Review: Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

Godzilla: King of the Monsters follows a group of really boring people as monsters sometimes fight in the background or, in rare moments where the filmmakers suddenly realize why we’re there, the foreground. This is a film that negates its own power in several ways. The title and advertising suggests epic battles among giant, world-threatening creatures, and it fails at so many of these concepts.

After Godzilla 2014 spent a bit too much time to reach the monster, this new one is eager to jump right in. However, that doesn’t stop the film from having several extended sequences where not much is happening. The human characters are really dull and sometimes infuriatingly dumb, causing every scene that focuses on them to be a total slog.

You’d hope this would be balanced by the creatures, but Dougherty seems resistant to let us linger. We get a few magnificent wide shots of these titans, but these mostly act as establishment. So many of the battles devolve into repetitive light shows, creatures firing beams of energy at each other; there isn’t nearly as much direct physical impact as there should be. These shots are rarely framed to capture both creatures at once, and most shots simply add up to a CGI creature framed against an empty sky. Unfortunately, many of the action scenes are as sluggish as the drama.

Being a Godzilla film, this goes beyond action and drama and belongs to the more specific monster/Kaiju movie category. The highlights of this genre largely stem from creatures threatening population centers. King of the Monsters has a few scared civilians scattered about, but so much of the human plot involves preparing enough to lure the threat elsewhere. Additionally, it’s mainly framed through people who are comparatively prepared for the attacks, reducing the tension.

As such, I’m not sure who this film is for; there are better stories about surviving a monster attack from the ground level, films that have truly dynamic battles battles between titans, and films that capture the terror of a city under attack. King of the Monsters really offers nothing exceptional.

Everything about this suggests an American studio afraid to tackle actual catastrophes. This gets highlighted by the structure of the final act; they completely undermine King Ghidorah by having him struggle to hunt down single human characters while in a seemingly empty city.

I really can’t emphasize enough how bad the human characters are. Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) is among the most misguided characters I’ve encountered, coming up with the brilliant plan to awaken the creatures to…save the world from humanity’s environmental destruction? The film presents this as if she put legitimate thought behind her actions and isn’t just a genocidal maniac; she’s essentially a poor version of Thanos. The fact her decisions drive most of the plot might explain why the stakes are so consistently fumbled; I can’t attach meaning to the battles when what causes them is so very, very dumb. Her actions only make sense in the context of a studio desperate to explain why all these creatures are waking at the same time. Why can’t “just because” ever be enough?

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a generic summer blockbuster, an action film that tries to emphasize visual effects while failing on most other technical grounds, all while telling a poorly conceived story. There’s no real reason to check this out unless you can’t get enough monster movies in your life.

2 Stars Out of 5

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