2014’s “Godzilla” was something of a surprise for me when I saw it in theaters. It was, among other things, another excellent example of the efficacy of the “less is more” principle. The great King of the monsters was on screen for surprisingly little time, but made his presence felt. The rest of the movie was a visually compelling and structurally competent story that made for an enjoyable summer flick. The one aspect that has always stood out about that movie for me, even with the intervening years, is that the sheer size and power of Godzilla was built up not through wide panning shots, but in the little glimpses the audience caught from time to time. The cresting wave that the monster created whenever he moved through the ocean; the tremors shaking buildings that bespoke something of unfathomable size and strength. It was a surprisingly artful take on the summer monster movie.
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is the polar opposite of its predecessor. Where “Godzilla” was restrained and effectively gradually built to a massive brawling crescendo, this newest offering from beginning to end is a knock-down, drag-out brawl between massive creatures in some of the most gloriously ludicrous action ever put on screen. Sequels are supposed to be bigger and broader in scope than the original, and this sequel perhaps took the injunction a bit to literally. The monsters are bigger and badder; there are many more of them, and the earth-shattering collisions among them take up what seems like about 75% of the total screen time. If you check your brain at the door, it might be the most fun you have at the box office this summer.
The film focuses on Godzilla, and some human characters also happen to be there. The world is threatened with complete destruction, however, when a mysterious terrorist group begins waking up all of the dormant monsters hidden in the earth. The rest of the plot is essentially rinse-and-repeat. Monster wakes up, meets another monster, fighty-fighty, smashy-smashy ensues. Necessary human drama. Repeat. Back to the good stuff.
The human drama, if it can be called that, is a confusing and laughable hodgepodge of soulless cliches combined with a villain plot that seems to have been lifted almost entirely from the tongue-in-cheek schemes of Samuel L. Jackson’s Richmond Valentine in “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” Repetitions of a theme are not necessarily problematic, but when you try to play as serious the plot of a parody spy film, you tend to run into issues.
The central problem, beyond the botched plot on the human level, is that the film is at odds with itself. It is either far too serious or far too much fun for its own good. The human drama strays to the former, the monster drama to the latter, and so the movie is consequently much more disjointed than it ought to be. Either the brawls should have been toned down or the drama lightened up. “Godzilla” is a good example of the first, and perhaps “Pacific Rim” is the best example of the second. “King of the Monsters” took a left at the traffic lights and got lost somewhere between the two.
That having been said, the action sequences alone are worth the price of admission. Godzilla gloriously returns, then returns again, bigger and bluer, and then, to cap it off, re-returns again for good measure. But he’s red this time. It doesn’t need to make sense when he’s smashing a giant alien hydra beast through a baseball stadium. It is not a good movie, but it is a remarkably enjoyable one.
I write these reviews because I love film, storytelling, and cinema as an art in pursuit of truth and beauty. On a more personal level, I simply like writing and thinking about the themes and ideas of movies. However, if you would like to support me in this endeavor, I do greatly appreciate your support!