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You Won't Get Much Fire From 'Godzilla: King Of The Monsters'

May 30, 2019

Godzilla, that tall, irradiated, irritable frenemy of humankind, has starred in more films over the last 60 years than James Bond. The latest, subtitled King of the Monsters, is a sequel to 2014's punctuation-free reboot Godzilla, a city-block-buster that conjured tension and a gathering sense of dread—enough, at least, to give its dynamic correction of San Francisco real estate prices some emotional heft. It was thoughtful and somber about its high, mostly offscreen body count in ways films of this sort frequently are not.

That emotional intelligence is not a virtue shared by its dull, chaotic follow-up, a parade of painterly beauty shots of its various creatures—just enough to cut a few good trailers, and this movie's trailers have been fantastic—with a whole lot of nothing in between.

Director and co-screenwriter Michael Dougherty hopscotches between scenes of Emmy nominees (Kyle Friday Night Lights Chandler, Vera Bates Motel Farmiga, Bradley The West Wing Whitford, Millie Stranger Things Bobby Brown, Thomas Silicon Valley Middleditch, Charles Game of Thrones Dance) gnawing their way through exposition, and animated fisticuffs (and clawifcuffs) among various match-ups of "Titans," as the movie calls its plus-sized wildlife. Many of the beasts have some sort of projectile weapon at their disposal: Godzilla and his three-headed nemesis Ghidorah both belch radioactive flames, while friend-of-the-lizard Mothra can spit strong, fast-drying resin, as befits her seemingly more protective nature.

Lots of other familiar faces pop up: Sally Hawkins, whose prior creature feature, 2017 Best Picture winner The Shape of Water, was about an encounter much closer than any seen in this PG-13 movie. Ken Watanabe (who issued the Michael Buffer-esque dictum "Let. Them. FIGHT!" in Godzilla '14) and Zhang Ziyi as a pair of scientists. O'Shea Jackson, Aisha Hinds, Anthony Ramos, and David Straitharn as soldiers. They're all very good, making their undigestibly fibrous dialogue ("The human infection will only continue to spread," "You are gambling with the lives of millions!", etc., etc.) seem like stuff humans might say, and reacting convincingly to digitally animated calamities that, save for a few money shots of the creatures, generally have a weightless, screensavery quality. (A shot of the U.S Capitol in flames looks reassuringly phony — far less persuasive than the miniature White House that blew up in Independence Day 23 years ago.)

I am required by law to tell you that 2017's Kong: Skull Island, though set in the 1970s, was also a canonical entry in this series. Is this information in any way useful to you? The makers of King of the Monsters sure hope so, even including a post-credits scene to tide you over until Godzilla vs. Kong arrives in 10 months' time. Forget the Universal Monsters. Smell you later, Monsters University. This is the Monsters Universe, Baby!

The nominal leads of this time-marking entry are Farmiga and Chandler, as a pair of scientists whose marriage could not survive the death of their young son, one of the many thousands who perished in Godzilla's 2014 rampage. Their surviving daughter, played by Brown, lives with Farmiga's character, who's been working on a sonic device designed to communicate with the Titans, or at least calm them down when they're getting violent. No sooner has Farmiga's character witnessed the birth of Mothra, a peaceful winged beast, than her secret base is raided by commandos who kill her colleagues and take mother and daughter hostage, along with Farmiga's dino-phone. (It's called the Orca.) That sends Farmiga's fellows in the "crypto-zoological agency" Monarch off to fetch Chandler, whom they believe can help them retrieve his ex-wife along with her potentially lifesaving invention.

While the parties in this dispute change frequently enough to cause confusion, the basic conflict is between Monarch, who believes humanity must coexist with the Titans, and another faction that just wants to exterminate them. (Among the many other monster films that have run variations on this plot: The Lost World, Steven Spielberg's underrated Jurassic Park sequel, from 1997.)

Nearly all the scenes involving the humans take place on the bridge of Monarch's Argo—a flying aircraft carrier that looks like a stealth bomber—or else inside a submarine or in various control rooms. Despite the frequent appearance of teletype datelines on the bottom left of the frame, exactly where G: KotM's humans are in relation to G and the Ms is often murky. Sometimes the interjection of a line like "We land in 10 minutes!" will be the only indication that the entire preceding scene has been taking place inside the belly of a massive airplane instead of, say, an underground bunker. But most of the exterior shots have the same dark, dull, two dimensional quality as the monster-mash footage. And it all takes place at night, presumably to save on animation costs.

The big scaly guy gets more screen time than in the prior outing, but is less expressive than before. The best Godzilla movies have let him speak eloquently (albeit in subtext), but "I don't DO Mondays" is all he ever seems to say this time. Like so many of the actors who've played Bond, he's had time to grow bored in the role.

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