is rife with lovable character actors, like the aforementioned Whitford, David Strathairn and even some of the younger generation like O’Shea Jackson Jr., Thomas Middleditch and Anthony Ramos. The film is absolutely stuffed with characters, monsters and locations, locations, locations. As kaiju bubble up from their hiding places below the Earth’s crust, summoned by the recently released three-headed hydra Monster Zero, we hop, skip and jump from China to Colorado to Bermuda, Antarctica, Mexico, Boston, Washington, D.C., Munich, Arizona and more. Not that any of the locations are even remotely distinguishable, visually.
Yes, “King of the Monsters” could well be called “Godzillas in the Mist” for its brownish musty aesthetic, and also for all the humans who desperately want to protect what they consider to be misunderstood creatures. Are they pestilence or prophets? Gods or germs? The humans can’t come to a consensus. Meanwhile, Gojira, Monster Zero, Rodan, Mothra, Kong and their pals are doing what Emma planned all along: thinning the human pack and destroying civilization to make room for nature to grow back.
For all the human drama that “King of the Monsters” presents, it’s incredibly emotionally flat. The dialogue is exceedingly generic, except for a few Whitford zingers, and though the film conveys the dramatic importance onto a few key exterminations of human characters, it’s the drama of the monsters that’s the most compelling. Amazingly, somehow, in an overstuffed Godzilla movie, that feels somehow scant.