“Let them fight.” A pivotal line of dialogue uttered by Ken Watanabe, as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, in Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla foretells the fate of Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King Of The Monsters. When Kaiju “Titans” engage in city-smasher “take the throne” brawls, energy blasts radiate luminescent divinity while humanity crumbles under monstrous hoofs. Dougherty’s sequel is called “King Of The Monsters” after all, servicing a promise of primitive combat between awakened giants resembling fire-breathing dragons, gargantuan glowing insects and lumbering wooly mammoths. Godzilla’s larger-than-life royal rumble rewards crowds who are hungry for “creature feature” beatdowns, but at 120+ plotted minutes, downtime will have theatergoers repeating Watanabe’s meme-famous line to themselves.
“Let them fight.” For the love of God(zilla), let them fight.
After Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island, crypto-zoological agency Monarch finds themselves under government scrutiny for attempting to keep “Titans” alive. Decorated generals want to nuke away these overpowering “threats to mankind,” while Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) reminds everyone humans weren’t first to settle Earth. Monarch preaches coexistence, containing roughly seventeen Titans globally, but an eco-terrorism faction led by Jonah Allen (Charles Dance) begins freeing the likes of Rodan, Mothra, and Godzilla’s arch-nemesis, King Ghidorah. Man must pay for their desecration of Mother Earth, and Titans are the ones to set us straight – unless Monarch, with the help of Godzilla, can topple Ghidorah’s destructive alpha reign.
When watching Kaiju movies like Pacific Rim, Cloverfield, and subsequently Godzilla, I yearn to experience microscopic insignificance. Godzilla: King Of Monsters scales sky-high combatants against Boston’s Fenway Park – crushing landmarks into rubble – or during aerial combat while fighter jets swarm alongside barrel-rolling behemoths, or splashing under oceanic waves. As teenager Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), mother Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), and estranged father Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) share unique face-to-face moments with assorted Titans, Dougherty ensures such helplessness as scaly snouts crane to ant-sized person levels. The multiplication of “monsters” only increases the seismic gravity of uncontained winged and weaponized “protectors.”
Kaiju fights, no doubt why anyone’s watching Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, shatter senses with thunderous roars and megaton bodyslams. Rodan’s searing volcanic abilities square off against Mothra’s sticky spewed webbing and pincer-sharp appendages. Ghidorah’s three heads constrict around beefy Godzilla, who begins emitting reddish surges as atomic charges burst pulsating shockwaves. Bolts of powerful mouth-rocketed photons light up the sky while Mark’s family can do nothing but watch, pray, and hope Godzilla is left standing atop ancient corpses in a victory pose. Dougherty delivers the epic heavyweight throwdowns you’re paying to see, splendidly crafted by effects teams who create nimble warriors out of prehistoric fantasy DNA (from Mothra’s delicate elegance to Ghidorah’s medieval lookin’ meanness).
It is, on a weaker note, cumbersome to optically sift through chaotic camera angles, spazzing and blurry, during cloaked nighttime action sequences where main characters can die without nary a clue (this happens). Dougherty’s atmospheres are striking at times – Ghidorah’s swirling “Monster Zero” stormcloud cover – while other sequences, particularly when Monarch agents are involved, get lost in dulled-down visibility. Chaos reigns supreme as it should during what could be apocalyptic God-being altercations, but heavy digitalization chucks tiny people bodies around without much attentive visual care. Such heavy reliance on computer graphics clashes against in-flesh actors, resulting in squint-or-you’ll-miss excitement that’s at times more dizzying than defined.
“Messy” can describe multiple shots throughout Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, but “messy” can also double down when running alongside Chandler’s desperate and panicking parent – tracking Brown’s rebellious child via a now-stolen Monarch invention intended for Titan communication (ORCA) – or Emma’s endangered hostage scenario. “Villain” motivations flip-flop so seamlessly from unleashing captive Titans, regretting decisions, or allowing characters to vanish after getting “what we need.”
Bless Bradley Whitford’s Dr. Rick Stanton for his comedic relief reliability (nerdy science bro), but supporting quips play awkwardly against Dougherty’s otherwise dour tone. Same for Thomas Middleditch’s stammering tech specialist, who drops a “Gonorrhea” joke out of thin air. Dougherty’s best work sustains blockbuster action that distracts from Monarch’s mission at hand, averting attention from generic “adventure quest” beats that are more uniform than a military regulation crew cut.
Godzilla: King Of The Monsters exceeds expectations when monsters violently challenge one another for dominance, underwhelms when humans interact with monsters, and diverts off charted courses when humans are left to their own devices. Maybe that’s an effect of two-plus-hours with not nearly balanced enough Kaiju big-battle ringside events, or the film’s sometimes blended visual prowess that can’t distinguish between one dark, rainy attack from the next.
Michael Dougherty’s ambitious calling for eco-compassionate futures is met with mild disappointment, and yet I’d still watch Mark Russell track Madison around the globe once more just to witness Godzilla grab Ghidorah by two throats all over again. Mindless ruminations on humanity’s egotistical planetary abuse paired with Godzilla’s pay-per-view worthy face-offs? As a lover of triumphant Titan warfare, that’ll do.
Godzilla: King Of The Monsters lays many a colossal Kaiju smackdown, but human arcs crumble under the heavy weights of those 'Zilla-sized behemoths they're forced to shoulder.