A wise Hulk once said “big monster”. He wasn’t talking about Godzilla, but these two words sum up Godzilla II: King of the Monsters regardless. In 2014, Godzilla was controversial because it barely featured the title beast, and his opponents were nondescript. Godzilla II: King of the Monsters not only takes a mere minute to feature our hero, he has a whole menagerie of distinct fiends and friends to commune with. 2019 is a good year for fans of giant lizards.
In the five years since Godzilla saved San Francisco from two MUTO monsters, the world has been at peace. When eco-terrorist Jonah Alan (Charles Dance, TV’s The Widow) awakens Ghidorah, a three headed dragon, the world’s monsters begin to emerge from hibernation. The only hope to stop them is the combination of Godzilla and the freshly hatched laser moth Mothra.
Many Japanese Godzilla films use the monster material as a backdrop for either human drama or, as in 2016’s Shin Godzilla, satirical bureaucratic nightmares. In Godzilla II: King of the Monsters, Godzilla is the undeniable star. Whether shouting at the heavens, engaging in an extended wrestling match with a dragon, or simply rolling in the deep, Godzilla is loved by writer-director Michael Dougherty (Krampus), cowriter Zach Shields (Krampus) and the whole special effects team. Godzilla II: King of the Monsters is a good looking film and, while it may not have the classical charm of a man in a suit stomping about a city rendered in miniature, its slick expensiveness does not detract from the overall feel of a monster film. The ensemble cast of monsters are well-represented, even if some are cameos for future movies, but most importantly they interact in a credible way and have interesting material to work with. The humans are their support cast, and the monsters carry the film. Where a viewer’s sympathies lie will determine how they take that, but a monster fan will be hard pressed to be disappointed by the antics on display here.
The core human story, about the fractured family of scientists Mark (Kyle Chandler, TV’s Catch-22) and Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga, The Nun) and their daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown, TV’s Stranger Things), is solid enough, if slightly perfunctory; Ken Watanabe (Pokémon: Detective Pikachu) brings a genuine pathos to the role of Dr. Serizawa, the biggest Godzilla fan on the planet. He has to do much of the heavy lifting, and he seems to be really into it. Not once does he say “let them fight’, but the enthusiasm and passion that the character feels for his work is palpable, and backed up by a very mellow Bradley Whitford (TV’s The Handmaid’s Tale) in the background.
The weakest element of Godzilla II: King of the Monsters is that which comes with the blockbuster territory: the ubiquitous presence of the US Military. If you have to fight a giant monster at all, it should be through the use of a quasi-military organisation with a completely made up name. Like Monarch, the quasi-military organisation tasked with dealing with the titans. There is a quota of American flags that must be on the screen so that the film could receive the endorsement, but the scripted division between Monarch and the military is almost immediately dissolved, and both factions are permanently in one another’s pockets. It’s not as intrusive as the US Military’s incursion into Pitch Perfect 3, but it’s a needless complication in a movie that already has enough monsters in it.
Godzilla II: King of the Monsters is a movie that lives up to its titles. People who thought that they were in monster withdrawal will find themselves stimulated through the sheer weight of colossi on the screen. The humans are good enough — in Watanabe’s case, very good — but the star attraction, the reason we’re all there, is fun to look at and consistently entertaining. Long live the King.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters opened in Australian cinemas on May 30, 2019.
Directed by: Michael Dougherty.
Starring: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins and Charles Dance.