It has been five years since the world came to know the name of the ancient alpha predator who, some might generously argue, saved the city of San Francisco from the awoken Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms which caused so much death and destruction across the globe before he vanished beneath the irradiated waters of the Bay: Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
Yet that victory was not without loss and devastation, and as the organisation who had long tracked and concealed wider knowledge of the Titans it is Monarch who some feel should be held responsible, and Doctors Ishirō Serizawa, Vivienne Graham and Sam Coleman (Inception‘s Ken Watanabe and The Shape of Waters‘ Sally Hawkins reprising their roles from Godzilla and The Final Girls‘ Thomas Middleditch) are summoned to appear at a hearing.
Yet that discussion to determine whether their data should be passed to the military to begin a campaign to eliminate the threat entirely is interrupted before it can even begin by an attack on a Monarch outpost in the Yunnan Rainforest in China where Doctor Emma Russell (The Conjuring’s Vera Farmiga) and her team were monitoring the emergence of a new Titan.
The Doctor and her daughter Madison (Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown) have been taken hostage by former British Army officer turned trafficker in Titan DNA Colonel Alan Jonah (Underworld: Blood Wars‘ Charles Dance), he is determined to use Emma’s research to control the Titans to his own end, believing they can bring balance to a world damaged by the presence of humanity.
Directed by Krampus‘ Michael Dougherty from a script co-written with Zach Shields, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a significant shift from the previous two Monarch movies, Gareth Edward’s Godzilla and Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s prequel Kong: Skull Island, the focus moving from the human characters investigating the Titans to the monsters themselves, Monarch now having discovered dozens of them hibernating around the globe and established outposts to ensure they remain undisturbed and dormant.
The perspective of those films largely from the ground and looking up at the massive beasts, so has the technology moved from the strictly contemporary which gave them credibility firmly into science fiction territory more befitting an Avengers film with a vast flying wing capable of dropping and collecting helicopters, an “oxygen bomb” and a seemingly indestructible submarine as well as the key device, the “Orca” developed by Emma and her ex-husband Mark (First Man’s Kyle Chandler).
Conceived to generate an “alpha signal” which overwhelms the instincts of the Titans and based on Mark’s previous research with whales, quite how that theory extends to prehistoric creatures of an unknown species is never questioned along with the rest of Emma’s ethical awareness, scientific methodology and parenting skills, stomping into a woeful Monarch exercise where security containment lasted less than a minute and shouting “this will work” before unleashing her untried gizmo and bringing her daughter along with her for the show and tell.
The tens of thousands dead and displaced never more than a tally, it is presumed that the Russell family are intended as the emotional surrogates, yet Farmiga is deeply unlikeable, irresponsible and arrogant in her actions, while Brown seems to have been cast solely for who she is rather than what she can do, while elsewhere the formerly competent Monarch seems to have been infiltrated with buffoons, Middleditch serving as a comedy relief element which only serves to annoy, Jonah also written as an idiot though Dance does not play him as such.
This might have been balanced had the Titans themselves displayed the same sense of being and purpose as they did in Godzilla and Skull Island, but this is not to be, the three-headed “Monster Zero” King Ghidorah and the giant eagle fire demon Rodan simply engines of mass destruction; while Mothra is at least pretty to look at, the premise that they could be lured and hypnotised by so basic a device designed without any actual field observation of the awoken Titans is reductive of their threat, power and significance, reducing them from gods to simple animals less sophisticated than a domestic cat.
Rather than an inspiring and exciting film of humanity banding together in the face of kaiju threat Godzilla: King of the Monsters is little more than a series of extended fight scenes looking for a coherent plot to string them together, Celebrity Deathmatch with an inflated budget, runtime and sense of importance, the exotic locations, epic sets and vast swathes of digitally choreographed destruction never distracting from the emptiness where any emotional engagement should live.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is currently on general release and also screening in 3D IMAX