Godzilla: King of the Monsters had a difficult task, to expand Legendary Pictures' fledgling MonsterVerse to pave the way for the anticipated Godzilla vs. Kong crossover in 2020 while delivering all of the action, visuals and storytelling we've come to expect from more than 30 franchise films, stretching back to 1954. And, for the most part, director Michael Dougherty's sequel meets the lofty expectations of fans.
One of the criticisms of its predecessor, 2014's Godzilla, is that the film took too long to introduce the title character, and therefore delayed the action audiences were there to see. King of the Monsters remedies that. Not only do we follow Godzilla for most of the film, but there are also the other kaiju, referred to as Titans, revealed in rapid succession — Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah. Dougherty, a Godzilla super-fan, knew what people wanted to see: epic fights between equally epic monsters.
The are thoughtfully designed; they're larger and more stunning than previous iterations. We have certainly come a long way from the special effects of the 1950s, but there is great care taken in the development of these Titans and their personalities. It may seem weird to call them cute or gorgeous, but they are, indisputably.
With those Titans comes the baggage of previous films. King of the Monsters has no trouble in honoring the legacy of Godzilla, with numerous reference to earlier installments of the 65-year-old franchise. Although a Godzilla devotee could no doubt watch King of the Monsters over and over, and come away with new Easter eggs each time, the film is also easily accessible for the casual viewer.
The only problem is that, despite the immense care devoted to the Titans, there’s something lacking in the human characters. The scientists, particularly those portrayed by Bradley Whitford and Thomas Middleditch, are two-dimensional, and serve no other purpose that to provide humor and exposition. By contrast, Ken Watanabe's Dr. Ishirō Serizawa, introduced in the 2014 film, undergoes a moving character arc.
The heart of the film is supposed to be the Russell family: Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) and Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) have split after experiencing a traumatic event in 2014, with their daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) now raised by her mother. The parents are at odds with one another, but the motivations of the family get lost in the spectacle; a critical viewer will question their actions and allegiances.
Indeed, there's an element of poor timing when it comes to the characterization of Emma. We live in a time when female characters who “go crazy” are scrutinized more than ever, particularly in the aftermath of Game of Thrones' divisive finale. Therefore, Mark referring to his ex-wife as insane isn't a good look. The family relationships are traditional yet somehow not entirely believable. However, Millie Bobby Brown steals every scene she's in, just as she does on Stranger Things. This movie further proves she could become her generation's scream queen, if that's what she desires.
Luckily, the Titans move the story along, so audiences don’t dwell too much on why the family relationships ring hollow. Despite the star power on display in King of the Monsters, the real draws are obviously Godzilla and his fellow kaiju. What’s set up in King of the Monsters will make viewers eager to see what will happen next in Legendary's MonsterVerse, which was one of the film's goals.
On its own, King of the Monsters honors the Godzilla legacy witha fast-paced story in which audiences can marvel at the Titans. As long as fans focus on the monsters more than the humans, they will undoubtedly have an (atomic) blast.
Directed by Michael Dougherty, Godzilla: King of the Monsters stars Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Thomas Middleditch, Charles Dance, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Aisha Hinds and Zhang Ziyi. The film opens Friday nationwide.