The following is a review of Godzilla II: King of the Monsters — Directed by Michael Dougherty.
I can’t say that I’m a big Godzilla expert. I’m what you would call a casual fan of the kaiju films. And when it’ll come to King Kong versus Godzilla in a few years, I’ll probably be on the side of the iconic ape. But that’s neither here nor there. I remember watching Emmerich’s Godzilla from 1998 when I was a kid (I don’t think I’ve seen it since), and I remember watching Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla from 2014 in the theater with my mother and my sister. I have no problem admitting that I was one of those people who was frustrated greatly by Edwards’ film which did, admittedly, give us these amazing visuals, but which suffered from the eponymous monster’s disappointing screen-time. With King of the Monsters, the kaiju-titan focused ‘monster-verse’ is course-correcting their approach to Godzilla, but, in doing so, they’ve unfortunately saddled a spectacular monster movie with thinly written characters and poor dialogue.
In Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla II: King of the Monsters, we follow the Russell family which was broken by the events of Gareth Edwards’ 2014 film, when Emma (played by Vera Farmiga) and Mark (played by Kyle Chandler) lost their son when buildings collapsed in San Francisco while Godzilla was defending Earth from MUTOs. Mark became resentful of Godzilla and he split from his family, which also includes their daughter, Madison (played by Millie Bobby Brown). Madison lives with her mother, who is working closely with the organization Monarch, which is focused on these monsters known primarily as ‘titans.’
When we first meet Emma and her daughter, they take part in the awakening of the kaiju Mothra. Emma oversees and controls the awakening thanks to a device known as the ‘Orca,’ which emits frequencies for titans to respond to. But before Monarch can study Mothra, the outpost is swarmed by a group of eco-terrorists — led by Colonel Alan Jonah (played by Charles Dance) — who apprehend and kidnap Emma and Madison with the hopes of using the Orca-technology to awaken several other titans. Hoping to prevent the eco-terrorists from awakening monsters that could wreak havoc on Earth, Monarch, led by both Dr. Serizawa (played by Ken Watanabe) and Mark Russell, search for Mark’s family as well as the eponymous monster who may be Earth’s only hope against such sizable kaiju foes as the three-headed monster initially known as ‘Monster Zero.’
Monster-verse films have great potential for including important symbolism, themes, and central messages. I’ve previously heard kaiju aficionados talk about what Godzilla symbolizes, what the significance of a monster awakened by nuclear damage is. So, I was intrigued by what angle Dougherty’s film would take. I was fascinated by what, if anything, he was trying to say with his kaiju film. What is fascinating about his film is the fact that the film’s villains are eco-terrorists who disapprove of what we’ve done to each other as a species and what we’ve done to our planet. The human antagonists have opinions that someone like the Marvel supervillain Thanos would agree with and that isn’t an exaggeration. Sadly, though, the human characters are so thinly drawn that whatever message Dougherty might’ve wanted to infuse the film with is ultimately jumbled.
The inclusion of, use of, and writing of the human characters really are the main problems with Godzilla II: King of the Monsters. Because even though Dougherty does make sure there is more than enough excellent — but sometimes poorly lit — kaiju-action packed into his film, he may have needed to pay more attention to character and dialogue. One of the main characters acts incredibly irrational throughout the film and his or her arc is nonsensical. There are some really silly jokes that felt out of place to me, even though I like someone like Thomas Middleditch, who was the source of much of the humor. The fun “Oh my God… Zilla!” moment from the trailers is almost cringe-worthy in the actual film. Also, numerous entertaining and capable actors like Sally Hawkins and O’Shea Jackson, Jr. are wasted in inconsequential roles.
The film just feels endless. The cutaways from sometimes indistinguishable spectacle to boring human discussions of tracking devices set in bland control rooms are, frankly, exhausting. King of the Monsters is poorly paced. I was shocked when I got out of the theater and saw that the film’s runtime was only just over two hours. It felt like a three-hour movie, to me, and, frankly, it almost put me to sleep. If it weren’t for the fact that I just love watching Ken Watanabe, many of the human sequences late in the film would’ve been barely unbearable, to me.
Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla II: King of the Monsters is a spectacularly big, but really dumb and overlong monster movie so if that is exactly what you want from these types of films, then you’ve got a big kaiju-movie meal to go through. If, however, you expect a little bit more from disaster monster movies like genuine human emotions, good dialogue, or characters who you want to see survive, then King of the Monsters probably isn’t for you. Though I enjoyed a lot of the kaiju-battles, it eventually made me feel numb and weary. But, hey, at least Mothra was amazing.
5.5 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.