The Australian poster reads “Godzilla II: King of the Monsters” despite the movie being the third official instalment of Legendary Entertainment’s MonsterVerse. It comes following Godzilla (2014) and Kong: Skull Island (2017), and precedes the forthcoming Godzilla vs. Kong (2020). It’s a peculiar adage considering that none of the 30-plus Godzilla films throughout the years have ever branded a numerical marker. Nevertheless, for those unaware of this shared universe, the story does – indeed – pick up where the 2014 movie left off.
Godzilla II hits the ground running from its opening scene and doesn’t relent throughout its entire 132-minute run time. Within moments we witness the birth of the legendary Mothra and are introduced to an army of eco-terrorists hellbent on restoring the Earth to its original owners: the Titans (ie Godzilla and a horde of ancient monsters). We also see the return of familiar faces looking to harness the power of the creatures and see all of the above swept up in a relentless rampage of wanton destruction.
In a scene oddly reminiscent of the introduction in Batman v Superman, Godzilla II begins around the climax the first movie. A husband and wife (Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga) are separated as a city crumbles around them in slow motion. Their daughter survives the disaster while their younger son tragically dies. Cut to five years later, they have separated and are working in different scientific fields. He is an animal behaviourist who believes that the Titans should be destroyed, while she is a palaeoecologist who believes in their co-existence. Using a device called The Orca – which they developed together – she and her teenage daughter (Millie Bobby Brown) are kidnapped by an eco-terrorists organisation led by a former MI-6 agent (Charles Dance), and he is brought in to help retrieve the Orca. Yadda yadda yadda… the Titans rise up and a barrage of havoc is unleashed upon the world.
The good news is that Godzilla II is true to the legacy and depicts the monsters with respect for the classic Toho era of the franchise. I’m sure you’re familiar with those classic Japanese movies featuring some guy in a rubber dinosaur costume stomping on buildings and breathing fire at other creatures. In fact, fans of those beloved films will rejoice at the action delivered in this instalment.
Director Michael Dougherty (Krampus) and his creatives have brilliantly captured the essence of Godzilla while maintaining the Hollywood standard. With the wonderful use of wide shots to depict the famous battle sequences, and nostalgic mid-shots to gauge Godzilla’s reactions, there is a familiar frivolity and kitschiness to the film that will speak to long-serving fans. On the other hand, newcomers might balk at the absurdity of giant months and atomic fire-breathers.
Kyle Chandler provides a strong co-lead performance as the desperate father in search of his family. He has a natural charisma that beams off the screen, with an ability to command whatever situation he finds himself in. Contrarily, Vera Farmiga continues to showcase a limited and monotone range. She offers nothing that we haven’t seen from her before and in some regards her performance recalls that time when Tea Leoni irritated the shit out of us in Jurassic Park III.
The return players include Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn, whose presence go a long way in maintaining a credible continuity with the first film. Watanabe is along for the whole ride, while Hawkins and Strathairn appear in extended cameos, and are joined by other newcomers including Bradley Whitford, Zhang Ziyi and Millie Bobby Brown. Little can be said for most of them, other than that they offer adequate, albeit contrived performances. Brown is very good, making her feature film debut following her cult performance in Netflix’s Stranger Things, and has a natural likability on screen; there’s no doubt that she has a bright future ahead of her. Dance offers his usual brand of typecast villain, while Watanabe continuously looks up in horror, declaring “Godzilla” every time the damn things appears (as he did previously).
Sadly, for all of Godzilla II‘s merits – of which there are many – the film falls apart thanks to its horribly contrived script, clichéd dialogue and poorly conceived human drama. Characters say stupid things to facilitate plot and personal relationships interfere with the global peril that’s unfolding before their eyes. When the world is being destroyed by a walking dinosaur (Godzilla), a three-headed dragon (King Ghidorah), a winged reptile (Rodan), a giant fuzzy moth (Mothra), a colossal arachnid (Kumonga) and a freaky armadillo (Anguirus), you would think that there were more important things to resolve then a broken relationship. And with that, at least 30-minutes of the film’s running time is squandered on typical Hollywood pap, where it should have been focused on military strategy and retaliation.
Regardless of those problematic formulaic constructs, Godzilla II is a balls-to-the-wall action extravaganza. What will seem like pointless mess-and-noise to some viewers, will be pure heaven for others. It could be argued that there are just too many monsters fighting each other, or it could be reasoned that this is precisely what the franchise is about, particularly if you’re familiar with the past 65-years of instalments. Roaring monsters, atomic fire-breathing and maximum destruction is the name of the game and this latest chapter delivers in spades. Beware the fatigue, however, as 132 minutes of unrelenting action (including 30 minutes of stupid family subplot) is a lot to consume in one sitting, and the movie might just ware you out before the final credits roll. I have to admit, it drained me.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★☆☆
‘Godzilla II: King of the Monsters’ is Australian cinemas from May 30 and US cinemas from May 30.