Plot: A bunch of ancient monsters awaken to fight Godzilla, who is already here, and humans pretend to matter.
Cast: Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Vera Farmiga, Ken Watanabe, Charles Dance, Sally Hawkins, Thomas Middleditch, Bradley Whitford, O’Shea Jackson Jr.
Director, Writer, Producer: (co-writer/ director) Michael Dougherty, (written by) Zach Shields, Max Borenstein (story by), Thomas Tull (producer)
Review: I did not like 2014’s Godzilla. Despite good reviews, the slickly serious set up of a mysterious hidden disaster, I was one of the few disappointed by the film’s wooden characters and the lack of Godzilla action. The only thing holding that movie together was Bryan Cranston’s all-in performance. The five years later sequel (belated for a Hollywood flick) takes a different tact. The characters still don’t fare better, but the smackdown fights, which are both thrilling and painterly, make up for it.
The human story is perfunctory and doesn’t make a lot of sense. The series remains backed into the corner of humans barely able to affect the monsters but that can work to the film’s benefit. Franchise meta-narrative cracks show because we have no idea what Monarch, a monster research organization at the centre of it all actually does, and too many characters change film to film. The upcoming Godzilla Vs. Kong will not get a narrative boost from this.
The movie carries over the broken family story structure from the previous film. A hastily assembled plot mechanic Spielberg used back in 2005 for War of the Worlds. It has yet to be improved. It’s a mechanic that should emotionally ground the film and give the meaningful context. The latter portion is crudely inconsistent but effective, the former angle is not. Parents played by Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga have previously done credible emotional work elsewhere but not present here. They aren’t bad, but their styles do not fit the material, which is weak even by B-movie standards. As for the overrated Millie Brown (Stranger Things) , she is slightly less annoying than a 15 year old who wears Airpods might be.
Among the rest of the cast, the favourite is always the character actors. Bradley Whitford successfully quips his way through the film, and Ken Watanabe reprising his role has the only scene in the series where a character manages to emotionally connect with the creatures. Charles Dance approaches a Christopher Lee level of acting respectability in a genre film, but like everyone else the script doesn’t much provide him any meaningful plot interaction. Couldn’t have Legendary Pictures hired a good writer like Vanessa Taylor (Game of Thrones, The Shape of Water) to punch up the script? I guess they are too busy trying to look good promoting the co-writer of a bad movie they did. Nonetheless the director and co-writer stated he wanted to craft a story with characters audiences care about. Evidently he failed in a big way. If Godzilla ever hopes to be a super franchise (like Avengers) it needs to create lasting human characters.
Hollywood had 5 years to get a sequel right and they came up with this. Continuing the dire trend of hiring indie filmmakers of sub $15 million films to perform on 13 times a scale. Even in the best case scenario their untrained eye leaves at least one major department suffering. In future a different tact will be required to truly breathe life into blockbuster material and it should definitely involve greater diversity in director selection.
For what the film is worth (for me it was free) the monster fights are spectacular and brought me joy. Each monster looks distinctive and is animated in a way that gives it personality. A far cry from the derivative trash of Pacific Rim: Uprising, what Director Dougherty brings to the table is a passion for these monster battles. The bouts are visually resplendent and well paced throughout the film with barely the necessary context needed covered. The forgotten wish is that Dougherty would bring the camp contempt for his characters over from his two previous features Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus to work in the narrative. Still as far as addressing the chief complaint of the first film, hitting one great note with typically blunt Hollywood fervor, the fans will at least be pleased.
Production Companies: Warner Brothers Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Toho
Budget: $200 Million Dollars
Running Time: a 131 minute monster mash
- 13.3 x’s the budget of the director’s previous film (of two total)
- The music choice is solid thanks Bear McCreary, the sound design great, (See it in IMAX with a gloriously un-packed theatre at 4:00 p.m.)
- Godzilla v. Kong (finally w/ a good writer) stomps into theatres March 13, 2020
Trailer @ 1:31 – You ain’t gonna do sh*t