In the next movie, I’d like to see Godzilla and his nemeses fight in conditions other than driving rainstorms, but even though there isn’t a wide variety of weather in “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” this is a top-shelf monster spectacle. The titular creature from the 2014 movie is back, and director/co-writer Michael Daugherty and his team throw a smorgasbord of beasts at the screen to take him on, notably the three-headed dragon Monster Zero, who has a fascinating mythology behind him.
The producers of this series – which also includes 2017’s “Kong: Skull Island” and next year’s “Godzilla vs. Kong” – have done a smart thing with the humans in the narrative: They don’t depend on the same cast for each film and can therefore avoid backing up money trucks to get actors to return.
“King of the Monsters” opens similar to how “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” acknowledges that the entertaining spectacle of “Man of Steel” was in reality the destruction of a city. The Russells – Mark (Kyle Chandler) and Emma (Vera Farmiga) – have lost their son in the rubble of the San Francisco battle in 2014’s “Godzilla.”
Although I liked that film, I have since forgotten the human side of the story, so the Russells could’ve been in that movie for all I remembered. They aren’t, but “KOTM” gets us caught up with their story quickly, via both parents plus daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown of “Stranger Things”). The family drama isn’t too shabby, and it includes a surprising twist along the way.
For continuity buffs, returning to the narrative are a few members of Monarch – a long-running benevolent monster-tracking society – and the military, including Admiral Stenz (David Strathairn) popping in to drop a bomb and say “God help us all.” That’s as much a requirement of these movies as a Japanese guy regularly muttering about “Gojira”; Ken Watanabe’s Serizawa has that angle covered.
Godzilla, though, is the only character who must come back in every sequel, and the studio doesn’t have to pay him. They do, of course, have to pay a team of thousands of animators (I wrote most of this review during the time it took the end credits to roll), but they get their money’s worth. While most of Godzilla’s battles against his fellow monsters are in rainstorms – Monster Zero creates hurricanes, in fact – my favorite is a showdown at a snowy Monarch post in Antarctica.
The imagery of Godzilla and his opponents never rings false, and despite the murky cinematography, I can tell the specifics of what’s happening. There are some amusing moments amid these battles, including a hapless pilot ejecting directly into the maw of flying Mexican fire monster Rodan.
Another awesome setting is an ancient location Monarch discovers deep beneath the ocean. A decent through-line of exploration, learning, mythology and pseudo-science keeps our attention between the fights.
“KOTM” includes some dumb things, namely a group of bad guys (led by Charles Dance’s Alan Jonah) who want to corral a monster or two to use as weapons, and who team up with a nutso environmentalist because their aims overlap … somehow. Lip service is paid to how they might control a monster – a sonar device developed by Emma and (much to his regret) Mark – but the logistics of carving out a sphere of influence by using a leashed monster are laughable if you think about it for one second.
I slightly prefer “Kong: Skull Island” to the two “Godzillas” because it tells a more contained story, set in an isolated location. “KOTM” spans the globe, and blockbusters like this often spiral into unwieldy and implausible territory. But like “Independence Day” or “Armageddon,” this one keeps me hooked enough to go along with the more ridiculous elements.