Godzilla: King of the Monsters review – deeply confusing sequel is dismaying to watch

Far too much is going on in this cacophonous monster movie from director Michael Dougherty

Geoffrey Macnab
Thursday 30 May 2019 13:56 BST
Godzilla: King Of The Monsters - Trailer 3

Dir: Michael Dougherty; Starring: Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler, Charles Dance, Vera Farmiga, Sally Hawkins, Bradley Whitford, Ziyi Zhang. Cert 12A, 132 mins

“How many nukes do you have?” one character is asked in matter-of-fact fashion towards the end of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the cacophonous and deeply confusing new movie featuring the gigantic, dinosaur-like creature first seen in a Japanese film in 1954.

The new Godzilla is a sequel to the 2014 feature directed by Gareth Edwards. Five years have passed since the day “the world discovered that monsters are real”. Whatever number of nukes or new weapons the humans may now possess, it will never be enough to kill off a creature who already has 35 movies to his credit. Besides, atomic blasts don’t harm Godzilla. They give him a healthy electric glow as if he has just eaten a big bowl of microwaved porridge.

Director Michael Dougherty, who also co-wrote the screenplay, has thrown a huge amount of ingredients into the monster mix. This is partly a family melodrama, partly a sci-fi fable and partly a piece of sub Ed Wood, B-movie-style hokum. Early on, a kitchen scene involving bread about to burn in a toaster is treated with as much gravity as the apocalyptic moments that end the movie. Rebellious teenager Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown from Stranger Things) has a close but strained relationship with her workaholic mom Dr Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), the ace scientist who knows how to communicate with the monster. They’re getting over a bereavement. Madison’s father, the square-jawed scientist Dr Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), has taken the loss even worse than they have. Dougherty throws in footage of the family in happier days and keeps on showing close-ups of a photograph in which they are all together.

Two parallel stories are being told here: one about the monsters and one about the teenage girl who yearns to go back home. You can see what Dougherty is trying to do. He wants to emphasise the human factor and to make the audience care for the characters. We all know that the film will soon turn into a gigantic wrecking spree but, as buildings are flattened and cities destroyed, we can still anchor ourselves in the intimate, everyday story of the rebellious adolescent and her troubled parents.

The filmmakers are also keen to parade their eco-credentials. Godzilla may be a monster but he doesn’t drop litter or pollute the planet. Humans have been the dominant species for years but they’ve left a terrible mess behind them and they’ve been neglecting their recycling. The gimlet-eyed eco-terrorist played by Charles Dance is keen to rebalance earth. In his opinion, a little cleansing destruction will do the trick.

Every human in the film seems vaguely sinister. The Monarch scientists who should be saving the planet are strangely flippant. They behave like teenagers playing a video game, high fiving and whooping at inappropriate moments. Farmiga’s Dr Russell is courageous but clearly slightly unhinged. Her estranged husband is an embittered and angry figure. Given that they can hardly communicate with each other, it’s a stretch to expect them to make contact with the creatures. Nonetheless, they have their own “alpha frequency” device, the “orca“, which, when tuned to the right radio frequency, has a wonderfully calming effect on Godzilla and his ilk.

Far too much is going on here. At one stage, Moscow, London and Washington DC all come under attack at once as 17 different monsters emerge from the earth’s bowels. The filmmakers lose sight of most of them and end up concentrating on the epic battle between Godzilla and the three-headed, snake-like creepy-crawly Ghidorah. This is the cinematic equivalent of watching a WWF bout between two heavyweight wrestlers wearing scaly suits. The choreography is scrupulously even-handed. First, Ghidorah will be on top, using one of his many mouths to bite Godzilla. Then, Godzilla will have his moments of dominance as he tries to throttle one of Ghidorah’s many necks.

The entire film has the feel of Hanna-Barbera animation. It is dismaying to see actors of the calibre of Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn and Sally Hawkins giving such cartoonish, one-dimensional performances. There is, though, something very satisfying about the sheer random destructiveness of the storytelling. The filmmakers are like kids knocking down their cousins’ elaborately constructed Lego models. They show huge glee as they go about their task. Meanwhile, Godzilla’s personality grows on us. Whether he is saving humanity or destroying it, he has a stoical, even-tempered quality that bodes well for his future battles. He is up against Kong in the next sequel, directed by Adam Wingard and due out in 2020, and it’s a fair bet that most viewers will be rooting for Godzilla in that particular battle.

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