Generally speaking, audiences flock to monster movies to see ferocious monster battles, as opposed to the melodramatic lives of puny humans running around trying to survive. There's something cathartic about seeing kaiju (the Japanese term for large, strange, powerful beasts) smashing skyscrapers on screen or beating the living daylights out of each other. While Godzilla II: King of the Monsters does feature titanic monster battles, it also tries to stuff unnecessary human drama into the mix, turning it into some unwieldy beast of a movie.
The film features the return of the title character, Godzilla, a giant radioactive prehistoric creature, and reveals that other gigantic monsters like Godzilla also exist on Earth. As the world struggles to deal with the existence of such creatures, a new terror arises to threaten to everything — the three-headed King Ghidorah. The planet's only hope for survival is Godzilla.
The biggest problem with Godzilla II: King of the Monsters is that there are far too many human characters in the film. The movie is stuffed with stars, which would ordinarily be a good thing... if not for the fact that the focus of a monster movie should firmly be on the monsters and not the humans. Interspersed with the monster fights are draggy scenes of convoluted politicking, stormy melodrama, and pointless angst amongst the humans. So before you can even begin to appreciate the sheer spectacle of the monsters on screen (which the film tries hard to impress upon you), the film shoves in another scene with talking human heads quarrelling about some trivial issue.
Plainly put, the human story is boring. It bloats the running time, turning what could have been a fast-paced, suspenseful disaster film into a Frankenstein's monster of a family-environmental-military-political tragedy. Throw in dialogue that consists of one-liners and quips, ridiculously named technology (their most powerful weapon is called the "Oxygen Destroyer"), and all around ineffectiveness in the face of giant monster attacks... and you can see why this was a needless aspect of the film.
From a production perspective, there's a reason why there have to be so many scenes with humans quarrelling in it — they have to make full use of the stars they've brought on board. And they do try to spice things up by having the human cast engage in some action scenes. But between humans confronting each other with guns and smackdowns with giant monsters, which would you rather see? If you're going to watch a movie titled Godzilla II: King of the Monsters, it's safe to say you'd rather ditch the human drama and watch throw downs between fictional mega-beasts.
In an ironic way, the peskiness of the humans does support one of the (very) minor themes of the film, that humans are harmful to the planet, just like how they are detrimental to the actual film itself. And the shortcomings of the film are mirrored in its antagonist, the multi-headed King Ghidorah, in that both have many things going on at once (however, it works for King Ghidorah). But that's probably an unintentional result of trying to throw everything and the kitchen sink into the film.
The monster fights are wonderful, though. The creatures are introduced in their full glory much earlier in the film (Godzilla's problem was that we didn't see the eponymous monster in its full glory until late in the film) and we're constantly reminded of the enormity of the creatures, even if their scale isn't always consistent. They wreak glorious havoc across cities and cause delightful amounts of destruction, satiating the violent urges within all of us. Godzilla himself battles King Ghidorah in fun action set pieces, tearing up the landscape around them as they do. Plus, he's got an ally with him this time (but so does King Ghidorah).
But there are only two (arguably three) real clashes between Titans (the term given to the giant monsters in the film) in the film... which is not quite what the marketing materials or the title promised. We were promised multiple kaiju battles to determine who would be crowned as king of all the myriad monsters. And yes, we do get to see other kaiju besides the main four (Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Rodan). But a fight between four creatures isn't quite what you'd expect from a film that promises you a king over all monsters.
However, the film does have a few nice (albeit unexplained) callbacks to the Japanese Godzilla films, exhibiting the scope of the monsters' powers. Older fans of Godzilla will be thrilled to see the inclusion of those elements, but newer fans will be wondering why these monsters can suddenly sport new, incongruous abilities.
Godzilla II: King of the Monsters establishes a new status quo in the Monsterverse shared movie universe (which includes King Kong), but it's hampered by its requirement to give its human stars something to do. The massive monster fights are fun, but ultimately diluted by the sprinkling of vacuous feuds between the humans. By not realising that its true stars are the CGI monsters rather than the human cast, Godzilla II: King of the Monsters squanders its impressive special effects budget and gives us the wrong type of film – a ponderous, lumbering soap opera instead of a full-on epic monster brawl.
Should you watch this at all? Yes.
Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? If you're a Godzilla fan.
Running time: 132 minutes
Godzilla II: King of the Monsters is an American monster movie that is the third instalment in the Monsterverse shared cinematic universe.
The film sees the rise of many prehistoric, super-sized beasts like Godzilla, which are dubbed Titans in the film. Their awakening sends literal and metaphorical shockwaves across the planet as people try to figure out what to do with them. But sinister agents, both in the form of humans and monsters, threaten to take advantage of the situation for their own ends in a conflict that the Earth itself may not survive.
Godzilla II: King of the Monsters is directed and written by Michael Dougherty, with writing credits for Zach Shields and story credits for Max Borenstein. It stars Kyle Chandler (Mark Russell), Vera Farmiga (Emma Russell), Mille Bobby Brown (Madison Russell), Bradley Whitford (Rick Stanton), Sally Hawkins (Vivienne Graham), Charles Dance (Colonel Alan Jonah), Thomas Middleditch (Sam Coleman), Aisha Hinds (Colonel Diane Foster), David Strathairn (Admiral William Stenz), Ken Watanabe (Ishiro Serizawa), and Zhang Ziyi (Ilene Chen), with motion capture provided by T.J. Storm (Godzilla), Jason Liles (King Ghidorah and Rodan), Alan Maxson (King Ghidorah), and Richard Dorton (King Ghidorah). It is rated PG13.
Godzilla II: King of the Monsters opens in cinemas:
- 30 May, 2019 (Singapore)
- 30 May, 2019 (Philippines)
Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter, having written for popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on socialmedia as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.