After 2014’s Godzilla played it cagey in unleashing the beast, the third in Legendary Picture’s Monsterverse goes all in, assembling the cream of the Kaiju superstars for the behemoth of battle royals. By rights, it should be great popcorn entertainment. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a lumbering mess.
The story dovetails with the conclusion of Gareth Edwards’s earlier film, introducing Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and her husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) as they search in vain for their son amid the devastation of San Francisco. Both try to make sense of the tragedy by working for Monarch, the organisation in charge of monitoring monster activity, only for grief to drive them apart.
Five years on, and Emma is now living with their daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown, of Stranger Things fame) in a secret facility in China, while Mark is out researching animal behaviour in the wilds of the US. However, events conspire to bring the fractured family back together when Emma and Maddie are taken captive by eco-terrorist Alan Jonah (Charles Dance).
Jonah is convinced that Earth’s natural order must be restored, and wishes to release each of the monsters, or Titans, and let them walk the planet once more. However, rather than humans and monsters living in semi-peaceful co-existence, it’s pretty obvious that some of the beasts have other ideas. Cue some hard-learned lessons about nature refusing to be contained.
Chief antagonist in the ensuing contest for king of the monsters is the mighty, three-headed Ghidorah (aka Monster Zero), who is unleashed from his icy slumber in Antarctica. Ghidorah has long been a fan favourite, and just like in his 1964 series debut, he’s joined here by Mothra (the benevolent queen of the monsters) and Rodan (a less-than-friendly fire demon), who each enjoy impressive CGI upgrades. It’s their battles against – and alongside – Godzilla that make this film such a tantalising proposition. How could it fail?
Sadly, what we get instead is not enough monster action, but plenty of pointless peril involving the members of Monarch, as they desperately try to sort out the mess caused by their tech falling into the wrong hands. They also seem to succeed in wrecking a lot of expensive military hardware in the process. No wonder the US government wants them to see them disbanded.
Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe are among the cast reprising their roles from the 2014 film, and once again play boffins trying to calm the wayward beasts. David Strathairn is back, too, as the naval commander who likes following orders and blowing stuff up. Of the new faces, only Millie Bobby Brown really invites any sympathy as a girl caught between warring parents, who takes the survival of mankind into her own hands. Meanwhile, Ziyi Zhang’s appearance in dual roles is completely sketched over, and will only serve to confuse those unfamiliar with Mothra lore.
With this sequel, director Michael Dougherty clearly understands the beats of a blockbuster movie, and some of his monster brawls are an improvement on the murky set-tos from the 2014 film. However, the man who brought us the 2015 Christmas creepshow Krampus seems to have forgotten that you need a coherent story to draw the audience in.
The script he’s produced with Zach Shields is often toe-curlingly clunky, with dialogue that sounds like it’s been lifted from a badly dubbed Godzilla movie from the 1960s. And even those without any scientific sense may well ask how many face-melting nuclear blasts one cast can subject itself to without being irrevocably irradiated. The scenario of a world ruled over by monsters might be unlikely, but it would help to make at least some of the elements slightly believable.
As for the big guy himself, Godzilla has suffered plenty of highs and lows over his 65 years on the screen. But don’t worry, even this disappointing entry won’t stop him, as he has an appointment with Kong in 2020. Hopefully, that encounter will give him – and us – a bit more to chew on.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is released in cinemas on Wednesday 29th May