I am not here to disparage your work. On the contrary. I have a huge amount of respect for visual artists who work in CG, and you deliver stunning images that are truly the definition of movie magic. This is especially impressive to someone like me, who has a technical aptitude of approximately zero. I am in awe of your craft. Unfortunately, I’m significantly less in awe of Godzilla: King of Monsters.
Godzilla has been around since the 1950s. Which means he’s pushing seventy and probably starting to lose his eyesight. I am a little more than half his age, and about twenty minutes into Godzilla: King of Monsters, I worried that I might need to see my optometrist; this film is so murky I began to wonder if my corneas were malfunctioning. But I soon realized it wasn’t me. It was you.
To be fair, I’ll assume this murkiness was a conscious decision made by director Michael Dougherty, who decided to shroud this narrative in logical darkness, too.
This second installment in the Godzilla portion of the Legendary/WB “Monsterverse” franchise falls into the trap that many middle-chapter films do: it’s a placeholder, a forgettable episode in a who-knows-how-long saga. The Godzilla mythology is vast, and Godzilla: King of Monsters introduces other monsters (aka. Titans) for the titular mutant to reign over – Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidora – setting fans up for an epic kaiju showdown. This set-up pays off, but only barely, and only after slogging through too many scenes of a put-upon cast sputtering rote exposition. Stuffed between the monster fights is a finger-wagging ecological conundrum, a globe-spanning chase, and a kitchen sink family drama, all of which are as tedious as they sound.
If spectacularly rendered monsters are what audiences are after, then they’ll have to work for them here. Despite a few notable exceptions, their screen time is mostly frustrating. Rodan’s appearance atop a volcano, Mothra’s technicolour splendor, and the final battle between the three-headed Ghidora and Godzilla in Boston’s Fenway Park are scenes that stun and delight the way a film of this scope demands. When your work is discernible, Marcello, it complements the grandeur of these beasts, highlighting rough dermis and glinting eyeballs, and showing just how enormous and formidable they are by scaling them against the crumbled cityscapes. But the rest of their antics are bathed in a smoky patina, their majestic details obscured by rain and cloud.
Perhaps the worst part is that the film was too dark for me to check my watch, which I attempted to do many, many times. Not simply because I wanted to know how much longer this film would hold me hostage, but because looking away from the screen was a respite, however brief, from the convoluted, interminable human narrative.
This all takes place five years after San Francisco was levelled in the first Godzilla movie. We meet an estranged couple, both scientists, who lost a child in the disaster. They are swept up, along with their teen daughter. in separate plans to either help or hinder the apocalypse, among them Project Monarch’s attempts to track the Titans and eco-terrorists hell-bent on destroying them. Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler, and Millie Bobby Brown (in her feature debut), are joined by Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, Charles Dance, Zhang Ziyi, O’Shea Jackson and others in their quest to make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear of a script. The comic relief, such as it is, is played out between Bradley Whitford and Thomas Middleditch as a game of “Duelling Sarcastic Guys”, who, along with the rest of the cast, seem determined to spout their dialogue as quickly as possible so they can put this whole monster mess behind them. That they conduct their business in barely-lit control rooms and underground bunkers should be no surprise, as Godzilla: King of Monsters seems to have mistaken darkness for depth. It takes itself so seriously that it would be almost laughable if it weren’t all so exhausting.
All of this, of course, is just a bloated premise for the main event, which will see Godzilla take on King Kong in 2020’s Godzilla vs. Kong. I was firmly Team Kong, if for no other reason than 2017’s Kong: Skull Island has everything a neo-classic monster movie should have: a compelling but easy to follow plot, a steady and consistent upping of the stakes, clever world-building, and, most importantly, an engaging cast who knew exactly what kind of ridiculous film they were making. Kong: Skull Island proved that you can have CGI creatures stalk and terrorize in the daylight without sacrificing tension or awe. But with that film’s director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, prepping a new film for Sony after almost being killed by Vietnamese gangsters (yup, that happened), and none of Kong: Skull Island’s writers returning for Godzilla vs. Kong, and Michael Dougherty and co. returning instead—well, let’s just say my anticipation has dimmed considerably.