Michael Dougherty’s entry in the Americanized kaiju franchise is frightfully brain-dead, even for a summer blockbuster.
What if I were to say that a summer blockbuster was boring? Worse yet, what if I were to say that a summer blockbuster starring Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and more were boring? What if I were to say that said summer blockbuster wasted its cast, its simple premise, and its handful of provocative themes? And what if I were to tell you that a random PA accidentally spilled their bottle of Mountain Dew Voltage all over the camera, staining 75 percent of the film an opaque shade of blue?
I can’t corroborate that last statement, but I can—as much as it pains me to do so—verify the rest. In what appears to be a response to Godzilla’s reception five years ago, Godzilla: King of the Monsters triples down what audiences were clamoring for. That’s more mayhem, more laser breath, and yes, more monsters. However, all of that comes with a caveat. More lens flares, more Michael Bay-hem, more awkward cuts, and less cohesion in both fight scenes and pacing make for a ride that goes on for way too long and still ends before it begins.
Don’t peg me as some plot-driven square, though: the main issue with King of the Monsters isn’t necessarily its plot. It’s just how apparent it is; just how left of center it exists without enough care to either blossom or completely get out of the way. That plot concerns a so-called “cryptozoological agency”, Monarch, as they fight against a trio of god-sized monsters. That includes dragon-type destructor Rodan, Mothra the giant moth, and, for all the franchise fans out there, the three-headed King Ghidorah.
Again, there aren’t many plot devices here. The entire plot is a device in and of itself, and while that would be fun in more secure hands, it instead seats the audience with a handful of dreadfully dull characters. The closest to a conduit exists in the form of Dr. Emma Russell (Farmiga) and her daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), both of whom have their own turbulent relationship with the family patriarch, Mark (Kyle Chandler).
Alongside them are science experts Ishiro Serizawa (Watanabe) and Ilene Chen (Ziyi Zhang) who, in their infinite wisdom, let in the little fact that Ghidorah is Godzilla’s arch nemesis. They naturally decide to pit Godzilla against the new team of threats. Things get scaly. Things blow up. Things get really dark, really dusty, and then really bright again thanks to a cacophonous light show of visual effects. Rinse, repeat, the end.
But despite this schematically sound setup, King of the Monsters tries its hand at a semblance of commentary. Director/co-writer Michael Dougherty and co-writer Zach Shields build the film around environmentalist ideologies that don’t go much of anywhere. Its idiosyncrasies point to more genre-bending potentials, but the film instead uses this base as filler. Add in the fact that the film exists to bathe in destruction, and it ends up at the south end of an already-extraneous moral compass.
This isn’t to say that the entire film is preoccupied with some sort of message, however. That would only be the first 80 minutes or so, which come out to a very long first two-thirds. The arc is almost entirely dependent on tone as well, and while the film starts much more akin to Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, it veers farther into cartoon territory without telegraphing its shifts or recontextualizing its earlier scenes. Its closest efforts in doing so are personified with Dr. Rick Stanton (Bradley Whitford), a joke dispenser who feels stuck in an entirely different film.
Instead, the unifying motif is its platinum color palette courtesy of Lawrence Sher, the cinematographer behind movies such as War Dogs and the Hangover trilogy. It’s all blue all the time here save for the wide shots of the fiery abattoir that comes to be, and, if he and Dougherty are feeling generous, there might be some red in there as well. It’s economically shot but not fun to look at, often lacking a sense of scale or grandeur. Each monster, each crash, and each blow are so isolated that the film doesn’t feel light on its feet but void of weight instead.
It accumulates without building and then… it ends. It’s quite predicated on the arrival of next year’s Godzilla vs. Kong if nothing else. Maybe that one will have more a focus on its absurdity and less of an identity crisis, but for now, the franchise continues to wade around, seeing what sticks to its scales.