In his latest starring role, Godzilla squares off against three-headed adversary Monster Zero, but in a sense his real opponent remains unchanged: Godzilla vs. Redundancy.
How can filmmakers reinvigorate the legacy movie monster for a new film, and a new audience?
In some ways, the challenge is made easy by the fact that audiences don’t really want a new Godzilla, they want the durable pleasure (with some gussied up effects) of seeing him topple a city, or stomp any rival monster posing a threat to that durability.
So the title of the new film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, is a bit of a spoiler. It’s also a little bit of a misnomer — in this new incarnation of the franchise, the title characters aren’t monsters at all, but “titans” who predated man on the planet, and reappear to “restore balance,” acting as environmental stewards to correct or prevent the damage we’re doing to Eden.
The plot in King of the Monsters revolves around a group of ecoterrorists who think too much damage has been done already. They hope to activate the creatures so they can stomp mankind back to the stone age.
To accomplish this, they need the sound-wave technology developed by scientist Emma (Vera Farmiga), who lost a son in the last Godzilla movie and then a grieving husband Mack (Kyle Chandler) to alcoholism, depression, and divorce. Terror commandos (led by the ever-evil Charles Dance, aka Game of Thrones’ Tywin Lannister) kidnap Emma and her daughter (Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown), using the stolen device to blast out a sonic wake-up call, agitating several titans, including Monster Zero, and all CGI hell breaks loose.
This chaos also engulfs the narrative, which has a sobered-up Mack advising a military strike force (featuring the talents of O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and an intercontinental group of scientists (Sally Hawkins, Zhang Ziyi, Ken Watanabe, Bradley Whitford) on how to contend with this titan uprising.
They fly around playing Whac-a-mole with the rogue titans (Rodan et al.) popping up all over the world — Antarctica, Mexico and for some reason Fenway Park. The creatures are all doing the bidding of Monster Zero, and Watanabe’s character concludes that Godzilla must be recruited to reassert his authority.
Director Michael Dougherty (Krampus) is working with leftover bits of Gareth Edwards’ sloggy 2015 reboot (this one’s slightly shorter), and though his approach has more wit, he’s working with clashing swatches of plot. The terrorists say they want to reduce civilization to rubble so that the natural world can regenerate — as is already happening, we see, in the rubble of vice-covered San Francisco. So if it’s already happening, why the monster apocalypse?
“There are some things beyond our comprehension,” says Watanabe, and I think he speaks for the entire production.
Watanabe at least has more to do here than he did in Pokemon: Detective Pikachu. The rest of the cast is called up on to crane their necks, and look with awestruck faces at the titan fights going on above them.
Brown delivers the most resonant expression — a “You’re-in-for-it-now” look when Godzilla makes his umpteenth curtain call.
Oh, it’s on. And sorry, Monster Zero, but three heads are not better than one.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Directed by Michael Dougherty. With Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe, Bradley Whitford. Distributed by Warner Bros.
Running time: 2 hours, 12 mins.
Parents’ guide: PG-13 (violence)