Gareth Edwards’ 2014 GODZILLA had some nice trailers that really pushed a mystical, low-on-dialogue, low-on-melodrama approach to a Godzilla story. The film seemed awesome, in the truest sense of the word, and Edwards’ fascination with imagery of scale seemed a great match for the character. The actual movie was low on mysticism but high on dialogue and melodrama, and while there were indeed some striking visuals, for the most part it was a wash, rife with soapy nonsense and grating denial of both any interesting human story, and of clarity towards the actual monsters in terms of visuals. Michael Dougherty’s 2019 GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS is exactly the same, right down to the awesome yet misleading trailers. The main difference is where the 2014 film went for stuffiness and preening tragic melodrama, this one goes for the tonal chaos of mashing up endless quips with nonsensical human subplot meets nonsensical human subplot, usually centring around a lazy Macguffin or, of course, maudlin family melodrama.
However…the action really is focused on more here, and there’s a wide variety of monsters realised quite well. Their visuals are distinct, and effort was clearly made towards giving them personalities of their own, but I was disappointed how much I’d heard things like the three-headed dragon Ghidorah had very separate personalities for his heads (which I really didn’t see it all, certainly one was distinct but they all looked part of the same scaly visual mush and two acted very of a pair). The film does ‘respect’ the monsters a lot more than the 2014 outing, really giving them focused screentime, but a lot of it is in action MAN OF STEEL-esque action, right down to the disquieting causalities with confused intentionality and rapid digital zoom elements.
The human subplots are ridiculous, which is fine, but they’re treated with so much import that it grates tonally. Villains whip out preconceived powerpoints showcasing their evil plans at hilarious times. Charles Dance and Millie Bobby Brown do as much as they can to make their characters work, but most everyone else just wanders around lamely, and Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga really, really struggle to make their stereotypes work at all. When the film is showcasing the kaiju acting as they do, and especially when it’s framing it in a very painterly style, it’s absolutely enjoyable and well-crafted. But while there’s a lot of that, it’s not enough, when the rest of the material is so confused. The KONG: SKULL ISLAND film in this series absolutely nailed making the human elements entertaining in their own right and yet also mesh perfectly well with well-developed monster elements, so perhaps the next film where Kong squares off with Godzilla will see similar improvements. Two dragon heads, and a cross outside a volcano.