Godzilla: King of the Monsters review – sound, fury and stupidity | Film

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If there’s one positive outcome from Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the summer’s first inarguably bad blockbuster, it should be that the marketing team at Warner Bros receives a monstrous raise. On paper, the $200m sequel seemed like an unnecessary addition to 2014’s soulless reboot, a recklessly expensive extension to a franchise-restarter that no one cared for. With production finishing almost two years ago and with two projected release dates scrapped, bad buzz was starting to grow.

But then the first trailer was released and naysayers fell silent. Flashes of grandiose imagery were matched with the lush sounds of Clair de Lune and what seemed to be a bravely apocalyptic tone, the sort of preview that suddenly vaults a previously discounted film to the top of your must-see list. The more recently released “final trailer” was similarly artful, hinting at a monster movie with heart, a rousing do-over for Gareth Edwards’ forgettable predecessor.

But smoke, mirrors and then more smoke can only do so much. Within minutes of the film itself expectations start to dissipate, quickly replaced with crushing disappointment. For Godzilla: King of the Monsters is every bit as redundant as one would expect, a hollow piece of business masquerading as something necessary.

Godzilla’s emergence in 2014 has left the world forever changed (we’re reminded of this by a montage of thunderously dumb news reports) and in particular, the lives of the Russell family. Emma (Vera Farmiga) and Mark (Kyle Chandler) lose their son Andrew in the carnage and years later find themselves estranged. Mark has retreated to the wilderness while Emma is living with their daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and working for Monarch, the shadowy corporation tasked with protecting both Godzilla and other creatures around the world. Emma has been perfecting a machine that uses bioacoustics to interact with them to avoid further catastrophe, while Monarch fights with the Senate over control of the monsters. But when eco-terrorist Colonel Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) breaks into a facility, all hell breaks loose.

Taking over from Edwards (who has since managed to make amends with 2016’s wonderfully effective Star Wars spin-off Rogue One) is Michael Dougherty, whose credits stretch from the bad (a story credit on the execrable X-Men: Apocalypse) to the middling (he co-wrote Superman Returns) to the bonkers (he wrote and directed 2015’s fun, nasty Christmas horror Krampus). There are brief flashes of his affinity to B-movie mayhem here (he also wrote and directed cult Halloween anthology horror Trick ’r Treat) but King of the Monsters is a mostly anonymous film, processed and boxed up like a forgettable schedule-filling studio product. Rather like 2017’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, it also feels like it could have been released in the mid-to-late-90s, with a tone and aesthetic that feel strangely dated along with some head-scratchingly retro casting (Charles Dance as a hammy British villain! Bradley Whitford as comic support!).

There’s a first-act twist that would be cruel of me to reveal but it lands with such a thud that the film barely recovers, revealing one character’s motivations as laughably absurd, so absurd that even the actor forced to reel off the accompanying dialogue seems sort of embarrassed. As an unintentional comedy, the film does work to a degree, filled with so much stupidity that if not for 1998’s atrocious Matthew Broderick-starring Godzilla, this would be the dumbest English language version to date. There was plenty of sniggering in my screening, either linked to the rote dialogue or the film’s adherence to tired cliche (not one but two characters play the well-used action/disaster movie self-sacrifice card).

Millie Bobby Brown and Vera Farmiga. Brown struggles to make it work.

Millie Bobby Brown and Vera Farmiga. Brown struggles to make it work. Photograph: Daniel McFadden/Warner Bros

These issues might sting a little less had Dougherty at least nailed the film’s many monster-on-monster fight scenes, but too many of them are blurry and hard to follow, paling in comparison to last year’s Pacific Rim sequel, which was able to make such large-scale showdowns feel coherent and involving. Isolated imagery does impress, but most of it we’ve already seen in trailers, and it’s frustrating to see Dougherty fail to capitalise on this, the odd epic visual lost in a sea of confusingly choreographed chaos. In interviews, he’s referred to it as his Aliens in comparison to Edwards’ Alien, but it plays more like the Alien v Predator of the franchise, a shiny but empty multiplex-filler.

In the previous chapter, things really lost their way when Edwards focused on his human characters – a stacked cast including Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe and Elizabeth Olsen failed to bring life to an inert script. There’s less star wattage this time (although a post-Oscar nominated Hawkins does have a minor, perhaps contractual, role) and an even less convincing family dynamic at play. Dialogue is awkward and weighed down by clunky exposition, and despite boasting the first big-screen appearance from 15-year-old Stranger Things breakout Brown, she’s lumped with a reheated strong-willed yet soft-hearted teen role, and she struggles to make it work. Around her, there are almost too many cast members, leading to fleeting, thankless roles for O’Shea Jackson Jr, Anthony Ramos, Zhang Zyi and David Strathairn. It’s a film with too much yet somehow so very little.

There are references to Skull Island throughout and then, in some rather silly headline-smattered end credits, a crushingly inevitable match-up is made clear. Next March sees the release of Godzilla vs Kong, a film that retains some of this film’s cast, a desperate attempt to expand a universe that’s already buckling under its own weight. My money’s on that devilish Warner Bros marketing team, sure to craft another trailer suggesting something far better than what they end up releasing.

Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Godzilla: King of the Monsters review – sound, fury and stupidity | Film

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