There’s no other way to put it: Godzilla, King of the Monsters gets absolutely everything wrong. This bloated budget, big name, all-CGI, painfully westernized reboot is two and a quarter hours of your life that you just aren’t getting back. First of all, a $200 million Godzilla reboot with all modern technology is just missing the point. The charm of Toho Ltd’s venerable franchise lies in its sheer cheesiness. Not that this version isn’t cheesy – it’s a limburger on moldy rye sandwich that’s been under someone’s bed for too long. But what it isn’t, and this is sort of a critical point, is entertaining in any sense, shape or form.
Audiences may remember that in 2014 a new Godzilla remake, directedy by Gareth Edwards, hit the multiplexes, and laid the groundwork for a westernized franchise based on Toho’s series of kaiju (big monster) movies. Although the 30th film in the Godzilla franchise, it was already the second Godzilla film to be completely produced by a Hollywood studio. (Master of Disaster Roland Emmerich had already done his Godzilla movie in 1998.) Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, and Bryan Cranston, the movie stomped Hawaii, San Francisco and Las Vegas to the tune of over half a billion dollars worldwide.
Edwards was supposedly attached to direct the inevitable sequel (Warner Bros. was thinking franchise from the get-go), but jumped ship to direct Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and so the project went to Michael Dougherty, and frankly he isn’t as accomplished a cinematic pulp artiste. Dougherty’s sequel to Edwards’ remake is loud and noisy, but that whole thing about sound and fury, signifying nothing is likely to raise its head. Something called the Monarch Corporation is tracking the movements of giant monsters that they refer to as “The Titans.” We’re quickly introduced to a family torn apart by Godzilla. Scientists Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga manage to keep their teen daughter Millie Bobby Brown in the middle of their marital problems while government agencies, Monarch and eco-terrorists wring their collective hands over the awakening of a fearsome three-headed beast code-named Monster Zero. Farmiga’s scientist is working for Monarch, and has developed a machine that can track and communicate with the Titans, but no sooner has she unveiled it than she’s kidnapped by the eco-terrorists with her daughter. The mesmerizing Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins are left over from Godzilla, though Golden Globe winner and multiple Oscar nominee Hawkins has shockingly little to do.
The script is slackly paced and lackluster, the dialogue is terrible. It exists mainly to drop Easter Eggs that most audience members won’t get – Ken Watanabe’s character’s name is a double reference to both Ishiro Honda, who directed the original Japanese movie, and its hero. Some didactic, formulaic expository dialogue about the sorry state of the environment is clumsy and unconvincing.
There’s almost no point in talking about the performances. The principal photography on this movie took a fraction of the time that post-production took. And although the cast is made up of actors who are both big names and good, they are little more than delivery systems for some ruthlessly bad dialogue. Farmiga, a good actress, is unbelievably bad here, but to be fair, her character makes no sense whatsoever. The talented Kyle Chandler is handed way too many lines of the “Hold on!” and “I’ve got to do something!” variety. Charles Dance, as the head eco-terrorist could have phoned his performance in between takes on Game of Thrones, and that’s exactly how he comes off. Bradley Whitford is embarrassingly thrown away. Ony Millie Bobby Brown delivers a performance with any emotional content whatsoever, and she’s excellent despite the crappy material. Fortunately she’s on board for the next movie.
This sequel doesn’t throw one or even two additional monsters into the mix. Rodan and Mothra are both on hand, and of course they all have to team up to battle Monster Zero, who turns out to be the hydra-esque King Ghidorah, and he isn’t a home-grown monster, but a nasty invading species. It’s a full-blown tag-team match, sort of a kaiju Van Helsing. In fact it uses the same monsters as the 1964 Japanese All-Star opus Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. It’s the third entry in Warner Bros./Legendary’s “MonsterVerse” (Kong: Skull Island was the second) but there is no sense of a larger narrative. Godzilla vs. Kong has already been announced, but other than a couple of oblique references to King Kong, there’s no clue here as to how that’s going to go.
Like Edwards’ movie, this project was almost entirely made by computer, but this time there’s no sense of a human presence in the control booth. Dougherty, a writer who’s directed two modestly budgeted horror movies, has never helmed anything remotely this size, and frankly it shows. The technicians and digital artists are running this show and it needed someone with a whip and a chair. This movie has nothing to offer but special effects, and the special effects suck. As painful as it is to admit, the Transformers movies did this type of thing far better.
Aggravatingly, audiences are getting used to CGI, too damned used to it. The mere fact that an image happens to be computer-generated doesn’t make it more believable. But filmmakers and audiences are getting so accustomed to the approach that they’ve forgotten that any other way to do certain sequences exists. The only people who can’t tell real life from video games are the people who are addicted to video games, and like an alarming percentage of four corner, tentpole movies, nothing about Godzilla, King of the Monsters looks real, and pretty much all of it looks a video game. Frankly, after a certain point I would have killed for a guy in a rubber suit and some plastic tanks.
The movie musters a little energy in two separate scenes when Akira Ifukube’s original Godzilla score is used. It’s far better than the music written for the new movie. Assuming the viewer makes it through the entire movie, there is a scene after the end credits. It isn’t that big a deal.
Godzilla, King of the Monsters is fairly cavalier about scenes of mass destruction for a post-9/11 movie, and there’s some indication the writers find the demolition of Boston amusing. (“Bad day to be a Red Sox fan,” one character quips as Fenway Park is endangered.) The original 1954 Japanese Godzilla, a darker, black and white movie clearly made in the shadow of the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima, was better and offered more thrills. Charmless, perfunctory and singularly unentertaining, the latest incarnation is as cold-blooded as a big lizard, with none of the personality.