Gareth Edwards' Godzilla from 2014 was criticized heavily for not featuring enough of the titular monster. Who knew the film would launch an entire universe of kaiju films, linked together by thin threads of plot. Jordan Vogt-Roberts' Kong: Skull Island was a vast improvement. That film was able to find its own funky voice and style and ended up being dumb, satisfying fun. Now we get Michael Dougherty's entry that seeks to fix the lack of monster time of Edwards' film but never finds its voice as Kong did.
King of the Monsters certainly does have monsters in it. We are introduced to three classic Toho creations, Mothra, Rodan, and Ghidorah. We also get some flashes of other kaiju as apparently there are 17 in total. Godzilla has his work cut out for him with Ghidorah, a three-headed dragon that seeks to take the crown. Mothra is the queen of the monsters and proves to be Godzilla's ally. While the epic battle laid out here deliver more monster fights than the previous efforts, the film missteps in nearly every other aspect.
There is a huge cast of human players here. Doctors Mark and Emma Russell (Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga) lost their son in the first film as Godzilla demolished San Francisco. They created the Orca, a signal device to help communicate with the "Titans." They are now split and Emma is on a mission to awaken all of the monsters to help restore balance to the earth. Does that sound a bit like Thanos' plan from Avengers? After she gives a stirring Powerpoint presentation, it is up to a whole mess of Monarch associates to stop her and save the planet, I think. The plot is at once basic and convoluted and never once motivated me to care about the details.
King of the Monsters wastes an excellent cast including Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, Bradley Whitford, Thomas Middleditch, O'She Jackson Jr, Mille Bobby Brown, Charles Dance, and Alisha Hinds. Save for a few quips from Whitford and none of these talents get to do much at all. Actress Zhang Ziyi gets to play a double role here but the editing is so messy that it took me nearly half the movie to figure that out. With such a stacked cast, it is shocking that one doesn't care more about any of them.
The screenplay routinely has characters serve the sole purpose of delivering exposition. The family at the core has the potential to bring out an emotional payoff that could ground the B-movie nature of watching giant creatures fight. It fails in every aspect here, largely due to the fact that so many of the characters consistently act illogically. Mark and Emma are vying for the "Worst Parent of the Year" award her, constantly putting their daughter in harm's way. This makes it hard to root for them even though the film clearly wants Mark to be the hero.
After 45 minutes of tedious exposition and flaccid family drama, we get our first smackdown between Godzilla and Ghidorah. Here is the chance for the film to redeem itself by giving us a glorious fight at an epic scale. Instead, we get a shaky camera-laden sequence that takes place at night, in a blizzard, in Antartica. It is completely incoherent as are the other fight sequences. I am sick of CGI fights in the rain or in clouds of smoke used only to cover up poor effects. Only on occasion does Dougherty give us a wide-screen shot to revel in the scale and beauty of the kaiju. These fleeting moments hurt as they show what could have been.