The sequel to Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla decides to take the franchise in completely the opposite direction to the underrated 2014 gem, sacrificing character development in favour of a purely action-driven spectacle where giant monsters go head to head with often visually stunning special effects. The crowd-pleasing action spectacle is where the film’s strengths lie, with plenty of rain-soaked fights to keep the audience happy. But look beyond the action and King of the Monsters doesn’t have anywhere near the same kind of substance or concrete structure that Godzilla did, instead feeling more like Independence Day or Deep Impact at best and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen at worst, for good or for ill.
The cast are pretty much serviceable and although it’s the rare blockbuster that doesn’t waste Ken Watanabe, Millie Bobby Brown is the only actor who really brings her A-Game to the table. The complicated family dynamics and the decision to ground the action around the Russell Family – with the mother Emma played by Vera Farmiga and Kyle Chandler playing the father Mark aren’t given as enough attention as they need to save these characters that either needed more development or less screentime. They just seem there most of the time, and Zhang Ziyi does get some brief moments to shine but that’s about it. Thomas Middleditch is wasted and the attempts of comedy that the film goes for are cringe-worthy at best, with some of the dialogue in this film being downright awful.
It’s a film that cares about its subject matter a little too much, by putting all the emphasis on the likes of Godzilla and Mothra – they don’t have the impact that they could have done. Whilst there are bigger moments in this than in the 2014 film with the drama taking place on a wider scale, they don’t have the same impact and are used too often to create the same sense of wow factor, quickly losing their appeal and there’s nothing that comes close to replicating the memorable HALO Jump from the 2014 film or the shock death of Bryan Cranston’s character at the end of the first act. Everything just happens, and it’s met with a general shrug and dismissal from the audience. There’s a few references to King Kong and Skull Island but those expecting more of a role will have to wait until 2020’s Kong vs. Godzilla, which will be directed by Adam Wingard. It remains to be seen whether that will top the sheer level of spectacle and craziness present in King of the Monsters, but at least it can’t be much worse, right?
Striking the balance between characters and action can be hard and in a Godzilla film there’s only one thing you’re there for – Godzilla. Michael Dougherty knows this and very much gives the fans what they want, although it’s a case of being careful what you wish for. Everything feels completely unsubtle – even by Godzilla standards, and it doesn’t feel as skilfully executed or made with as much care as its predecessor, which had subtext to go with its action sequences. Godzilla: King of the Monsters has none of that – and its entire purpose seems geared towards being a film that’s trying too hard to be cool.