The sequel to Gareth Edwards’ 2014 film Godzilla and the third entry in Legendary’s “Monsterverse”, King of the Monsters begins with Monarch scientist Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), along with daughter Madison/”Maddy” (Millie Bobby Brown), using a device called the Orca that is able to “communicate” with the fabled titans that were apparently on Earth long before us, using it on the newly awakened winged creature known as Mothra, but the facility is attacked by eco-terrorists led by Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) and mother, daughter and the important Orca device are taken, the group of mercenaries revealing that their grand plan is to use the device to free the many other titans hidden around the world in order to put an end to the world’s overpopulation and mankind’s destruction of the planet. Monarch scientists and soldiers, along with Maddy’s estranged “animal behaviour expert” father Mark (Kyle Chandler), all attempt to rescue the scientists and to get the device back but as several seemingly unstoppable beasts are unleashed, including the flying Rodan and the mighty King Ghidorah, they soon find themselves relying on old “ally” Godzilla in order to defeat the monsters and to prevent the destruction of Earth.
I get the impression that many people had high hopes for this film given that 2014’s Godzilla is seen by some as an underappreciated gem but for me, I’m not exactly a diehard fan of this popular world of monsters, not knowing too much about the likes of Mothra, Rodan or King Ghidorah, but I thought that Gareth Edwards’ film was quite good (though I’ve admittedly forgotten a lot of it) and after Kong: Skull Island, I was most curious to see the latest entry in the Monsterverse, interested as I am by these popular cinematic universes.
So while my expectations were neither high nor low, I ultimately didn’t think too much of King of the Monsters; it has a couple of entertaining “boss battles”, the score is good and there are a few individual shots that are admittedly rather epic, but I also found most of it (the second half, in particular) to be really boring, most of it looks murky and dull, and there’s a surprising lack of “monster vs. monster” smackdown-ness, certainly not enough to make this film worth racing to see in the cinema.
Starting off with the all important monsters (because that’s the main appeal of these films, right? Any good characters and/or plot is just a bonus?), this film does indeed introduce Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah into the Monsterverse so it undeniably includes more titans than the two previous films and a satisfying enough amount of time is spent seeing them dominate the screen. But while they’re nicely designed and all of them genuinely feel gargantuan and intimidating, the big battle scenes with them involved aren’t as epic or as amazing as they should have been because those all important scenes are choppily edited, so it’s often difficult to see just what’s going on, there’s usually lots of flashing lights which becomes annoying, and the fight scenes (as well as the whole of the film, actually) looks very murky and drab, using an earthy colour palette that makes everything look unappealing and dreary. But saying that, there are one or two individual shots that do look epic: scenes where King Ghidorah is shown as a shadow through mist or in two separate scenes where Godzilla and Ghidorah face each other are the film’s “perfect shots”.
With films like this, it must be a challenge to give the audience a fair share of “monster smackdown action” while balancing it with a good story that involves the human characters but King of the Monsters doesn’t really manage this balance well enough. 2014’s Godzilla was criticized for being too “human-centric”, not giving Godzilla enough screen time (though I thought he did plenty and thought that the story was actually alright), and with Kong: Skull Island, the Kong sequences were the very best parts of the film but everything else (the characters and the story) was throwaway; with King of the Monsters, the story is dull, overly expositional and certainly nothing to write home about and the characters are two dimensional but at the same time, it doesnt even deliver on its action sequences as there aren’t enough of them and the ones we do see are visually drab and only sporadically entertaining. So it’s a shame that King of the Monsters is unable to achieve the ideal balance of the “human story” and monster spectacle. Efforts to deliberately mention Kong and Skull Island, directly placing this film in the Monsterverse and setting things up for Godzilla vs. Kong, is also clumsily done and really quite tiring.
But Mothra is the star of the show, to be fair as she has the most appealing design and as we get to learn a little about her “relationship” with Godzilla, we see her in a particularly interesting light. So a big win for female parts with no dialogue. Ha!
And Rodan ends up as the fifth wheel as he adds nothing to the story and is ultimately quite superfluous. Poor guy.
The film has an okay cast made up of some big names but none really shine and most just do their job efficiently, nothing more. Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Thomas Middleditch, Ken Watanabe and Zhang Ziyi are all solid performers, Bradley Whitford brings his usual charm as the Rick Sanchez inspired Monarch technician, the great O’Shea Jackson Jr. is surpringly memorable in his supporting soldier role, often pointing out the more ridiculous parts of the story, Charles Dance plays the villainous role in his own recognisable way (he could play this stock character in his sleep) and, despite receiving top billing, Sally Hawkins is BARELY in it and adds nothing to the feature. Did she even need to turn up in the first place?
Well, that’s about all I have to say. Godzilla: King of the Monsters has one or two epic moments and Bear McCreary’s score is effective but it eventually got to a point where I struggled to remain alert as the story is boring, the characters are forgettable and the scenes of the titans fighting, what we all came to see, are surprisingly bland and not nearly as memorable or as thrilling as they should’ve been. But at least this cinematic universe has lasted longer than the Dark Universe, eh?
And there IS a post-credits scene. It’s not a good one, there’s no Godzilla vs. Kong teaser, but it’s there. Just FYI.