“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is a sequel to 2014’s “Godzilla,” though the only returning characters are the title abomination and a few ancillary figures played by Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, and David Strathairn, the latter two evidently only available (or willing) to participate for a few minutes apiece. Actually, that’s true of Godzilla, too, though a lack of Godzilla screen time in a Godzilla movie is not a new phenomenon.
Several other things are missing from “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” as well, including excitement, humor, and the visible light of the Earth’s sun. There are over a dozen giant so-called Titans in the film, but nearly every scene in which they are present takes place at night, underwater, or in thick fog, smoke, or rain. We’re never very interested in the humans in these stories, who just spend the whole time getting knocked around as collateral damage while the monsters fight; but in this one, the first big-budget film by “Krampus” director Michael Dougherty, the monsters are just as uninteresting as the people, their one appeal — how huge, awesome, and scary they look — obscured by so much CGI debris and too many tight close-ups.
Five years after the events of the previous movie, a secretive government agency called Monarch has established outposts at all locations worldwide where Titans have been found, keeping them contained and hibernated with a device called Orca that uses the creatures’ bioacoustics to produce a calming “alpha frequency” that mimics the one their lord and master, Godzilla, communicates with. Orca was developed by ex-spouses Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) and Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), who have opposite views on the Titans, i.e., Mark wants to kill ’em all, Emma wants to restore nature’s balance by learning to co-exist peacefully with them. Their teenage daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), is caught in the middle, living with Mom but concerned about her.
Then along comes an eco-terrorist group led by one Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) that wants to awaken all the Titans and let nature run its course. Among these is one nicknamed “Monster Zero,” a nasty three-headed dragon so fearsome that even ancient monster lore has little to say about it. It is feasible that humanity will survive, but we’ll need Godzilla to assume his role as our protector and take control of his fellow beasts. But where is Godzilla? And does he even know he’s supposed to be helping us?
For a movie uninterested in its human characters, it sure introduces a lot of them for us to also not be interested in. Why, there’s the delightful O’Shea Jackson Jr. as an Army guy! He does nothing. Here’s Thomas Middleditch as a scientist, along for the ride. Bradley Whitford is the obligatory snarky-casual analyst, not one of his comments funny. According to IMDb, Ziyi Zhang plays two characters, though I’m not sure how. The film jumps around between locations so frequently that it’s easy to lose track of who’s where (or even who’s who), leaving CCH Pounder, Joe Morton, Aisha Hinds, and numerous others out in the wind. Watching the cast list roll by at the end means frequently thinking, “Oh yeah! He was in this!”
You know that thing in movies where an expert’s vacation is interrupted by a helicopter that lands right there next to the lake where they’re fishing or whatever and whisks the expert off to an important mission? That happens.
You know that other thing where a hatch or a door or something is stuck, so someone has to stay behind and open it manually to deploy the weapon, thereby sacrificing himself heroically? That also happens (twice, though it’s unclear whether the second person survives).
All anyone wants from a movie like this is memorable monster fights. What we can see is often spectacular, and Mothra’s design is beautiful, but it’s always too brief, too choppily edited, and smeared with evidence of the current weather patterns. The film, the cinematic equivalent of a rerun, offers no justification for its existence. Have I seen too many movies? Probably. But I think the real problem is that too many movies are just like too many other movies.
C (2 hrs., 11 min.; )