Though I quite liked Gareth Edwards’s 2014 Godzilla, if you asked most fans of the Massive Monster genre, they’d say that there was a problematic lack of Massive Monsters duking it out in all their glory. Five years later, sequel King of the Monsters has sorted that issue, bringing in beast after beast to fight Godzilla, but has also created all sorts of new problems for itself by also pointlessly expanding its human cast and giving absolutely none of them anything of worth to do. It makes for a film better suited to a ‘Best Moments’ compilation video on YouTube than a cinema visit.
With the world still in recovery after the MUTO destruction of San Francisco in the first film, King of the Monsters brings us in close to the Russells, a family of experts on the colossal Titans (as the Godzilla-esque creatures are known in-universe) who lost their son in that attack. Dad Mark (Kyle Chandler) is living in isolation, studying wolves, whilst mum Emma (Vera Farmiga, sleepwalking through the whole film) is trying to communicate with the Titans with her McGuffin-y invention ‘the ORCA’. Daughter Madison (Stranger Things’s Millie Bobby Brown) is torn between her parents, worried about both of them and their grief-stricken obsessions.
If this sounds like way too much baggage for a monster fight movie, that’s because it is, and the terrible, inconsistent characterisation of everyone makes the human story a boring chore to follow. All people wanted out of this was what the trailers promised – epic and sweeping showdowns between Godzilla and his most famous foes; Mothra, volcanic pterodactyl Rodan, and three headed thunder dragon King Ghidorah. But the clangingly stupid script from director Mike Dougherty and Zach Shields keeps interrupting these battles in favour of nonsensically motivated twists and piss-poor ‘90s-style quips.
When the fights finally get underway and aren’t turned into gibberish by overly frantic editing, Dougherty manages a lot of cool moments. All the Titans are fantastically designed and stunningly photorealistic, from Godzilla’s scales pulsing with nuclear energy to the genuine malice evident in Ghidorah’s faces. Dougherty musters up imaginative, brutal, and even artful shots of his beasts as they decimate civilisation, and the score is often thrilling in these scenes as well. This should be enough, but the amount of time we’re forced to spend with forgettable and appallingly written characters – who act less like people than puppets simply moving to turn the cogs of the overly-convoluted plot – means the weak link of the human factor cannot be overlooked.