Cast: Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Charles Dance. Directed by: Michael Dougherty.
It comes at almost the midway mark of Michael “Krampus” Doughtery’s smash ‘em up monster movie – the point where your ears begin to ring from the near-relentless thunder of roaring, jumping, crashing and music. This is actually an interesting flaw in the internet Twitter age, whereby audience members can pretty much live tweet their reaction to a film and the filmmakers can view it.
For those not in the know Godzilla: King of the Monsters follows the titular monster as he cuts a path through the planet as more and more Titans rise from their slumber to kick the crap out of our major cities all under the guidance of the three-headed Gidorah.
Many people had an issue with the Jaws-esque route taken by Gareth Edwards’ sombre joyless 2014 reboot of the Godzilla franchise and launchpad for the Legendary MonsterVerse. This particular MonsterVerse is one that centres on big monsters and a sinister organisation called Monarch (it’s like the Marvel World’s S.H.I.E.L.D. but instead of marshalling superheroes they follow monsters). Godzilla was barely in his own movie, reduced to a fleeting smash-and-roar thing that we follow through the eyes of a bland Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
The only moments of joy came when Ken Watanabe (who returns along with Sally Hawkins) super-seriously proclaims “let them fight”. Based on the backlash from that and Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ anime inflected Kong: Skull Island, King of the Monsters appears to be the work of fans more than filmmakers.
Both Vogt-Roberts and Edwards had a style, Edwards treated his film like a sombre exploration of man’s arrogance, and it’s inability to fathom the reach of it’s destruction, while Vogt-Roberts opted for drooling over monsters, long takes, things exploding and a sense of childish fun.
The film lacks any of the joy of Kong nor the super-serious tone of Godzilla and instead opts for glib. Each actor is given one note to play and they do that for pretty much the whole film. Kyle Chandler has to be the guy who figures it out, Vera Farmiga does crying, Charles Dance does menace, Millie Bobby Brown does clever kid, Ken Watanabe and Ziyi Zhang do talking about the environment, Thomas Middleditch does dumbling and Bradley Whitford does quips.
But it’s the environment that the film won’t shut up about. It’s about the natural order, the state of the world, what we’ve done to it and a thousand other things that big blockbusters think is a new concept. It wasn’t new when Roland Emmerich went on about climate change in 2003, it’s not new now. So Godzilla is a force for good, except as protector of people should he really be taking down buildings? After all the plane crashes on 9/11 didn’t kill half as many people as the after effects of rubble in the lungs, cancer rose in those who were near the buildings, and these are whole cities on fire. The main characters are showered in dust and debris every five minutes and yet the monsters are not our enemies?
There are flashes of brilliance, Mothra is a beautiful creation and appears to be the monster that Dougherty likes most – he should have made one about her (yes, she’s a lady), instead of throwing everything at the wall. There’s some fun flashes of universe building Ken Watanabe seriously states there are seventeen species of Titan and counting, yet we only see five? Spin-offs about them are surely being worked out. Charles Dance takes the film about as seriously as you might expect from a respected thespian like him, and while there’s some joy in seeing a three headed monster bite a giant lizard the intrusive score by Bear McCreary defeats the mounting pressure.
It also falls into the problem of trying to be a globe-trotting film instead of what works about disaster films – the humans. The best sequence, in which a city is evacuated while a volcano erupts (and a giant bird monster comes screaming out) is the sort of human level drama that the film sorely needs, but it doesn’t focus long enough to register the innocents that are being crushed.
Not to mention the murky action, it appears that despite some great special effects work Dougherty doesn’t want us to see the action too much so just when monsters v monsters there’s a blizzard, or a lightning storm, or a normal storm, or nuclear fallout, or fire, or a wave, or all of the above.
Perhaps the gorilla graveyard sequence in Skull Island was stupid, slow-motion Tom Hiddleston katana slicing flying monsters that bleed green goo while a turret opens fire on dino-creatures and then the skull of a gorilla goes boom is really dumb, but it’s also fun as hell. Here we never see the fights properly, there’s no visual flair to them, and they’re usually punctuated by someone going “oh shit” right before a jump scare – of which there are several.
It’s not that a great big film of this nature can’t be good – Skull Island is good, Avengers: Endgame ends in a massive brawl between monsters and people and it’s joyous, it’s that this film is so close to getting to something great that it misses and falls into painful and annoying. Except for Mothra, who is clearly the best thing about the film. So, perhaps the takeaway is that Mothra needs an 80s-set silly action adventure film to balance the bleak tone of this.