'Godzilla: King Of The Monsters' Review: A Massive Monster Mash Dragged Down By Those Pesky Humans

Mass extinction has never looked so gorgeous. Over a period of 132 mind-numbing minutes, Michael Dougherty's Godzilla: King of the Monsters lays waste to humanity with stunning tableaus colored in ghostly blues and faded golds, resulting in visual landscapes worthy of Aivazovsky's brush. It's a pity the world built around all that jaw-dropping monster mayhem is so damn dull. Cities are leveled, Lovecraftian monsters reign supreme, and the only thing I felt was a bad case of ennui. The ultimate kaiju smack-down shouldn't be this boring.

The 2014 American reboot of Godzilla received praise for its few scenes of monster-inspired destruction, but most criticism of the film took aim at the lifeless human characters who got most of the screentime. In what can only be seen as an attempt to give the audience what it wants, the sequel Godzilla: King of the Monsters ups the kaiju carnage tenfold while trying to inject some life into a new group of humans. But once again, it's the monsters who reign supreme. It's very hard to give a damn about any of the poor helpless mortals here, even when they're played by talented folks Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, and Millie Bobby Brown.

Those three actors play the Russell family. Chandler is Dr. Mark Russell, Farmiga is Dr. Emma Russell, and Brown is their daughter Madison. After a quick, and perhaps needless, prologue that directly ties into the 2014 Godzilla, the Russells have become fractured. Husband and wife Mark and Emma are estranged, and Madison is growing slightly concerned with her mother's behavior.

Emma, who works for the government monster-tracking organization Monarch, has a plan to make great use of Godzilla and all his monster buddies. Think of Emma as Thanos, and the monsters are her Infinity Stones. The good doctor thinks human beings have all but destroyed the planet with their stupidity and selfishness (she has a point, folks), and her solution is to balance the scales. Monarch has spent years finding, and containing, giant monsters – or Titans, as they're officially called. And with the notable exception of Godzilla, all the Titans are fast asleep. Emma plans to wake them up and control them with a MacGuffin, er, I mean, a device she developed called the ORCA.

Needless to say, this idea doesn't go over so well with most of the human characters. And as you might've guessed, it backfires spectacularly. Because one of the Titans that awakens is the three-headed nightmare King Ghidorah, a super-powered beastie who has the ability to control other monsters. Humanity's only line of defense is Godzilla, who has an ancient beef with Ghidorah.

This certainly isn't the silliest set-up in Godzilla movie history, and there's a lot of room here to craft a compelling story about very flawed humans grappling with an apocalypse of their own creation. But the script, by Dougherty and Zach Shields, has no idea what to do with any of these people. They're blank slates, required to do little more than gaze up in awe as monsters lumber through the frame. Chandler's character is so useless that he might as well not be in the movie at all. There was a great opportunity to make Farmiga's Dr. Russell a fascinating human villain, but after her big set up, the script reduces her to a weepy background player stuck spouting off laughable dialogue. And Brown, in her first big screen role, is required to do almost nothing until the final twenty minutes of the movie.

king of the monsters review

The only two humans who make any impact at all are Bradley Whitford, having the time of his life playing a whacked-out scientist, and Ken Watanabe reprising his role as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, who takes the god part of Godzilla's name quite literally. But the fact is the only reason these two stand out is because of the life the actors breathe into the parts, not because of the way they're written. Whitford is the only cast member able to make any of the film's stale, clunky jokes work, and Watanabe brings a remarkable amount of gravitas to his role, even though he's stuck repeating the line, "We should wait and have faith in Godzilla!" over and over and over again as the world crumbles.

But enough about the humans. The monsters are the stars of the show, and they don't disappoint. Godzilla, in all his chunky digital glory, has more screen presence than 90% of the living, breathing cast members. Regal and stately even as he's demolishing the planet, Big G stomps and roars his way through the film with grace. His supporting cast of Titans – the "Magic Kingdom of Horrors" as one character calls them – make quite the impression, too. King Ghidorah, with his regenerating heads and electricity-based powers, is often downright terrifying. And the theme music for the character, from composer Bear McCreary, adds an extra air of menace, employing Tuvan throat singing, pounding drums and choral music.

There's also the beautiful, ghostly Mothra, who may or may not have a thing for Godzilla. The best monster intro, though, belongs to the pteranodon Rodan, who enters the film via an exploding volcano, and proceeds to soar over a city with a wingspan so massive and so powerful that it has the ability to level buildings with the wind it kicks up. Dougherty and cinematographer Lawrence Sher capture all of this destruction with a painter's eye. When the monsters arrive, the screen is painted in burnt oranges, corpse blues, and hot white streaks of lighting. The awe and majesty of these massive, god-like beings is rendered perfectly, and there's a palpable sense of dread whenever they arrive. It's suitably terrifying.

But this terror has an odd, and likely unwanted, side-effect. It's clear that Dougherty wants to have his cake and eat it too, creating a big, scary monster movie that also entertains people with wrestling-inspired kaiju fights. The problem is, those two don't mesh well here at all. Dougherty is perhaps attempting to jam together the mood and atmosphere of the original 1954 Godzilla movie with its endless, silly-yet-engaging sequels. I have no doubt there's a way to make this work in some capacity, but Dougherty and his team haven't figured it out. As a result, the monster brawls end up looking amazing, but lack any real excitement. The visual of Godzilla body-slamming Ghidorah into a sports stadium should inspire thrills, but the end result is hollow and oddly lifeless. A film of this magnitude should provoke endless awe and excitement. I got the "awe" part every now and then. As for the excitement, well...there's always Godzilla vs. Kong, I guess.

/Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10