Who doesn’t like watching giant monsters smashing other monsters? The Godzilla franchise has survived as long as it has on the visceral thrill of watching the skyscraper-sized lizard clobber other gigantic creatures, while us puny humans run around like ants at a picnic. That was one of the problems with Gareth Edwards’ 2014 reboot. He took a Jaws-like approach that kept Godzilla a mystery for far too long, and he didn’t have anything to fight that lived up to his apex status. Five years later and Legendary has course-corrected in a big way with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a film that features all of the smash ’em up Godzilla action one could hope for, while toning down all of that human drama stuff that bogged down the first movie.
There’s an obvious reason why we need to introduce human emotional stakes into the mix, of course. Godzilla doesn’t talk, he’s not a hero in the traditional sense; he’s a monster that destroys cities and beats up other monsters, or Titans as they are called. So there has to be a reason for us to be invested, even if that part of the story is perfunctory, at best. It’s the case here, too. Thankfully, there’s just a lot less of it.
While Edwards had been planning on directing the sequel himself, he was busy with Rogue One during the whole pre-production phase so the job went to Krampus director Michael Dougherty. If you saw his darkly comic Christmas horror you’ll understand why he was right for this job. The deadly seriousness of Edwards’ film is mostly gone, with Dougherty and co-screenwriter Zach Shields playing up the sheer weirdness of an atomic lizard fighting a three-headed electric dragon or a lava-fueled Pteradon.
If you showed up to watch Godzilla and his Kaiju brethren wreak havoc for two hours, you won’t leave disappointed. Dougherty captures the sheer epic power of the creatures, which includes Godzilla foes Rodan, Mothra, the mighty King Ghidorah, and many more. As many as 17 Titans have emerged since the previous film, and through a ridiculously nonsensical plot all of them are now emerging to do whatever it is Titans do. “Feed, fight or…something more intimate”, says Dr. Mark Russell, played by Kyle Chandler. Mark is a former employee of Monarch, the clandestine monster-hunting organization established in the prior film and seen again in 2017’s Kong: Skull Island. He’s trying to stay in the life of his daughter Madison (Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown), but isn’t getting much help from his ex-wife and current Monarch big-wig Emma (Vera Farmiga). They’re all still grieving over the death of a son caused during Godzilla’s rampage five years prior. He hates the Titans and wants to see them all wiped out. Emma thinks there’s another way, via a portable MacGuffin that can supposedly control them.
Honestly, the rest doesn’t matter that much. Bad guys (led by Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance) intervene, set in motion a plan to release all of the Titans from hibernation, and boom, Mark is back in the game and trying to save the world. The plot is silly, involves lots of climate change eco-warrior nonsense these movies demand, plus lots of military-types standing around arguing about different kinds of nukes, political-types threatening to pull funding and other stuff you won’t care about. All you need to know is that Mark is always one step behind as the Titans turn parts of the United States into their own personal feeding ground. It’s all just an excuse to see the thing we all really showed up for, which is sheer unrelenting spectacle. When the Titans get to destroying one another, either with fang and claw, atomic fire or lighting, it’s impossible not to be consumed by the awesomeness of it. Dougherty has an eye for iconic visuals, capturing a number of shots that could easily be emblazoned on posters for decades to come. One that has stuck with me, and been depicted in promos already, has Ghidorah, wings spread wide, atop a volcano while a lone crucifix stands ominously in the scorched foreground.
This is the kind of stuff you come to a Godzilla movie for, and King of the Monsters does not disappoint. The relationship woes of a couple of questionable parents and their emo daughter aren’t particularly interesting, the science babble grows dull quickly and they pile on way too much mythology to explain Monarch and the monsters’ existence. I get it; that stuff fleshes out the Monsterverse and sets up future movies but the further away we get from it the better Godzilla: King of the Monsters proves itself to be an alpha among summer blockbusters.