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It’s been five years since Godzilla threatened theaters when Gareth Edwards rebooted the iconic creature’s cinematic adventures in the eponymous Godzilla. Since then, Legendary has announced that Godzilla is at the center of its “MonsterVerse” of movies, which included 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, with next year’s Godzilla vs. Kong looming on the horizon. Before then, of course, we have Godzilla’s long-awaited return to the big screen in Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
Directed and co-written (with Zach Shields) by Trick’r’Treat’s Michael Dougherty, King of the Monsters stars Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown and Bradley Whitford, although the real draws are likely Godzilla and his fellow kaiju — including Mother, Rodan and King Ghidorah — who come to blows as they awaken from deep sleep to face the dangers of the current day. The scale of the movie is epic and the monsters arguably more so, so the question is obvious: Is King of the Monsters likely to be king of the multiplex?
The Hollywood Reporter’s John DeFore called the pic “easily the most satisfying of [Godzilla’s] Hollywood-produced adventures and a respectable cousin to the long string of Japanese ones,” adding that “the sequel to Gareth Edwards’ admirably serious but dullish 2014 film is the first to suggest any promise for what Legendary is calling its ‘MonsterVerse’ — a franchise in which the Japanese kaiju world meshes with that of Hollywood’s favorite oversized ape, King Kong.”
Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune also enjoyed the movie, although he had some reservations. “Some of the motivations and reversals involving a vicious eco-terrorist (Charles Dance) … lack a pleasing clarity,” he admitted. “The script’s quippy streak could’ve used better jokes. But this is one franchise that doesn’t feel fished out or exhausted or exhausting.The monsters, Toho studio classics redesigned but faithfully so, are pretty swell and monumentally destructive.”
Certainly, the pic’s visuals drew attention. As /Film’s Chris Evangelista put it, “Mass extinction has never looked so gorgeous. Over a period of 132 mind-numbing minutes, Michael Dougherty‘s Godzilla: King of the Monsters lays waste to humanity with stunning tableaus colored in ghostly blues and faded golds, resulting in visual landscapes worthy of Aivazovsky’s brush.” If you sensed a certain reticence in his opinions around the rest of the movie, well, you should have. “It’s a pity the world built around all that jaw-dropping monster mayhem is so damn dull,” Dougherty went on. “Cities are leveled, Lovecraftian monsters reign supreme, and the only thing I felt was a bad case of ennui. The ultimate kaiju smack-down shouldn’t be this boring.”
Similarly non-plussed was Ben Travis of Empire, who complained, “When the final smackdown between Godzilla and Ghidorah comes, the result is an overload of repetitive, joyless destruction that mistakes volume and demolition for actual excitement. The scale of the monster fights is so un-engagingly huge that an attempt at a human-level story amid the carnage in the final reel feels almost laughably inconsequential — it’s a gulf that the film cannot reconcile.”
As might be expected, King of the Monsters drew a number of comparisons with Edwards’ previous installment in the series — and they weren’t exactly flattering. “People see the ending to 2014’s Godzilla and wonder, well, if I felt that rush at the end of the movie, why can’t I feel that rush during the whole movie? Why can’t I just feel the nice thing all the time!” asked Uproxx’s Mike Ryan. “It’s because our bodies don’t work that way. When a movie is just nonstop monster action, guess what happens? It all becomes the new ‘normal’ and it becomes boring. And this is the approach Godzilla: King of the Monsters takes. It just felt like the same scene over and over again.”
“The first film in this new Godzilla series wasn’t a masterpiece but it at least it surrounded its bland cast of human characters with truly horrifying sequences of monster mayhem,” added Matt Singer from Screen Crush. “Godzilla: King of the Monsters is as narratively incomprehensible as it is visually, with an even-more-talented roster of overqualified actors tasked with carrying the film’s insipid story and trying to make their characters’ bizarre decisions seem halfway plausible.”
Two critics noted that the film feels like it belongs to a different time entirely — but not the quasi-prehistoric days that Godzilla is meant to come from. Instead, say, maybe, 25 years ago or so. The A.V. Club’s Katie Rife wrote that King of the Monsters “is reminiscent of an era when the popularity of pro wrestling was at its height. The film blends bombastic excess and deadpan silliness in a way that recalls late ’90s action films of the Michael Bay/Roland Emmerich school. (Think: a machine-gun wielding grunt muttering, ‘Oh, shit,’ just before a massive CGI explosion sends bodies and helicopters flying in all directions.)”
Did someone say Michael Bay? Because IndieWire’s Kate Erbland had the same thought. “Godzilla: King of the Monsters never met a sci-fi film it didn’t want to rip off — brace yourself for a dramatic sequence that pulls so liberally from Armageddon that we can only assume Michael Bay is readying a lawsuit — and the result is a sloppy, stitched-together offering with no sense of self,” she wrote.
Perhaps the most damning reaction came from Benjamin Lee of The Guardian, who was excited about the pic based upon its trailers. However, he explained, “Within minutes of the film itself expectations start to dissipate, quickly replaced with crushing disappointment. For Godzilla: King of the Monsters is every bit as redundant as one would expect, a hollow piece of business masquerading as something necessary.”
But at least it looks nice.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters rampages into theaters Friday.
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