By Bradley Lane
In 2014, visual effects artist turned director Gareth Edward’s Godzilla was released by Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures, starting off the shared monster universe. This interconnected movie universe has so far only had two entries, Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island. I certainly do not expect an intellectually challenging film from this movie franchise, but I also do not expect any movie to be as vapid and mindless as Godzilla: King of Monsters. Even the original Godzilla reboot positioned the monsters as an allegory about climate change, brought about by manmade abuse, burdening Godzilla to bring balance back to the Earth’s environment. King of Monsters struggles to deliver any coherent message between the endless assortment of monster battles, which might not be such a bad thing depending on what you look for in movies.
King of Monsters picks up where 2014’s Godzilla left off, as people attempt to pick up the pieces from a devastated San Francisco. Monarch, the ultra-secretive, private monster studying organization, is testifying to the United States Congress to determine whether Monarch should have government oversight moving forward, considering the destruction of San Francisco was caused entirely by Monarch’s failures.
Meanwhile, a terrorist plot to release dozens of other monsters around the world sets into motion when they kidnap Dr. Emma Russell, a monster communication expert at Monarch.
Every single character in King of Monsters is as dumb as a box of rocks. Monarch agents routinely explain things to each other that really should seem self-evident, especially to people who risk their lives to try and learn about these monsters. The dialogue usually serves little more than to give exposition and haphazardly try and establish some sort of character for literally anyone on screen.
One of the chief criticisms of 2014’s Godzilla was the lack of monster fights. It saved its only monster on monster action until the very end. In place of non-stop monster action, Edwards slowly built up to a powerful and dramatic final battle by revealing the monster’s size slowly, shooting the monsters from a human perspective as to give a sense of scale to these enormous creatures. King of Monsters delivers front to back monster battles, only passing briefly to insert more exposition, a clear response to the criticism leveled at the 2014 film. Unfortunately, that decision undercuts the scale of the monsters physically, as well as the perceived scale of the conflict.
Godzilla (2014) also portrayed these monsters as above human intervention. No efforts to stop the creatures come close to slowing them down, a theme that honors the 1954 original Gojira directed by Ishirō Honda. King of Monsters makes it a point to show that United States military intervention aids in defending the world form these monsters, which feels like a complete disregard of the themes of the 1954 film. In it, Godzilla comes about from reckless nuclear testing by the American military. This was inspired by true events, where in 1947 the Castle Bravo nuclear tests contaminated 23 members of a Japanese fishing vessel (Lucky Dragon No. 5) with acute radiation syndrome, despite the crew staying out of the designated test zone, a scene which is recreated in Honda’s film. It disregards and disrespects the source material’s themes, while leaving in countless hallow references and meaningless mentions of previous Japanese Godzilla films.
If you want to see giant monsters fight on screen for two hours, then do not let me discourage you from seeing this movie; it is made for you. Personally, however, I find Godzilla: King of Monsters to be a hallow shell of what could have been a much more compelling film.