Thu, 13 Jun 2019
King of the Monsters (12A)
Running time 2hr 12mins
GIANT monsters are stupid, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun. While hardly a masterpiece, 2017’s Kong: Skull Island set quite the benchmark for subsequent entries in Warner Bros’ MonsterVerse franchise – it was zany, well-paced, deliciously tongue-in-cheek and packed with worthwhile human drama. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is the follow-up, a belated sequel to 2014’s (rather meh) Godzilla reboot. By the looks of it, an epic monkey-dinosaur mash-up is in the offing; for the meanwhile, however, we’ll have to chow down our meat before we get to our pudding...
And this film is, quite frankly, no easy swallow, every bit as scaly and cumbersome as its reptilian protagonist. Five years after a reawakened Godzilla decimated San Francisco, anonymous megacorp Monarch (whose logo looks vaguely like that of Extinction Rebellion) have set out to harness ancient beasts of his (Godzilla’s) kind for the benefit of humanity. It’s never quite explained why they’re doing this, and it doesn’t really matter. The project takes a deadly turn when Dr Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), a Monarch bigwig, is kidnapped by shady British baddie Colonel Alan Jonah (Charles Dance); the former has been perfecting a powerful bioacoustic system that can essentially control the monsters, which Jonah seeks to utilise for his own sinister ends. Hot on their tail is Dr Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), Emma’s estranged husband, who intends to put an end to this nefarious scheme before it’s too late. Also in tow is Godzilla, who’s bigger, badder and madder than ever before.
Like a creature-feature Avengers movie, King of the Monsters promises to unleash upon viewers an array of fan favourites from the Godzilla canon, including some creatures that have been given relatively little exposure in the West (Ghidorah, Mothra). It’s an enticing premise, but one the film largely fails to come to grips with; in truth, it doesn’t seem to know where it’s going half the time, oscillating clumsily between monotonous, dialogue-driven sections and trailer-friendly monster brawls. The latter make for a more obvious selling point, yet the film’s palette is oppressively gloomy – this is potentially the ugliest blockbuster of the year, even less visually appealing than Roland Emmerich’s car-crash ’Zilla remake of 1998. And don’t even think about the plot – King of the Monsters is the definition of a shaggy dog yarn, with absurd twists and downright lame characters lurking around every corner. Kong: Skull Island had a devilishly simple hook (“get off Skull Island”), and it only prospered for it; above all, it was an easy conceit to invest oneself in, made all the better by the B-movie vibe and by the palpable chemistry between cast members. By contrast, there’s a lot to unpack here, and for laughably little in the way of a payoff it’s really hard to care for any of these characters, and their silly psychodramas feel wholly divorced from the colossal skirmishes unfolding around them. The relationship between the Russells is framed in a legitimately disorientating manner, and a tortuous screenplay does little to help; as for the villain, he’s basically exposited away in the first act, with Dance barely clocking 10 minutes of further screen time.
Where King of the Monsters has a certain edge over Kong is in its mastery of the spectacle – amid all the flotsam and jetsam, there are some undeniably powerful sequences in here (the coming of Mothra, a scene where Ken Watanabe’s scientist stirs Godzilla from slumber with a nuke). But you leave the multiplex feeling cheated, befuddled by the convolutions of the plot and yearning for something more handsome, quick-witted and compact.