FILM REVIEW – GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS. With Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Charles Dance. Written by Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields. Directed by Michael Dougherty. Rated PG-13 for sequences of monster action violence and destruction, and for some language. 131 minutes.
There are some interesting ideas and strong actors playing around in GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS, but they’re doomed trying to compete against Godzilla, just like the kaiju alumni he battles. (Kaiju is the name for the Japanese genre of giant monster movies.) The result is a movie that probably could have been much shorter, since we’re really only there for the special effects.
Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) is a scientist working on a project dealing with the giant monsters, whom she believes are an important part of Earth’s ecosystem. At the start of the film, she and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown of “Stranger Things”) are kidnapped by a mysterious terrorist group led by Jonah Allen (Charles Dance). The government turns to her ex-husband Mark (Kyle Chandler), who had abandoned the project she’s continued, to help find her. He’s more concerned with rescuing his daughter.
It turns out the terrorists are looking to unleash Mothra, Rodan, and the three-headed King Ghidora to lay waste to civilization. Who can battle such creatures? Why it’s Godzilla, who has appeared in various forms in Japanese cinema – many of which have made it to the U.S., although the original “Gojira” (1954) was re-edited with added scenes featuring American actors.
The film plays with environmental issues and family psychodrama, and even has some well-known characters actors in small roles like Bradley Whitford, Joe Morton, CCH Pounder, Sally Hawkins, and David Strathairn. None of it really matters. The thin script ties up most of the loose ends, while leaving a few threads for a sequel, including the promised showdown with King Kong, which is teased here as it was at the end of “Kong: Skull Island” (2017). The problem is that the appearance of four giant monsters leaves less time for plot and character development, which gave “Skull” its flavor.
Here you just want to sit back and enjoy the monsters. There are nods to the earlier films – such as the twins associated with Mothra – but it’s all just marking time until the main event, which is Godzilla battling King Ghidorah at Fenway Park. Yes, that’s right. Dr. Russell’s home base is Boston and the device used to lure the monsters is broadcast over the public address system at the stadium, using the open-air park as a giant transmitting dish. Some effort went into making Fenway look like the real thing, but once the monsters start trashing Boston it looks more like a generic city than any specific location.
It’s important to remember that after the original film, most of the kaiju movies bordered on camp. Some were more entertaining that others, showing some wit or creativity, but in the end, they were about giant monsters visiting destruction on one location or another. A 1998 attempt to Americanize Godzilla failed, but the 2014 “Godzilla” got it right, leading to this sequel. If it falls a bit short, it may be because this is the set up for “Godzila vs. Kong,” due out next year. Red Sox fans may find it hard to swallow, but the destruction of Fenway turns out to be no more than the warm-up act.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.