I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
King of the who? I typically do not need a reasonable excuse to deploy a Monty Python reference, but in the case of this movie, it’s so very apropos. We’re told that Godzilla is *check notes* king of the monsters — ancient titans of nature that long predate humanity — which now, newly reawakened (oh shit), number *checks notes* 17 (and counting) roaming the Earth and doing their worst. And, like, I guess we need to just take the movie’s word on it that there are any monsters here at all. Cuz, I mean, I suppose I can just barely make out some indistinct gigantic-kaiju-ish forms moving around in the dark and the rain and the fog and the just generally awful CGI. We’re told they’re even battling at some point. Sounds exciting. Be nice to see that.
If there’s one thing Godzilla: King of the Monsters does well, it is this: It makes me long for the cheesy, badly dubbed Japanese Toho flicks I watched in my jammies as a kid on a Saturday morning on a crappy, staticky black-and-white TV. Guys in rubber monster suits awkwardly sparring! At least you could see them.
Now, being coy about the monster worked in Gareth Edwards’s 2014 Godzilla, to which this is a sequel, but that’s because there were some other interesting things going on. Not so much the human drama (though still better than what passes for that here), but at least some meaty metaphors about humanity at the mercy of a violent natural world, etc. No such luck here. Somehow even though King is literally about nothing more than how these monsters are destroying human cities, all subtext has been apparently surgically removed, and even the best glimpses we get of these titans are on TV news reports casually and randomly playing in the background while human characters squabble. Fine if a movie wants to be all about the monsters, and very occasionally about them fighting each other for supremacy, but then it has to actually be about the monsters. As in showing us the havoc they are wreaking. But this movie does not give good disaster. It’s no fun at all.
There’s nowhere near enough monster action in this unsupportably overlong (alleged) monster movie. And yet it also utterly fails to make us care about what dominates the screen. Which is a whole lotta kaiju researcher Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe: Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, Bel Canto) fretting and moping. (I adore Watanabe, but he’s a serious wet blanket here.) (Oh, and Sally Hawkins [Paddington 2, X+Y] as Serizawa’s colleague Dr. Vivienne Graham almost instantly disappears after a brief initial appearance, which is criminal.) Another kaiju researcher, Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler: First Man, Game Night), mostly rages about how his ex-wife and one-time scientific partner, Emma (Vera Farmiga: The Front Runner, Boundaries), and their teen daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), have been kidnapped by Bad Guy Jonah Alan (Charles Dance: Johnny English Strikes Again, Ghostbusters), because Reasons. It’s truly appalling that in a story that posits that the fate of the planet and of all humanity is endangered because of the rampaging titans, the putative protagonist — that would be Mark — is primarily concerned about the theft of his female property. I know, I know: this is probably meant to be a kind of metaphor for worrying about humanity and the planet. But fuck this shit all to hell. Men motivated by threats to their women is a cliché even older than the titans. And King of the Monsters doubles down on the misogynist bullshit by failing to realize — or realizing but not caring — that it didn’t even need Dance’s character. (I love Dance. This is not about the actor but the way the story is structured.) All the purpose that he serves narratively would have been better achieved without the whole kidnapping nonsense. The potential that Farmiga’s Dr. Emma Russell has for great and gripping narrative power is drained off into Dance’s villain, and it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, except that male filmmakers are completely blind to what women can be.
I hate to be the one to say this again, but director Michael Dougherty has previously made a couple of low budget horror flicks (one of which is 2015’s Krampus). That’s it. Who the hell thought he could handle a $200 million science fantasy action blockbuster? (Spoiler: he can’t.) As a screenwriter, Dougherty — who cowrote the script with Zach Shields, who has even less experience — demonstrates a shocking lack of imagination. This is a movie that suggests that the entire evolutionary history of planet Earth is weirder than we have imagined, that the natural world is more strangely wonderful than we have believed. And yet they couldn’t come up with dialogue that wasn’t all awful platitudes and dumb one-liners. The plot — the straightforward depiction of the action — is an absolute mess, often lacking any context for us to understand what is going on. This is the sort of movie in which an almost random character will intone, “I’ll go,” when something dangerous has to be done, and we have no appreciation for the motivation for such a sacrifice. And other characters will repeatedly say things like “apex predator” and “hollow earth” because they sound cool, and little else. It’s all total gibberish, even compared to movies in which guys in rubber suits grapple awkwardly.
How does this shit keep happening? Why do male filmmakers with a bit of small success and a limited resume — if even that — keep getting handed the keys to big-budget movies, and keep cranking out such junk?