Social media has already divided itself into two camps regarding Michael Dogherty’s (Krampus) follow up to Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (2014). Where you land, it seems, depends on whether or not you liked Edwards’ tension-heavy take on the classic kaiju, which was relatively restrained in its monster showcasing. For those frustrated with Edwards’ lack of monster mashing, Godzilla: King of the Monsters will be a step up.
It features a whole slew of titan sightings, laser beam battles, and general big boy mayhem from the likes of not just the titular lizard, but also a three-headed monstrosity by the name of Ghidorah, a fire pterodactyl known as Rodan, and Mothra, a giant, rather pretty-looking insect. Watching these guys throw down in rainy post-apocalyptic settings is about half the movie, while the other half is a matter of tolerating god-awful dialogue and flat emotional beats by an overpopulated cast. That any level of serious attention is given to its human characters feels like a bad joke, which should have fans of Edwards’ version reeling at Dogherty’s lame attempts to capture a semblance of the mildly compelling drama and horror of the 2014 Godzilla.
Dr. Emma (Vera Farmiga) and Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) are survivors of the San Francisco attacks from 2014, but the event has had an impact on the couple beyond the trauma of seeing giant creatures wreck their city. The movie opens with a flashback to this horrific day, marked by the death of their second child. Some years later and the two are separated, Mark an estranged wildlife photographer and Emma a scientist working for the elusive Monarch agency responsible for “titan” research and management. She also has custody of their daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), who for whatever reason she allows to tag along with her to work in a super-secure underground lair where monster studies are conducted. Shit goes down when Tywin Lannister – here known as “Jonah” (Charles Dance) – breaks into Monarch’s lair with his posse of armed underlings to kidnap Emma and Madison, along with their titan-controlling device the “Orca.”
Jonah takes the two ladies to Antarctica, where Emma is tasked with unleashing Titan X, or Ghidorah, supposedly the only other titan capable of rivaling Godzilla. And she does, after some squabbles with Monarch-recruited soldiers (amongst them two officers played by O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Aisha Hinds) and a failed reconciliation with Mark. A rather underwhelmingly executed plot twist reveals a grand scheme to unleash ALL of the titans across the globe, wreaking havoc on the planet to essentially begin a new world order that would reverse the ecological damage being done by humans.
Naturally, Godzilla is mankind’s only hope, which Edwards’ holdover Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) reminds us of time and time again (Watanabe plays one of the more lovable characters here, thanks to his childlike idolatry of the big lizard). Sam Coleman (Thomas Middleditch) is another new cast member, offering a bit of useless but serviceable comic relief as the goofy third wheel to Monarch specialists. Another wasted addition is Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Memoirs of a Geisha), who plays Dr. Ling, an anthropologist sort tasked with explaining the folklore behind each creature. Her character is of no real consequence, save for some funny quips, steely gazing, and her expository function.
As for the battle sequences – they’re big and perfectly okay. A mess of CGI backdrops make specific places like Boston or D.C. look muddled and non-specific, like a video game. All the better to appreciate the titan wars? At least Dougherty succeeds making things look epic, though the trailer already did that and perhaps hoodwinked us into thinking this new Godzilla installation might also be kind of majestic. With such a laughably inane script and admittedly cringe-worthy performances from its leads (particularly Brown and Farmiga), King of the Monsters lands far from these high expectations.