Godzilla is one of those movie creatures who will never truly die. First dreamed up in Japan in 1954 at the height of the Atomic Age, the nuclear-powered monster has unleashed destruction in more than 30 Japanese productions and three American productions, including the new Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
Taking place five years after the events in 2014’s Godzilla, the basic gist of the film is that a group named Monarch is tasked with studying and keeping at bay the group of 17 monsters that have been found around the globe. A rival group believes the monsters should be released, letting “nature” take its course however it may. I’ll give you one guess as to which group wins that battle.
As a result, monsters like the three-headed dragon King Ghidorah, giant moth Mothra, and pterodactyl-esque Rodan proceed to wreak havoc as only giant monsters can. It’s up to the movie’s plucky group of humans to bring an end to the havoc, and this time they’ll need the help of Godzilla in order to do so.
No one goes into a Godzilla movie expecting high art, but it’s still stunning how incoherent the movie truly is. The plot, such as it is, devolves into a rambling mess almost from minute one. That leaves the epic clashes between the monsters to carry the day, but even those are just a mish-mash of special effects where it’s next to impossible to tell what’s going on until the battle is over.
One of the only things keeping the film afloat is the general watchability of its laundry list of movie stars. The cast, which has five Oscar nominations among them, includes Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., Anthony Ramos, and David Straithairn. All of them deserve better than the material they’re performing, but each of them also elevates it in one way or another.
Points do go to the filmmakers, led by writer/director Michael Dougherty and co-writer Zach Shields, for keeping the visible human death toll to a minimum. Action films too often wantonly destroy cities with seemingly no regard for the thousands of deaths that destruction would cause. In this film, two of the biggest scenes take place in Antarctica and in the middle of the ocean, taking humans mostly out of the equation.
Fun could also be had in watching the film by playing a “spot the reference” game. Only four monsters are truly showcased, but Godzilla superfans will no doubt relish either the appearances or allusions to other monsters from the franchise’s history. There are also a handful of references to Skull Island, which harkens back to 2017’s Kong: Skull Island and also hints at what’s to come in the already-forthcoming sequel, 2020’s Godzilla vs. Kong.
It’s difficult to know what could make Godzilla: King of the Monsters a truly enjoyable film, but a start would be to focus on what everyone wants to see — the monsters — and leave the tricky plot mechanics for pretty much any other movie.