Movie Review: ‘Godzilla II: King of the Monsters’

Director: Michael Dougherty

Cast: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charlies Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe, Zhang Ziyi

Plot: Years following the rise of Godzilla the crypto-zoological agency Monarch continues to discover and research ‘Titans’. When an eco-terrorist faction begins meddling they begin a global battle for dominance.

Review (with some spoilers): I really hoped we wouldn’t have to say this again after 2014s Godzilla, but can you put more Godzilla in your Godzilla movies please? I mean, they did better this time in that we actually get monster fights on screen but they still keep cutting away from a massive battle to focus on a couple arguing about parenting. Let’s have a higher ratio of monsters to human drama next time around.

This is a big step in the right direction though. They stopped calling the big monsters ‘MUTOs’ and go with ‘Titans’ this time, indicating a much more sensible overall approach. We pick up the story in the aftermath of Godzilla’s attack on San Fransisco with Dr. Emma Russell (Farmiga) and Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) having lost one of their children in the chaos. Jumping forward a few years we see Emma working for Monarch in studying Titans while Mark is studying wolves or something. Their daughter, Madison (Brown), lives with Emma and also accompanies her to work for some reason.

Emma has built as device called the ‘Orca’, which uses sound to partly control the Titans and plays a major role in her crusade to protect the discovered Titans that the world’s governments wish to destroy. After witnesses the birth of Mothra’s larval form the Monarch operation is attacked by Col. Alan Jonah (Dance), a man obsessed with releasing the Titans to ‘restore a natural balance’ or something. He steals the Orca and Emma and seeks to awaken more Titans from hibernation. Monarch, meanwhile, recruits Emma’s ex-husband Mark to help them in spite of his fervent hatred of Titans.

As you can probably tell there is more than a little convoluted backstory to all this. Our attempt at a summary doesn’t even include the scientific team of Watanabe, Whitford, Hawkins, Middleditch and Ziyi, or the opposing military faction led by Strathairn. It also doesn’t touch on the betrayals, opposing philosophies about nature, aliens, ancient Gods backstory, hollow Earth or Atlantis. Given the central premise there’s far to much to care about, and with the size of the cast very few of them get fleshed out beyond thin stereotypes like ‘awkward nerd’ and ‘wise Asian’. If they’d spread out the characters so we can see the global impact of the story, but they’re just bunched together in two groups.

There’s also a ridiculous amount of story driven by contrived circumstances. The most notable is when a child, left entirely unsupervised in a military installation, manages to steal the completely unguarded and unsupervised plot device that can literally change the world and smuggle herself out and wind up miles away before anyone notices. It shouldn’t be this hard to make monsters beat each other up.

Amid all the grandiose pontificating about nature and mankind and family drama we do also get giant monsters fighting each other and this is always a good time. The designs of classic Toho characters like Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah using modern technologies is very, very cool and they do a good job and creating a sense of scale. It’s hard not to enjoy the site of these beasts knocking each other through buildings. It’ll be nice if more of the film was spent on this and we didn’t keep cutting away to arguing humans.

On the subject of monster design, as good as the new-comers look, Godzilla has a weirdly chonky look going later in the film. He looks like he needs to get a bit more cardio into his routine.

There’s a ridiculous amount of story and character behaviour to nitpick in this movie but it’s not like we signed up for the plot. We came for the Kaiju battles. The movie delivers this just fine, if it didn’t bring so much baggage with it it’ll be a lot better. This is the third big attempt by American film-makers to tap into the Godzilla brand and they just haven’t managed to get it right yet. The Japanese films really do have a grand sense of fun that this remakes lack. This is their best attempt yet, hopefully Godzilla vs Kong finally hits that sweet spot.

Review: SIX out of TEN