Arguably a great case of ‘be careful what you wish for,’ the new “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” represents a hard turn away from the more elegant less-is-more approach of 2014’s reboot, which left many hardcore fans unsatisfied by its lack of gratuitous giant monster mayhem-porn.
‘King of the Monsters’ makes up for that shortcoming and then some; on the downside it veers so far in the other direction that it overcompensates. That said, it’s probably the most kaiju-esque “Godzilla” movie since “Godzilla: Final Wars” sent the lovable lizard into hibernation in 2004.
Sadly, its kitschy melodramatics and pulp sci-fi elements will likely be misread by casual viewers. Co-written and directed by Michael Dougherty (“Krampus”), the movie picks up directly after “Godzilla” and expands on elements depicted in it and “Kong: Skull Island” by establishing Godzilla, Kong, and several newly discovered ‘Titans’ (Mothra, Rodan, and Ghidorah) as relic species of an ancient world that are rising again as a result of mankind’s dicking around with the environment.
While the Monarch organization, led by Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), works to study the creatures and seek a symbiotic relationship with them, extremist Colonel Alan Jonah (Charles Danse) wants to weaponize and release them in order to save the world by thinning out the human herd.
Caught in the middle are scientist Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), who has invented a rudimentary means of communication with the Titans; her ex-husband Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), who’d rather see them all destroyed as payback for the death of his son; and their daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown).
It falls upon the more level-headed humans to assist Godzilla when his ancient rivalry with three-headed, lightning-breathing Ghidorah turns into a multi-monster brawl with the potential to level human civilization.
Like many Godzilla flicks, this one has a degree of social commentary. Big G debuted as a metaphor for the dangers of nuclear power; here, he’s climate change on legs. Dougherty and co-writer Zach Shields aren’t subtle it, but they don’t get preachy either.
They also aren’t subtle when it comes to the wholly predictable plot, specifically when it comes to the flesh-and-blood human characters. Their arcs become clear about 30-40 minutes in, including what should be a major twist. The actors give solid performances (including Oscar-nominee Sally Hawkins, Thomas Middleditch, Zhang Ziyi, and Bradley Whitford, but they are often hamstrung by clunky exposition and lame wisecracks.
In all fairness, few come to a “Godzilla” movie looking for dramatic depth. It’s all about giant monsters slapping the bejeezus out of each other and the massive property damage that entails. In that regard, ‘King of the Monsters’ delivers in full. Whole cities are demolished over the course of its 130 minutes, with Boston getting the worst of it. (It’s safe to assume that Ghidorah is not a Red Sox fan.) The effects live up to expectations, and the designers have imbued each creature with distinct personalities that come through clearer than those of some of the human characters.
For better or worse, ‘King of the Monsters’ does set-up some tantalizing details for future installments, some of which are callbacks to classic cheesy elements of the Toho films (pay close attention during the closing credits). It doesn’t come as close to transcending the genre as the previous entry did, and it’s doubtful next year’s “Godzilla vs. Kong” crossover will either, but there’s enough here to keep kaiju fans hooked for at least one more outing.