It may be unfair to review movies on the basis of their comparison to other movies, but it is especially hard not to do so when dealing with franchises and sequels. In the case of Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures’ ‘Monsterverse’, Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla was a masterpiece, while Jordan Vogt-Roberts Kong: Skull Island was an unexpected delight. Coming after this (super) heavyweight combo, Godzilla: King of the Monsters has a lot to live up to. It does not succeed in this respect, but it would be simplistic to describe its failings as being inevitable, as writer-director Michael Dougherty along with co-writers Dougherty, Max Borenstein and Zach Shields miss two of the fundamental strengths of the previous films. The first is simplicity, as KOTM suffers from too much plot. Godzilla featured monsters that rise, humans that observe, all hell that breaks loose; K:SI was a straightforward land-on-mysterious-island-and-then-wish-you-hadn’t storyline. KOTM features the global organisation Monarch, multiple dormant (and then not so dormant) ‘titans’, eco-terrorists, a fractured family, political and military debates, all of which result in an over-complicated narrative that frequently stops for characters to explain the plot. This narrative murkiness is paralleled with visual darkness and excessive rain, which obscures the visuals. The gloomy visual palette ties to the second major feature missing from this film – awe. Despite the immense scale of the multiple monsters that reclaim the Earth, there is little sense of wonder or grandeur in their presentation. This is unfortunate, because the premise of multiple titans clashing offers great potential, both for long-standing fans of the kaiju genre as well as newcomers.
That said, there are plenty of monster smack downs which do provide some visceral thrills, especially as Dougherty favours a ground level camera with much handheld work, recalling Godzilla imitator Cloverfield. And while the cumulative marvel and awe are absent, the film does offer individual moments of wonder such as Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) encountering Godzilla up close as well as the early emergence of Mothra. The final images do set up a promising continuation, so here’s hoping the narrative is more straightforward next time.