'Godzilla: King of the Monsters' Can't Justify Its Own Existence


It's really hard to tell what kind of movie Godzilla: King of the Monsters wants to be. The predecessor to this garish, nonsensical monster mash, 2014's Godzilla, was a moody take on the famous kaiju, sparing in its depiction of scaly flesh. While some -- including yours truly -- found it dull, it also amassed a vocal critical fanbase. The follow-up seems to nod half-heartedly to artistry, but it's more interested in the brainless crash-bang of a bunch of CGI creatures duking it out. The cast is stacked with otherwise brilliant actors stuck in a borderline incomprehensible plot and forced to play second fiddle to monsters whose powers of wonder wear off fast. This is franchise filmmaking at its most unnecessary, a last gasp to salvage a series that seems to have little chance at survival.

Because, yes, this is supposed to be part of a bigger MonsterVerse, all leading up to a showdown between Godzilla and King Kong, the latter of whom was featured in 2017's Kong: Skull Island. Those two don't go at it in King of the Monsters, directed by Michael Dougherty, though there are some offhand mentions of the large ape. Instead, this installment features some more wheel-spinning and tedious exposition involving Monarch, the monster research organization that's this franchise's version of Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D.

Warner Bros.

King of Monsters focuses primarily on the Russells, a family that was caught in the rampage that made up the finale of Gareth Edwards' earlier movie, in which Godzilla battled some Mutos and saved San Francisco, but created a big mess in the process. The stomping beasts killed Mark and Emma Russell's son, and in their grief the couple split. She (Vera Farmiga) went to live on a Monarch research base with their daughter Madison (Stranger Things' Millie Bobby Brown). Emma has been building a sonic device that can control and subdue the monsters, called Titans. Meanwhile Mark (Kyle Chandler) has dedicated his life to photographing wolves. He's eventually brought back into the fold when Emma and Madison are kidnapped by eco-terrorists led by a scowling leader named Jonah Alan (played by Tywin Lannister, a.k.a. Charles Dance).

Except -- in a headache-inducing twist -- that was part of Emma's plan. She's teaming with Jonah against Monarch because she misguidedly thinks she can save the planet by letting the Titans roam free, thinning humanity and its pollution. Like Thanos before her, Emma's ostensibly noble intentions cause a litany of issues issues when it turns out that one of the ancient giants that Monarch has been monitoring, the three-headed King Ghidorah, is especially cruel and powerful, and not willing to submit to Godzilla's more benevolent impulses.

If this sounds needlessly confusing, well, it gets worse when you factor in that the script seems cobbled together from various unfinished drafts. It casually drops references to characters and scenarios in a way that assumes the audience has a bigger investment in the narrative the film ever earns. Perhaps the most baffling moment is when it's revealed, with little to no explanation, that Ziyi Zhang plays identical scientists on different sides of the world who may or may not be twins.

That's Ghidorah, folks! | Warner Bros.

Speaking of the cast: It's filled to the brim with otherwise excellent performers, most of them either slogging their way through perfunctory technical dialogue or taking the whole mishegoss way too seriously. The only one who seems to know what movie he's in Bradley Whitford, who at least thinks all the nonsense is funny. At times, Dougherty manages to create some arresting images of wings emerging from clouds.

There's a big brawl that ends in Boston, of all places -- a Dunkin' sign tragically falls in the fight. Godzilla remains king, Mothra's the queen, and there are a few human casualties. It's not a conclusion that elicits many further questions, but that doesn't mean the studio has skimped on the frustratingly obligatory post-credits scene. In the tag, Dance's Jonah sets out to purchase one of the Ghidorah's heads, implying that it may return for the next round, when presumably Kong will get involved. Like it or not, there will be another film in the Godzilla universe.

But at that point -- if you've even made it through the credits -- you'll probably have the same reaction I did: Who cares? King of the Monsters does nothing to prove that the MonsterVerse should continue. When you can't get a crowd excited for kaiju fighting one another, what's the point?

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.