Sequel to 2014's "Godzilla," directed by Gareth Edwards, Michael Dougherty's "King of the Monsters" sees the aftermath of Godzilla's reveal as a force of nature grappled with by a humanity that’s struggling to cope with the reality that they’re no longer the top of the food chain.
Amid these struggles is that of an ecoterrorist anarchist group led by Charles Dance, infiltrating the government organization meant to keep tabs on the rising kaiju known as titans, Monarch, in order to use their decades of giant monster research to coordinate the creatures as a means of forcing humanity to deal with its hubris regarding progression and excess at social and environmental costs.
These resulting activities awaken Ghidorah, a malicious and volatile three headed dragon whose existence and properties defy natural law and instigate a chain reaction that awakens tens of other titans, coordinating to wreak havoc across the entire planet and humanity's only hope for survival is for a Monarch team led by Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) to find Godzilla and push him towards confronting Ghidorah in an effort to quell the titan uprising.
I adored "Godzilla (2014)'s" ability to encapsulate the franchise's everlasting themes within a compact cinematic narrative about humanity learning to overcome arrogance by relinquishing control of disasters to nature while adapting to a new landscape. Godzilla's brief screen time in that film is designed to emphasize that theme, with subtle bits of characterization in his actions evoking the zany heroic characterization of the Japanese Showa era heyday to make for a conceptually unique cinematic character for the western audiences. The movie may not have been for everybody, but I appreciated that Edwards used his clear reverence for the source material — a reverence that I both share and appreciate — to fuel the endeavor of making a solid film rather than a fanservice reel.
To Dougherty's credit, his approach to audience criticism, that of desiring a more high octane and flashier blockbuster, by coordinating a production heavy kaiju opera with a killer breathtaking musical score by composer Bear McCreary, is an undeniably ambitious and mostly successful endeavor.Dougherty's eye for striking composition and visual style captures the awe inspiring glory, horror, and savagery of giant monsters in modern cinematic language perhaps more perfectly than any other feature to date. From the tense game of chicken composed of nonverbal posturing and communication between Godzilla and the military, to the majesty of Mothra's presence and the salvation she offers, to the sinister and adrenaline fueled terrors of Ghidorah and Rodan — backed by chilling musical pieces that make you feel the surreal sense of dread at what your watching in your very bones — the kaiju action doesn't simply deliver but exceeds all expectations.
The film tackles issues of grappling with uncertainty and man's folly in believing we can truly tame the Earth. Punctuated by depicting how much worse things get the more we deny our lack of control over nature via stylish and gripping set-pieces that never drag, the film feels like its zipping along with no lulls, culminating in a final half-hour that’s one of the most jaw dropping and transcendent cinematic experiences of my entire life, akin to my first time viewing "The Dark Knight" or watching the Avengers assemble. Unfortunately, the care needed to pull off these theater-worthy sequences clearly came at the cost of the human element.
While “Godzilla (2014)’s” human perspective was far from the feature’s most compelling attribute, it was at least a suitable enough framework for the thematic explorations that were clearly the movie’s focus, and basic enough to move things forward without warranting extreme scrutiny. In that regard, "King of the Monsters" falls far flatter and comes across more cartoonishly, in stark contrast to the self-serious tone the film attempts to maintain to mildly embarrassing effect. The Monarch team, sans Ken Watanabe whose ability to portray utter conviction could probably convince me that the sky is green, is bloated with talented character actors who struggle but ultimately fail to establish some sort of endearing chemistry amidst dialogue that's outright appalling. Meanwhile, the new protagonists, in the form of the Russell family, are so wasted that not only would their absence have benefited the film, it would have eliminated a major source of the story's borderline infuriating reliance on excuse plot mechanics that defy the fundamentals of human thinking. Charles Dance is perhaps the single most egregious piece of the whole puzzle; he has about 7 or 8 minutes of screen time at best, half of which he barely even speaks and his performance is so phoned in you'd be forgiven for thinking he was in the final stages of coming down from a hangover the night before shooting.
It'd be nice to say that this isn't problematic, but when characters highlighted to be substantial are killed off with no fanfare and followed up by scenes of reflection meant to evoke emotional response, the unevenness shows and eventually begins to drag.
On the merits and ambitions of the overall film, along with the nearly religious experience of its final 25 to 30 minutes, I can't pretend that the film is anything less than a rip-roaring good time with a bold cinematic vision worthy of an excursion to the theaters. Despite the merit of those ambitions and a sensational climax however, I can't ignore that "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" is an average film at best, elevated by pockets of transcendent brilliance.
3 out of 5
Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.