Let’s get this out of the way first: In a movie that includes a tri-headed dragon and a Nakatomi plaza-sized spider, Mark (Kyle Chandler) is easily the most grotesque monstrosity. This dude is introduced to us while he’s shooting B-roll wolf footage for a knockoff Planet Earth. Yet somehow, within minutes, he’s bossing around the entire global military on Armageddon eve. Mothra vomits sticky webs, but Mark’s mansplaining is the vilest thing to come out of any mouth in the entirety of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which is otherwise a damn good monster-stravaganza.
Ever see what you’re convinced is a terrifying murderer in your home, only to realize that it’s nothing more than an article of recklessly discarded clothing disguised by poor lighting? That’s what screenwriter Zach Shields and writer/director Michael Dougherty have done with the plot here. Wisely, there isn’t one. Oh sure, it looks like there’s a plot. There just isn’t. Bad eco-terrorists reawaken long-dormant monsters hiding around the world to restore “balance to the planet.” Godzilla fights those monsters while being alternatingly helped and hindered by humans and Mothra. That’s not a plot. That’s nothing more than set-up for long-overdue, glorious Kaiju fetishization. Hooray!
When it comes to intricately detailed toys, imagination should ideally spark just as vibrantly when posing them as when smashing them into one another. Dougherty and company get that. They spend significant time having Rodan, King Ghidorah, Mothra and the titular G-man preen and flex in atmospheric lighting. It is somehow both beautiful and blissfully cheesy. The creature design for Ghidorah resembles early Harryhausen stop-motion designs. Mothra is somehow equally endearing and terrifying. Rodan murders planes like he’s being controlled by a malevolent, giant, invisible toddler. Godzilla has an atomic seizure. Admittedly, they only fight each other a few times, but the film never strays its gaze too far from them. Remember: You can only blow your action figures up with firecrackers once.
A legion of typically insightful detractors have somehow surprisingly blasted Godzilla: King of the Monsters for leaning too hard into the humans and away from the creatures. Maybe it felt that way to some, but it’s literally just untrue. The film doesn’t go 10 consecutive minutes—most often less than 5—without a monster on screen. From the opening sequence to the final frames, it is chock-a-block with Kaiju juju. The job of the humans is to give the camera a ride to the next monster sequence.
In its understandable obsession to prioritize the monster squad, Godzilla: King of the Monsters admittedly fails to synthesize a thesis worthy of the franchise. It’s entirely possible that the American psyche simply does not easily permit the kind of condemnations of hubris and militarization that are trademarks of the best works in the series. Likewise, making villains out of those who legitimately fear for the planet’s extinction may be a misguided narrative tactic at a moment when the United States is ghosting the global movement against the climate crisis.
However, what Dougherty and company have done here is fairly stunning. Not since the original Jurassic Park have massive CGI creatures felt this majestic and menacing. Long after memories of Mark’s whining and interrupting have faded, the sound of Godzilla firing up his electrical barf will remain. Please note: If one annoying character is able to ruin everything for you, you’re going to have a very exhausting road to November 2020.
Grade = B+