When ‘Godzilla’ was rebooted in 2014 for modern audiences by Legendary Pictures, one of the major talking points surrounding the movie was the lack of monster action and too much human interaction. Fast forward five years, and we’ve arrived at a sequel literally nobody asked for, but at least the makers have managed to fix that one gaping issue: ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ is chock full of your favourite Toho kaiju, and they look like they’ve been plucked from your favourite fever dream, but jacked up on super steroids.
But while Gareth Edwards’ 2014 ‘Godzilla’ at least offered a quiet introspection on the more serious aspects of the scowling, radiation-oozing, giant lizard-dinosaur, director Michael Dougherty (‘Trick ‘r Treat’, ‘Krampus’) settles for camp and pulpy, and not the good kind.
The central allegory of the first movie, for those of you who don’t remember, rested firmly in the dangers of war and militarised technology, highlighted through the story of one single family who are dealing with the fallout of a nuclear disaster. ‘King of the Monsters’ now shifts the metaphor to over-population, climate change and the need to “return balance”, a la Thanos from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. All of this could have made for a relevant narrative, if only the plot, script, dialogue and acting didn’t fall apart all at once, which it sadly did.
‘King of the Monsters’ focuses on a new family. Vera Farmiga is Dr Emma Russell, a scientist coming to terms with the loss of her son during the events of the Godzilla rampage from the first movie. She’s busied herself with developing a device called the Orca, which will help her communicate with the kaiju (monsters called Titans), who are being protected by Monarch, a scientific organisation guarding Titans across the globe.
Her ex-husband Mark is dealing with the disaster by running as far away as possible from all things monsters but finds himself being recruited by Monarch when Emma and their surviving daughter Madison (‘Stranger Things’’ Millie Bobby Brown) are kidnapped by eco-terrorists, led by Jonah Alan (‘Game of Thrones’’ Charles Dance). Monarch, as in the first movie, is led by Dr Ishiro Serizawa (trusty ol’ Ken Watanabe) and Dr Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), and they are now on a mission to stop the terrorists from unleashing all the sleeping monsters on an unsuspecting world.
So while the Monarch guys go from base to base all over the world — offering up some pretty scenery along the way — trying to put out big monster fires, there’s also a painfully cliched family drama unfolding in the centre of the storm, which more often than not throws off the pacing of an already dumb narrative. A scene in the beginning of the second act sees Farmiga’s character talk through a high-stakes moment with the help of a video montage, and you could hear the entire theatre groaning at the ridiculousness of it all. Hammy dialogues and punchlines (‘Long live the king’) don’t help either, and capable actors like O’Shea Jackson Jr and Zhang Ziyi have little to do.
Where the movie really manages to leave a mark is in the larger-than-life monsters. Other-worldly and wholly real at the same time, the creatures will surpass anything you could conjure up in your imagination, and they truly make you want to cheer at the screen. Rodan, Mothra and Godzilla’s archenemy, the three-headed Ghidorah, all make extended appearances, and they’re an absolute treat. From high-speed air chases to city-flattening face-offs, the scale of it is quite unprecedented, and we wish the makers could have focussed on working on the monsters’ backstories and mythologies, rather than relying on incompetent humans to take the story forward.
Godzilla himself looks chunkier and broodier (he could give Jon Snow a run for his money) than we’ve seen in a while, but he’s also more expressive somehow. Perhaps it’s also the fact that he gets some screen time with his girlfriend (an angelic-looking winged Mothra), which by the way could have been pulled off with a lighter touch. A headline-littered end credits scene sets up Legendary Pictures’ next ‘Monsterverse’ film, ‘Godzilla vs Kong’, and while we know we’ll line up to watch the wretched thing come 2020, you can be sure we’re going to be less (much less) than enthused.
So that’s full points for spectacle and pizzazz, zero for everything else. If you’re looking to open your summer box office account with a monster feature but don’t particularly care for plot, ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ is for you. Otherwise, there’s ‘John Wick 3’ waiting next weekend.
‘Godzilla: King of Monsters’ releases in the UAE on May 30.