HASH OF THE TITANS?
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (12A)
Director: Michael Dougherty
Screenplay: Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields
Review: RJ Bland
Gareth Edward's Godzilla (2014) was a largely satisfactory reboot of one of the greatest monster franchises that cinema has known – there are 35 films that have now been made about the big Lizard. It managed to, on the whole, effectively combine fantastic visuals with enough human drama to be considered a success. Whilst many felt that it offered a solid platform to kick-off a new franchise with, there was also a sense that there was still room for improvement and that the potential was there for a really top-notch Godzilla flick. That expectation and hope has been building since a sequel was green-lit during the opening weekend of Godzilla. So is the latest reincarnation of that gigantic sea monster as good as we hoped?
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (The title is pretty much a spoiler in itself) – begins amidst the chaos of the finale of its predecessor, where a fraught married couple (played by Vera Farmiga and Kyle Chandler) look for their missing son. Flash forward five years and we learn that the couple both worked for Monarch (the Crypto-Zoological company, not the airline) and that they did indeed lose their son five years previously when San Francisco was decimated. Emma (Farmiga) is still working for Monarch and lives with their daughter Maddison (played by Millie Bobby Brown) in China, where she tests her newly invented 'Orca' device on a recently hatched gigantic grub, named Mothra. This 'Orca' device is capable of emitting frequencies that can attract, calm or rile up 'titans', so it's a pretty important bit of kit. However, barely seconds after showing that the device does indeed work on the giant moth baby, the research compound is attacked by an eco-terrorist Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) who whisks Emma and Maddison away with him to carry out the next part of his wicked plan. Meanwhile, Monarch scientists Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) & Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) approach Emma's ex-husband Mark, seeking his help to track down his family and Jonah's eco-terrorists – before the world is put at risk by rampaging titans once again.
It's always a tricky task navigating territory as steeped in history and weighty as Godzilla. In 2014, Legendary Pictures turned to Gareth Edwards who had proved his pedigree with a low-budget monster movie that looked more like a blockbuster Hollywood production in places (Monsters). Edwards was set to be involved in the follow-up but took a step back, so the producers turned to Michael Dougherty, another film-making novice with a lot of potential – having made the impressive Christmas horror Krampus back in 2015. For the most part Dougherty does a solid enough job, but at times you feel as if G:KOTM crumbles under the sheer heft of all its moving parts.
One of the criticisms levelled at Edward's 'Godzilla' was that it didn't include enough scenes with the big reptilian dude. In two hours of film, he's on screen for about seven minutes. Well, it looks like Dougherty was taking notes as he is afforded a bit more screen time this time around, along with a host of other impressively constructed titans. Indeed from a visual perspective, the film has everything you would expect and more. Although this is actually a relatively talky movie in parts, there are a number of prolonged action set pieces which make the destruction of Michael Bay's Transformer movies look a little tame. The final twenty minutes in particular are about as tower-block-smashy as you're going to get. The action is so relentless at times that occasionally it does feel a bit repetitive but hey, each to their own. Finding the right amount of action to include in monster action flicks is a tough ask and for the most part, G: KOTM gets it right.
However, whilst it does a pretty stand up job with its non-human characters, the human element of the story is a little underwhelming and confusing. Farmiga, Chandler and Brown are all talented actors, there's no doubting that, but their 'family unit' just seems a little false. Their relationships, their motivations, their personalities – they all feel a tad underdeveloped and muddled. The effect of this is that the anchors of the story are not ones that you really believe in or root for (more than anyone else in the film that is). All epic and disaster movies need that human element at their core to work – and unfortunately, the trio don't quite manage to grasp that mantle. In their defence, most of the issues are not down to their acting performances, they are linked more to a rather clunky script which is guilty of some sigh-inducing expositionary guff as well as some odd character decisions/twists. Also, there's a semi-important character who simply vanishes from the film about two thirds of the way through. You kind of wonder if they were even needed in the first place. The supporting cast are all fine but again, they just feel a bit too many in number – and impersonal and 2D to latch onto. Ken Watanabe is always watchable and Bradley Whitford does his best to get a few laughs but on the whole, they are a pretty forgettable bunch.
On the plus side, the film makes a concerted effort to explore the themes and ideas that invariably arise from the plot. Are humans a plague on the earth? How do we find the right balance? Are benevolent 'superpowers' a good idea? It also asks questions about faith, morality, sin and redemption. And this focus on important and relevant modern issues add a sense of gravity and seriousness to all the destruction and fighting and explosions. It's earnest in its attempts to flag up impending dangers that we are all going to face over the next few decades (and beyond) and for that it deserves a pat on the back. It's just a shame it doesn't make us care about its central characters as much as these worldly fears.