Both a blatant rip-off of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and a revolutionary film about postwar fear in Japan, 1954’s Godzilla successfully married human drama with monstrous spectacle and spawned a decades-spanning phenomenon. It was the success no one expected, the monster movie to end all monster movies. Or, rather, truly begin them. The world had already been introduced to King Kong and the Rhedosaurus, but Godzilla touched on something far more resonant. People in Japan bought into the original Godzilla because it spoke to very real, very rational postwar fears and validated those fears in a big way. Remember, this wasn’t even a decade after the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was about public fear and how people dealt with it. But today, 65 years after its debut, the Godzilla franchise lives on through bad, bloated sequels (with a few gems hidden here and there), many of them capitalizing on the fact that he’s a cool-looking monster rather than on the reason behind his initial conception. The newest entry in the franchise, Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, is the latest installment to emphasize the “coolness” of its eponymous beast without offering up much else.
The sequel to the Gareth Edwards-helmed 2014 reboot, King of the Monsters attempts to combine interpersonal drama with brutal kaiju fights in a way that feels authentic, entertaining, and respectful to the diehards coming to see the film in droves. Put simply, it tries to replicate what the original did so effortlessly. Unfortunately, while the film is, admittedly, relentlessly entertaining at times, it suffers from a hollowness that it ends up sharing with its underwhelming predecessor. It doesn’t have the advantage of antinuclear sentiment nor does it have the emotional backbone required to keep the film’s heart beating. Even the chemistry between leads Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler, and Vera Farmiga feels trite and fails to pull the heartstrings insistently enough for us to care. It’s a poor attempt to inject emotion into a film that, by its very nature, has been sucked dry of anything more than: “Get ’em, Godzilla!”
To be clear, it is possible to make that marriage work. This film just doesn’t manage its moving parts well. And that’s not entirely its fault. As this film makes clear, these movies have devolved into mindless monster brawls. They’re designed to be outrageous, explosive, fun, and willfully blind to collateral damage. And that, sadly, is also the expectation many American viewers have as they come into the film. But even in that respect, Godzilla: King of the Monsters misses its mark. If it had been a fun, no-holds-barred monster-sized slugfest, I would’ve eaten it up. Sure, it checks all the boxes it needs to, but the pen it’s using is nearly out of ink and the result feels procedural rather than organic.
It’s a film plagued by indecision, a monster smackdown that thinks too much and tries to say even more. The appeal of these films is that they don’t force us to think. They force us to feel. Terror. Awe. Excitement. A good monster flick evokes all of these emotions. But because it expends energy in the wrong places, King of the Monsters feels lifeless and bereft of that unbridled verve that ripped through many of its predecessors like King Ghidorah’s blink-and-you-die energy blasts. Yes, even the ones that were cheesy as hell (so most of them).
While Godzilla: King of the Monsters is sporadically entertaining, it has lost much of the magic which made its more inspired predecessors so memorable. The spectacle and the kaiju-stomping are there, but everything feels so safe. So hollow. It’s a vain attempt at replication and a bad movie, and no amount of city-leveling can save it from what it is: an Americanized attempt at a Japanese property.