The third of the MonsterVerse shared universe series, and a direct sequel to Godzilla (2014), Godzilla II: King of Monsters, charts the re-emergence of everyone’s favourite skyscraper crushing mutant lizard as he rises once more to deal with the threat of the returning titans.
As the mysterious Monarch organisation struggles with discovering and preventing the giant creatures known as titans from emerging from their millennia of slumber, one of their members (Vera Famiga) is kidnapped by eco-terrorists. As former Monarch member Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) attempts to free his wife and daughter (Millie Bobby Brown), Monarch must also combat the terrorists’ plans to resurrect the Titans. To do this Monarch seek to team up with an unlikely ally, an apex titan that has already caused havoc to humanity, but one that may ultimately help protect them, Godzilla.
For good and ill this is a far more successful bid to make a kaiju film than the 2014 offer, although that, in turn, doesn’t exactly mean it’s a better film. Godzilla II: King of Monsters still feels like an unwieldy hybrid that hasn’t found its footing (perhaps missing the rubble of Tokyo streets underneath), feeling too much like a standard American disaster blockbuster, but it’s a stomp in the right direction.
Despite being lumped with a paper-thin plot bloated out with copious exposition, and an ensemble cast not really doing much, this is a film that demonstrates a love of the kaiju films that inspired it. King of Monsters is littered with references to the classic Japanese monster movies, both in the numerous Easter eggs scattered throughout, and in Bear McCreary’s evocative score. For fans of the genre, these little references certainly produce a small thrill, as they recognise the nod to the original material, in between the catastrophic city crushing mayhem of the titan (which is what the kaiju have been renamed) battles.
In truth, most kaiju films flag when the humans are on screen, as they are stuck trying to justify the ludicrous rise of city-crushing monsters on screen. Here it’s certainly the case, as good actors do bad things. Be that Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) just earning a paycheque by sneering his way through his villainous eco-warrior role, or Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai) gritting his teeth as he delivers some truly awful dialogue. Kyle Chander (Friday Night Lights), Vera Famiga (Up in the Air), and Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things) attempt to carry this, as the estranged nuclear family caught up in the conflict between Monarch, the terrorists, and the monsters – but never really get audiences to truly care about their fate. A few twists aside, this is an arc we’ve seen in countless disaster films before, and it seems purely here out of a sense of expectation rather than something worthwhile.
At the end of the day the thrilling thing about Godzilla II: King of Monsters is not surprisingly the monster battles. It is a lovingly render spectacle of titanic carnage. This is where King of Monsters truly shines, giving us the smack down giant monster fights that define this genre, and they do it with a spectacular eye for beauty. Be it Godzilla’s atomic blue beam, or the lightening rampage of King Ghidorah’s three heads tearing through a US cityscape, each is given a phenomenal sense of scale and destructive capability. It feels like the kaiju apocalypse has been unleashed, and is ready to inspire a thousand LP covers. Godzilla II: King of Monsters also opens up the toybox of over six decades of crazy (and often contradictory) Godzilla backstory and lore for the MonsterVerse to play with, and you feel that sense of scale impacting here.
Despite the dull human characters and some bloated exposition, Godzilla II: King of Monsters delivers the mayhem fans have come to expect from the genre. Not a monster hit to be sure, but certainly a blast.