Bond who? Star what? Avenge why? The true superstar of franchise filmmaking has nothing do with state-sanctioned murder, space opera or spandex, but is a gargantuan radioactive beast more interested in crushing cities than dispatching adversaries with a salty quip. Godzilla cares not for your bon mot.
In Godzilla: King of the Monsters, our titular behemoth’s 35th cinematic appearance, we focus on the struggles of the Russell family. Five years after the annihilation of San Francisco – caused by guess-who – killed their son Andrew, mum Emma (Vera Farmiga) and dad Mark (Kyle Chandler) are estranged and daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) lives with Emma in the jungle, working for a secretive corporation called Monarch who are protecting Godzilla and 16 other monsters across the world.
Emma, a bioacoustics boffin, is developing a smarty-pants sound generator that pacifies the monsters in case they get lairy again and start tearing up cities like it was going out of fashion. Enter Colonel Jonah Alan (an underused Charles Dance). An ex-army mercenary with eco-terrorism on his mind, he sees destruction as a way to start off a new way of life and save the world from itself or some such nonsense. He sort-of steals the sound generator (called an Orca) and sort-of kidnaps Emma and Madison and soon, the kipping monsters get rudely awakened and the carnage commences.
As savvy readers can tell from the frivolous tone of the paragraph above, this latest ’Zilla is completely ridiculous. It’s a silly, fun sequel to Gareth Edwards’ so-so 2014 Godzilla and part of the Legendary Monsterverse that continues next year with Adam Wingard’s Godzilla Vs Kong.
Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn, as two scientists and an admiral respectively, return from the Edwards effort but one wonders why they bothered. The latter two are barely there and appear to be here as a contractual obligation. Watanabe meanwhile mostly exclaims “Godzilla!” in increasingly Groot-ish fashion: sometimes he’s warning, sometimes he’s enthusing.
If these seem like unusually minor characters to reference, that’s merely because their absence is arguably more notable than the key humans. Chandler and Farmiga are competent actors but it’s tough to care about their characters when they show such little personality. For her part, Bobby Brown shows the same winning screen presence she evinces in Stranger Things but she’s not given much to work with.
Moans aside, one does not watch a Godzilla movie for complex motivation or interpersonal dynamics. One comes for the booming, crunching thump of buildings being crushed and cities being torn asunder. On that level, King Of The Monsters does not disappoint. Godzilla himself is a fierce brute and his heavyweight rows with volcano-dwelling winged terror Rodan and three-headed fire-breather Ghidorah are spectacular.
It’s immensely satisfying seeing the monsters fight to the death and lay waste to sprawling conurbations in a maelstrom of heat, light and rubble. Indeed, amid the clamour and heat of a stinking rush-hour commute, one can easily imagine the pleasure these pre-historic giants might take in razing neighbourhoods to the ground with the swat of a limb.
There’s not much in the way of human protagonists to care about but the monster life looks like a sweet one, even if at more than two hours, Krampus director Michael Dougherty’s film shows a bit too much of it. Even so, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is an entertaining diversion from the real-life terrors clogging up news feeds on a daily basis and for that, it deserves some credit.